To featherweight world titleholder Oscar Valdez, Tucson, Arizona, is a second home.
He was born about a half-hour away, just over the border, in Nogales, Mexico, to an American mother and Mexican father, and spent a good chunk of his childhood growing up in Tucson. He lived there from ages 4 to 9 and went to elementary school there before moving back to Nogales with his father.
His mother still lives in Tucson as do many friends and relatives.
"I have some longtime friends that I played with when I was a kid, and I have a lot of uncles here, cousins. My family is actually very big," Valdez said this week. "I have family in Ohio, I have family in Arizona, I have family in Mexico and I have a lot of family here in Tucson as well."
Valdez has fought just once so far in Tucson, a third-round knockout of nondescript opponent Ernie Sanchez in December 2015.
But now Valdez (22-0, 19 KOs) is returning to his second home to defend his 126-pound world title when he takes on Genesis Servania (29-0, 12 KOs) on Friday night at the Tucson Arena.
Valdez-Servania headlines a Top Rank card, which will be televised live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes beginning at 10:30 p.m. ET, with the preliminary bouts and main card streaming live on the ESPN App beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET.
When he last fought in Tucson, Valdez, a two-time Mexican Olympian, was one of boxing's elite prospects. He returns to the city with a world title and as a rising star.
"I consider Tucson my second home," he said. "I lived here for a while [and have] the privilege of coming back and forth -- coming back to Tucson when I live in Nogales.
"I fought here two years ago, but I wasn't a champion in front of my fans and my people then. But I was always going to bring back a title, and now I get a chance to do it and I am very excited. I am always excited, but for this a lot of my family is going to be there and support me in this fight."
In the co-feature, super middleweight world titleholder Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez (35-0, 24 KOs), a 26-year-old southpaw from Mexico, will defend his belt for the second time when he meets mandatory challenger Jesse Hart (22-0, 18 KOs), 28, of Philadelphia.
In another televised bout, featherweight prospect Michael Conlan (3-0, 3 KOs), 25, the popular Irish Olympian, will take on Kenny Guzman (3-0, 1 KO), 30, of Kalispell, Montana, in a scheduled six-rounder.
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum believes Valdez can become a star in boxing. He believes he has what it takes: talent, a crowd-pleasing style and he is bilingual, making him appealing to Mexican fans as well as Americans. Arum said having him fight in Tucson is way to establish a home base in the United States while also looking to branch out to other areas.
"Tucson is a great city and I really love it there, and they have very enthusiastic boxing fans," Arum said. "We are going to do well at the gate. Tickets are really flying out so, yes, why not use Tucson as a base. But we have big plans for Oscar. He is on the road, we believe, to superstardom. There will be a lot of places -- Los Angeles and Las Vegas -- clamoring for Oscar and his fights. We expect to have some really major fights for Oscar in the near term against guys who are big names in the featherweight division."
Valdez, 26, will make his third title defense against Servania (29-0, 12 KOs), 26, of the Philippines, who has an impressive record but little experience against any top opponents. His biggest win came by 12th-round knockout against former junior bantamweight world titlist Alexander Munoz in 2014, but Munoz was faded at that point and fighting two weight divisions above where he had won his world title.
"I think it's a great opportunity and a lot more people are going to be able to watch me now. That's what I want. I want to be recognized and being on ESPN is going to be a great opportunity and I'm excited for that. ... ESPN is seen all over the world. Our fights will be seen everyplace imaginable."Oscar Valdez
"This is my first time getting into the ring and fighting for a world title. It's exciting," Servania said. "It's my fight to win because I have trained so hard for this opportunity. It will be my hardest fight, but you will soon see I came to Tucson to win and become the new world champion. I respect Oscar Valdez. He has a great Olympic background and has proven his ability as a professional. However, I am ready for this fight, and I will do my best."
Servania will be boxing in the United States for the first time, and Valdez is the heavy favorite. Valdez, however, said what he is supposed to say -- that he has prepared for a hard fight.
"I worked so hard in this training camp with (trainer) Manny (Robles). I am prepared for Servania. He is rugged and strong. He has my upmost respect," Valdez said.
Valdez's past four fights have been on pay-per-view cards that did not generate huge audiences. His last fight, a tough decision win against Miguel Marriaga on April 22, headlined a Top Rank pay-per-view show that likely didn't generate 50,000 buys. Valdez and Arum are happy to have this fight on ESPN, where Valdez can gain far more exposure than he has before.
"I think it's a great opportunity, and a lot more people are going to be able to watch me now," Valdez said. "That's what I want. I want to be recognized, and being on ESPN is going to be a great opportunity and I'm excited for that. ... ESPN is seen all over the world. Our fights will be seen everyplace imaginable."
Arum recently made a deal with ESPN to be the longterm home of his company's fighters, and he said that Valdez, who recently signed a contract extension with Top Rank, is one of the young fighters whom he promotes who will reap significant benefit from the deal. He said the deal will allow Valdez to gain wide exposure while fighting at least three times per year.
"We are going to have him matched against top, top featherweights and junior lightweights and the audience that we'll be attracting starting (Friday) will be absolutely huge and so Oscar will go in the same realm as the other superstars in boxing," Arum said. "This development we have with ESPN is really a breakthrough and the guys that benefit most are talented young men like Oscar Valdez."
If Valdez defeats Servania, Arum hopes to eventually match him with another top featherweight, namely former titlist Carl Frampton (23-1, 14 KOs), 30, of Northern Ireland. It's a fight that would be can't-miss action.
Arum believes the fight can be made because Frampton signed this week with manager Matthew Macklin's MTK Global. Macklin and Top Rank have a close relationship, and the company signed Macklin's top prospect, Conlan, out of the 2016 Olympics.
"Carl Frampton, who is a tremendous featherweight, has signed on with Matthew Macklin's group and Matthew manages Michael Conlan, who will be on the card Friday night, so there is a possible fight against Frampton that now becomes relatively easy to arrange," Arum said.
Valdez would like to unify titles, but a match with Frampton is also appealing to him.
"Of course, I am not looking ahead of this fight, but I would definitely love to fight Frampton," Valdez said. "After this fight I can think about that."