Former sparring partners Valdez and Quigg ready for high-stakes fight Saturday

Featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez could return to the ring in the early part of 2019. Photo provided by Mikey Williams/Top Rank

LOS ANGELES -- Last spring, featherweight world titleholder Oscar Valdez was getting ready for an April 22 defense against Miguel Marriaga and needed quality sparring.

Meanwhile, England's Scott Quigg, the former junior featherweight world titlist, had parted ways with longtime trainer Joe Gallagher and hired Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, causing Quigg to move his training camp to Roach's famed Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California, to get ready for an April 29 fight against Viorel Simion.

Quigg also needed good sparring to prepare him for his second fight as a featherweight, so their teams arranged for Valdez and Quigg to spar with each other. Over the course of their training camps, they boxed five times, sparring about 36 rounds -- the equivalent of three 12-round fights. Both raved about the work they received and how good it was for them.

Now, 11 months since those sparring sessions, they will find themselves across the ring from each other with high stakes on the line as Valdez will make his fourth title defense when he fights Quigg on Saturday in the main event of the Top Rank ESPN card at the StubHub Center in Carson, California.

"If the fight goes something near the sparring sessions we had, then everybody can expect fireworks because we went at it," Valdez told ESPN on Thursday before the final prefight news conference.

Quigg, who will be making his United States debut, echoed the sentiment, saying, "It was cracking sparring. The fans are in for a real treat. What I took from that sparring is that our styles gel, simple as that."

The fight will air on ESPN and ESPN Deportes at approximately 10:30 p.m. ET, immediately following the ACC tournament championship game. In the co-feature, junior lightweight up-and-comers Andy Vences (20-0, 12 KOs), 26, of San Jose, California, and Erick De Leon (17-0, 10 KOs), 26, a southpaw from Detroit, will risk their perfect records in a fight that should propel the winner into a bigger bout.

The entire card -- including bouts involving rising junior welterweight Alex Saucedo, middleweight contender Esquiva Falcao, junior welterweight prospects Maxim Dadashev and Arnold Barboza Jr., heavyweight contender Andy Ruiz and lightweight and 2016 U.S. Olympian Mikaela Mayer -- will stream live on the ESPN App beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

Valdez, who loves to brawl, said he learned a lot from sparring with Quigg.

"He had his moments, I had my moments. It was a great learning experience being in there with him, so I know he's a strong fighter, an aggressive fighter," Valdez said. "And the same way I learned from him, he learned from me."

Said Quigg: "It was great work, but I enjoyed it. We were in there and both giving up good whacks. They were good, competitive rounds. We both got the work we needed to prepare for our fights. He was quite good. Good solid work. I got confidence from the sparring. He took confidence from the sparring. It was pretty even. It was enjoyable."

Those sparring sessions left Valdez and Quigg with a healthy respect for each other and one gets the sense that they rather like each other. But both know how significant of a fight this one is.

Valdez (23-0, 19 KOs), 27, a two-time Mexican Olympian, has been in exciting defenses against Marriaga and last September's fight of the year contender with Genesis Servania, in which both fighters were knocked down, but Quigg represents by far his most significant opponent.

It's just the kind of fight Valdez has wanted.

"I think it's perfect now, me facing Scott Quigg," Valdez said. "We've been asking to face big names and now we have the opportunity with one of them, which is Scott Quigg and we're taking this seriously. I'm expecting the best Scott Quigg. If he says this is the biggest fight of his career I can agree with that because I'm well-prepared.

"I got much respect for Scott as a fighter and a person. He's a great fighter. There's a reason why he's ranked in all the organizations. I think this is a big step in my career. If I pass this test it would be a big step. This fight means the world to me."

Although Quigg (34-1-2, 25 KOs), 29, doesn't have a world title at the moment, the fight is equally as significant to him. When he held a junior featherweight belt from 2013 to 2016, he made six successful defenses before he squared off with Northern Ireland's Carl Frampton in a massively hyped rivalry fight to unify world titles.

They met in 2016 in Manchester, England, just outside of Quigg's hometown of Bury, and Quigg suffered a broken jaw in the fourth round. Though he made it to the final bell, Quigg lost a split decision and then was out of action for 10 months while the injury healed.

Quigg has won three fights in a row since, all at featherweight, including two with Roach as his trainer. Quigg wants a rematch with Frampton eventually but said a win against Valdez would ease the pain of that loss.

"I think, 100 percent, this would be a massive win on Saturday and totally erase that," Quigg said. "People know me for losing a split decision to Carl Frampton. If, in my U.S. debut, I beat Oscar Valdez, a great young fighter, and become a two-weight world champion that is what I would be known for. This is definitely my biggest fight. I believe this is the tougher fight [than Frampton]."

Roach would also like Quigg to get a rematch with Frampton.

"This is a perfect stepping stone for Scott to get a rematch with Carl Frampton and become world champion once again," Roach said. "Carl got lucky and broke Scott's jaw. That won't happen again. But right now, we're not concerned with Frampton. We're focusing on beating Oscar.

"Oscar says he'll knock Scott out. I hope he believes that because if he comes forward and tries to knock Scott out, then Scott is going to put him on his ass."

The featherweight division is stocked with talent. Besides Valdez and Quigg, it is also home to Leo Santa Cruz, Abner Mares, Gary Russell Jr., Lee Selby, Frampton and Nonito Donaire.

Nobody calls out Valdez but when the fight was offered to Quigg, he immediately accepted it.

"I don't hear any fighters in the division wanting to fight [Valdez]," Quigg said. "They don't. I believe they're avoiding him. They see danger in it. He's obviously on the rise. They don't want to unify the titles with Valdez. There's a reason for that. I believe they're ducking hm. But I believe I'm the best and I want to prove it. These other guys don't want the risk.

"When [promoter] Eddie Hearn got on the phone with me and said the fight was offered, I told him this is a fight that excites me. Respect to Oscar, respect to his team, his trainer [Manny Robles], they're good people. They want to be the best, so you've got to fight the best.

"I take my hat off to Valdez. This is a voluntary defense. They didn't have to pick me. He could've chosen an easier defense. Credit to Team Valdez, but I'm going to make sure on Saturday night that they regret picking me."