Valero can make big impression

By Thomas Gerbasi, BoxingScene.com

New York City. January 2004. It was one of those sights you wouldn’t forget — Edwin Valero strutting down Fifth Avenue looking like he owned the place.

In a way he did, because he knew what was supposed to happen next. 12-0 with 12 knockouts, all in the first round, he was the type of power-punching star that boxing fans crave. On Jan. 29, he was going to make his New York and HBO debut against Francisco Lorenzo on a Boxeo De Oro telecast, and nothing was ever going to be the same for him or for boxing.

But then came the roadblock — a ban from the New York State Athletic Commission because of a failed MRI stemming from a 2001 motorcycle accident that fractured his skull and forced the removal of a blood clot. Valero claimed that he was cleared by doctors before his 2002 pro debut, and had obviously competed without incident in three California fights. But there would be no fight for Valero in New York that winter night, and maybe not on any other night.

The swagger was gone, and even now, 14 fights, six years, and two world championships later, Valero turns tight lipped when asked about his New York nightmare.

“I was little frustrated at not being able to fight in New York because it’s one of the biggest cities and it so many legends have fought there,” he told BoxingScene earlier this week through his translator. “But that was something that happened in the past and I already forgot everything because I wanted to start a new career.”

It didn’t look promising for the then 22-year old phenom, but this is boxing, and all of a sudden, an unlikely comeback began in 2005, in places like Buenos Aires and Panama City. Valero was now the boxing outlaw, still knocking people out in less than a round, yet unable to fight in the United States.

And his legend grew in the process. Aided by Internet, Valero became every fight fan’s favorite cult hero, even to those who never saw a complete fight of his before. Things got so nuts that when Valero challenged for his first world title in 2006 against Vicente Mosquera (by now his KO streak was still intact but he had gone into the second round before halting Genaro Trazancos), boxing message boards were flooded with fans listening to a radio stream of the bout in Spanish just to hear the announcers going crazy while hoping for a Spanish-speaking colleague to translate what they were listening to.

Valero would win the WBA junior lightweight title that night, halting Mosquera in the 10th round of a classic battle that saw the Venezuelan hit the deck himself in the third round. Yet after defending the title four times in 2007-08, there was still no light at the end of the tunnel when it came to him fighting in the United States.

But he was still the outlaw, still the cult hero, and growing more compelling by the moment, whether with his tattoo of the Venezuelan flag and President Hugo Chavez on his chest, his wild mane of hair or his sheer joy in punching people and making them fall down. And eventually, something had to give, and it did in early 2009 when he was given a license to fight Antonio Pitalua in Texas for the vacant WBC lightweight title.

Not surprisingly, he stole the show with a second round TKO of Pitalua, but visa issues related to a DUI in Texas kept him out of the States and out of a November 2009 bout against Humberto Soto. Disgusted, but not discouraged, Valero instead defended his crown with a seventh round stoppage of Hector Velazquez last December, leading him into 2010 and what may end up being the most pivotal year of his career.

On Saturday night, Valero will put his 135-pound belt on the line for the second time against rising star Antonio DeMarco. Yes, it will be out of the States again — this time in Monterrey, Mexico — but it will also be Valero’s first premium cable appearance (two previous bouts were aired on pay-per-view in the U.S.), and the first time for casual fight fans to see what all the fuss has been about all these years.

“This is the first time that you’re going to see me fight nationally in the United States,” said Valero (26-0, 26 KOs). “I fought on pay-per-view before, but it was completely different. This time, I feel comfortable with people watching me and I think it will open those doors and give me the opportunity to come back to the U.S.”

The stage is certainly set for him. Last year, the Nevada State Athletic Commission amended a rule that said it would not “issue or review a license to engage in unarmed combat to an applicant or unarmed combatant who has suffered cerebral hemorrhage,” changing it to “If an applicant for a license to engage in unarmed combat or an unarmed combatant has suffered a serious head injury, including, but not limited to, a cerebral hemorrhage, the applicant or unarmed combatant must have his application for a license or for renewal of a license reviewed by the Commission before a license is issued or renewed.” Of course Valero would have to go through the proper screening and exams to get licensed in Nevada, but if he does, passes, and then gets licensed, the big fights will suddenly become a reality, and the continuation of what was supposed to happen in 2004 can resume.

“It’s been a little frustrating, but not too much,” said Valero of his years as boxing’s version of the traveling ronin. But even he knows that while he has truly become a “world” champion while fighting around the globe, the amount of money that has been left on the table due to his lack of mega-fights on U.S. television has got to be immense. He’s still young though, at 28, still knocking people out, and still able to make an impact beyond the hard-core fanbase.

But first there’s DeMarco to beat, and Valero is saying all the right things before he defends his crown.

“DeMarco’s going to be an aggressive southpaw,” he said. “He’s a talented fighter and he has great skills to support him, but I’m just as talented, if not more so, and I’m ready to go for the fight.”

As for being on the Los Mochis native’s home turf in Mexico, you know the answer to that one — it’s just business as usual.

“I’m accustomed to fighting people in their own country because that’s all I ever do is fight outside of my own country,” he said laughing. “There are really no adjustments that I need to make. Every camp for every opponent is the same, and I’ve fought in Mexico before and I’m very comfortable here, so I don’t feel any added pressure. I just want to give the fans and everyone watching one of my best fights ever. And of course I’m going to win and keep my title.”

In his lone previous bout in Mexico, in December 2007, Valero defended his 130-pound title with a three-round win over Zaid Zavaleta. But like all true knockout artists, he pulled out the cliche handbook when asked about his punching prowess and says that he never seeks an early finish.

“We never look for the knockouts — they come by themselves,” he said. “I’m just doing my job inside the ring.”

But you like the knockouts, right?

He laughs.

“Exactly.”

So do the fans.