Valero-Pitalua heats up on conference call
Following the kick-off press conference for the April 4 “Lightweight Lightening” pay-per-view card, the talk among boxing fans was a potential fight between KO artist Edwin Valero and rugged brawler Jorge Barrios.
The two former 130-pound titleholders from South America exchanged heated words and even had to be separated at one point during the press conference, which took place in Los Angeles a few weeks ago. Barrios and Valero continued to exchange insults and verbal jabs through various Spanish- and English-language boxing websites afterward.
The nastiness made for good fun among hardcore fans and boxing message boarders, who gleefully debated who would win an in-the-ring confrontation. The only drawback was that Valero and Barrios weren’t scheduled to fight each other on the Golden Boy Promotions card that takes place in Austin, Texas.
Valero faces Antonio Pitalua for the vacant WBC lightweight title in the card’s main event. Barrios was scheduled to fight Carlos Hernandez in the opening bout of the pay-per-view show before pulling out after suffering a jaw injury in training.
Barrios has been replaced by Vicente Escobedo, but what will replace the wonderful rancor that he and Valero shared with the boxing world going into the excellent four-bout pay-per-view card?
How about the promise of a hell of fight between Valero and the heavy-handed Pitalua?
If the words Valero and Pitalua shared on a Tuesday afternoon conference call are any indication of their intentions for their April 4 confrontation, fight fans who fill the Frank Irwin Center in Austin and those who purchase the pay-per-view show are in for a treat.
Valero, who is an underground sensation because of a perfect record (24-0, 24 knockouts) that includes 18 consecutive first-round KOs, started the verbal exchanges off when he was asked to analyze Pitalua’s style.
“I was at his last fight (vs. Jose Armando Santa Cruz) in Monterrey, Mexico, and I can tell you he’s very aggressive, very strong; he’s a warrior with a lot of will to win,” Valero said through translator Roberto Diaz, a matchmaker for Golden Boy. “He’s also got a good punch, but I feel sorry for (Pitalua) because I can’t allow him to fulfill his dreams.”
Pitalua, who with 40 KOs in his 46 victories is no slouch in the punching department, responded:
“I know Edwin was there at my fight last fight,” the Mexico-based Colombian veteran said through Diaz. “I want everyone to know that I am a very aggressive fighter. I love to exchange punches and go toe to toe.
“I know that Edwin Valero is already challenging (lightweight champ) Juan Manuel Marquez, brushing me to the side, but on April 4 he’s going to know about me, and I want the whole Hispanic world to know that he’s not going to stop my dreams.”
Valero, who has made no secret of his aspirations to fight Marquez and eventually Manny Pacquiao, responded to Pitalua’s charge.
“I’ve never overlooked (Pitalua),” Valero said. “I know he’s a good fighter. But I know what I can do. I know my capabilities, and I know what I can do to him. He’s gonna roll. He’s going to get knocked out. He’s too slow for me, and I’m too fast and too strong for him. That’s why I’m looking to move on to bigger and better things after this fight.”
Pitalua, who knocked out heavily favored Santa Cruz to earn THE RING’s No. 5 lightweight ranking, wouldn’t allow Valero to have the last word.
“That’s fine, but let’s see what happens on April 4,” he said. “I’ve been living in Mexico for years and you know the kind of fighters that Mexicans like. I come to fight and I can take a punch. I’ve fought all tough fighters, who has (Valero) fought? Yes, he can punch, but can he take a punch? That’s what I’m going to find out.”
Despite his advanced age (39), Pitalua (46-3, 40 KOs) has a reason to be confident. He has a strong edge in experience with 49 pro bouts and having gone eight or more rounds seven times. Valero, the younger man by 12 years, has fought eight rounds or more only twice in 24 bouts, most of which didn’t go past the 3-minute mark.
And there’s also the issue of size.
Pitalua is a very big lightweight. More than half of Pitalua’s bouts have taken place at junior welterweight (140 pounds); a few were even fought in the welterweight division. Valero, THE RING’s No. 1-rated junior lightweight, has campaigned at or near 130 pounds for most of his career.
However, the long-haired southpaw, says it was past time for him to step up in weight, which, he added, is bad news for Pitalua.
“It was beginning to be a tremendous sacrifice for me to make 130 pounds,” he said. “That’s why I vacated the (WBA) belt. I feel that I’m faster and stronger at lightweight and I’m looking to have my hand raised on April 4. Antonio Pitalua brings the perfect style for me to knock him out. Perfect.”
Pitalua, who has only been stopped once in his career, back in 1995, refused to be shaken by Valero’s bold prediction and once more made a case for himself.
“I respect (Valero’s) words, but they’re just words,” he said. “They go to the wind. They don’t bother me. I haven’t lost since 2000. I’ve knocked out 14 in a row. He says I bring the perfect style? Well, he brings the perfect style for me.”
Valero and Pitalua bring the perfect styles and attitudes to make for a good fight.
HARD QUESTION FOR A HARD PUNCHER
Although he shared the conference call with Pitalua and Austin native Jesus Chavez, who will fight Michael Katsidis in the co-featured bout of the card, the conference call was dominated by Valero, who delivered long, thoughtful answers to all questions.
One of the tough questions the 27-year-old Venezuelan might've expected was about his medical status. Early this decade, while still an amateur boxer in Venezuela, Valero injured his head in a motorcycle accident and required surgery. Years later, before a fight that was to take place in New York City in January of 2004, Valero admitted to the state’s medical commissioners that he had the accident and the resulting surgery the day before the fight and was immediately placed on New York’s medical suspension list, which prevented him from fighting in any U.S. jurisdiction.
After putting his career on hold for a year, while his promoter (Golden Boy Promotions) and manager (Joel De La Hoya Sr.) at the time tried to appeal the decision, Valero left the U.S. in early 2005 to continue his career in other countries where he wasn’t banned. Since his last fight in the U.S., a first-round KO of Thomas Zambrano in Irvine, Calif., Valero has fought in Argentina, Panama, Venezuela, Japan, France and Mexico.
Valero has looked good in those 12 fights, extending his KO streak, but his accident, surgery and subsequent medical suspension still begs the question: Does he feels 100-percent confident stepping between the ropes.
“Every fighter that steps into the ring runs the risk of being seriously hurt,” he said. “I’m at no more risk than any other fighter. My suspension was the result of a bike accident that happened many years ago. There’s been a lot of misconceptions about the accident and the injury. It wasn’t a serious head injury. The injury was outside of the brain, not inside of it. It wasn’t like they operated on me and took my brain out, washed it off and put it back in my skull. It was a vein that erupted and they took care of it.
“Since the (New York) suspension, I’ve seen all the best doctors around the world, and I’ve been cleared to fight in six different countries. I’ve seen Marco Antonio Barrera’s doctor in Mexico, and he cleared me. I’ve been cleared by the best doctors in the U.S. I visited the Philippines recently, and the president put me in touch with one of the best doctors who said I would be cleared to fight there.”
Last March, Valero was examined by neurologists in Texas and in an unprecedented move by a boxing commission, the Department of Licensing and Regulation gave the wayward fighter the green light to fight in the state. So far, Texas is the only U.S. jurisdiction in which Valero is permitted to fight, but his new manager, Jose Castillo, is actively lobbying the commissions of Nevada and California, according to Valero’s publicist, Reynaldo Solorzano.
Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]