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Pitalua plans to surprise people

02
Apr

Antonio Pitalua (right) doesn't plan to aid Edwin Valero in the Venezuelan's rise to stardom. Photo / Tom Hogan-Golden Boy Promotions

Antonio Pitalua had just knocked out Jose Armando Santa Cruz in the sixth round in September in Monterey, Mexico. He jumped up on the ropes in one corner, pointed at Edwin Valero and yelled: “You’re next.”

“I think he’s nervous,” said Pitalua’s co-manager, Oscar Maldonado, referring to Valero. “He knows he’s going to have to take a punch to win on Saturday.”

Valero nervous? Not likely. Knocking out all 24 of your opponents, as Valero has, breeds confidence not anxiety. However, the second comment might have some truth in it.

Pitalua, a 39-year-old Colombian who moved to Mexico 17 years ago to become a boxing star, isn’t given much of a chance to beat the fast-rising Valero for the vacant WBC lightweight title on Saturday in Austin, Texas.

But everyone knows the man can punch: He’s 46-3, with 40 knockouts, which would make some opponents nervous.

And he’s an impressive physical specimen. His handlers believe he could fight as many as five more years with his work ethic and clean living. He’s never out of shape. His idol, no surprise, is Bernard Hopkins because of the American’s longevity.

The problem with Pitalua is that his opposition has been questionable. He fought once for a major title, losing a unanimous, but fairly close decision to Artur Grigorian for the WBO lightweight title in 2000 in Germany. Other than that and two fights at the old Forum in Inglewood, Calif., he has fought exclusively in his adopted country.

Thus, his record and knockout ratio – he’s on a 14-KO streak – are at least somewhat suspect.

“Nobody gave him opportunities (for big fights),” Maldonado said. “He’s dangerous but he doesn’t have a big name so no one wants to fight him. He’s a big risk. Not even our (Mexican) champions wanted to fight him. Jose Luis Castillo was one who wouldn’t give him a chance.

“I think Antonio understands that’s part of boxing. He’s waited for this opportunity. He’s not going to waste it. He knows it’s the last opportunity for him to be a champion.”

Pitalua has a sketchy resume but he is very experienced when it comes to taking on aggressive, offense-first fighters like Valero. That’s how they fight in Mexico; if they don’t, they get booed out of the arena or stadium.

Pitalua would seem to have a decent chin. He has been stopped only once, by capable Jesus Rodriguez way back in 1995. And he’s the naturally bigger man. He’s fought as heavy as welterweight (147 pounds) while Valero has fought no heavier than lightweight (135).

Valero is THE RING’s No. 1-rated junior lightweight; Pitalua the No. 5 lightweight.

So it’s safe to assume that the underdog isn’t nervous either.

“I’ve been living in Mexico for years and you know the kind of fighters that Mexicans like,” Pitalua said through a translator on a conference call. “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.”

Pitalua knows he’s perceived as a stepping stone for Valero, not serious threat. The boxing world envisions great things for the charismatic Venezuelan.

That doesn’t mean Pitalua must cooperate, however. As Maldonado said, this could be his last chance at glory. And he doesn’t plan to allow anyone, not even a star-in-the-making like Valero, deprive him of his prize.

“I know that Edwin Valero is already challenging (lightweight champ) Juan Manuel Marquez, brushing me to the side,” Pitalua said, “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.”

Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]

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