Can Valero salvage his stagnating career?
This was supposed to be Edwin Valero’s year.
This was going to be the year the Venezuelan KO artist went from being viewed by thousands on YouTube.com to being watched by millions on Showtime and HBO.
This was the year two-division titleholder would show the boxing world that he’s more than a power puncher; 2009 was to be the year that he evolved from a hardcore phenom to an elite fighter with legitimate star potential.
Instead, the year has come to a close with Valero occupying the same place in the sport he’s had for years, that of an underground beltholder unable to fight in the U.S.
Valero (25-0, 25 knockouts) will defend his 135-pound title against undeserving challenger Hector Velazquez (51-13-2, 35 KOs) on Saturday in La Guaira, Venezuela.
The fight, which will not be televised in the U.S., will do nothing to quiet his many skeptics. Making matters worse, Valero has been unable to get his visa renewed because of a DUI in the U.S. on his record.
He will not be able to fight in the U.S. until his visa issues are resolved.
It’s a lousy situation for the dynamic lightweight and certainly not one that his promotional company, Top Rank, wanted for him.
Had everything gone to plan this year, Valero might have had a high-enough profile to be considered a potential opponent for pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao, who is also promoted by Top Rank.
“We had plans for Valero, which included having him fight on the (Manny) Pacquiao-(Miguel) Cotto undercard,” said Carl Moretti, who joined Top Rank as the vice president of boxing operations one week after Valero’s first fight for the company.
That fight was Valero’s second-round demolition of Antonio Pitalua on April 4 in Austin, Texas (the only U.S. state that has medically cleared him to fight in its jurisdiction because of an old head injury). The fight, which was the main event of a small pay-per-view show, earned Valero his second major title and gave American fans a glimpse of his potential.
Pitalua, a dangerous and durable veteran who had 40 knockouts among his 46 victories going into the fight, was viewed as a threat to Valero by many respected boxing writers.
However, after controlling the first round with his speed and reflexes, Valero essentially ended the bout with a single right hook that seemed to prove his punching power — resulting in 18 consecutive first-round KOs to start his career — was no myth.
Valero’s new promoter, Bob Arum, was on hand for the Pitalua stoppage and he was impressed.
“I had never seen Edwin Valero fight in person and this was a real treat,” Arum said at the post-fight press conference. “I really believe in my heart that Valero is the best lightweight in the world.”
Arum admitted that Juan Manuel Marquez might dispute his claim but proposed that the lightweight champ settle it the ring with Valero.
“They can fight in any city in Mexico that (Marquez) wants because I believe that in Valero we have seen something really special, something out of the ordinary, something you don’t see very often, the emergence of a star that has super powers in both hands and can handle any lightweight in the world,” Arum said.
That’s right, Arum actually said Valero has super powers. So what happened to the southpaw superhero?
It appears that poor judgment is Valero’s kryptonite.
“He’s his own worst enemy,” said veteran trainer Ken Adams, who trained Valero for 14 months. “He has too much time between his fights. He’s the kind of guy who needs to stay busy because, when he has time and he’s on his own, he does stupid things.
“That big tattoo of the Venezuelan flag he put on his chest is a prime example. It’s extreme enough to want your flag to cover your entire chest but Valero had to go and tattoo the head of (Venezuela’s) president (Hugo Chavez) on there, too. When I saw that, I told him ‘Why’d you do that, man?’ But you can’t tell Valero nothing. He’s got an answer for everything but he doesn’t make much sense.
“He’s not dumb,” Adams continued. “He’s actually very smart, but it’s a streetwise smart. He’s not real educated. We’re still friends because he’s a lovable guy, but he can get a little crazy sometimes and make bad choices.”
Tattooing the mug of his country’s controversial president to his chest is probably the least of his bad choices.
Drinking and then driving in Las Vegas the night before the Oscar De La Hoya-Pacquiao fight last December tops Valero’s list of poor decisions. Getting busted for drunk driving is making it very difficult for him to get his work visa in the U.S. reinstated.
It’s not his only dumb move. Dumping Adams as his trainer just a few weeks before the Pitalua fight left a lot insiders scratching their heads.
Turning down the opportunity to headline a ‘Latin Fury’ pay-per-view show vs. then-undefeated Breidis Prescott in July for a reported $200,000 payday drew deserved criticism from fans and boxing writers.
Returning to Venezuela, where he and his family are the target of assassination attempts because of his local notoriety and political views make some wonder whether Valero is a lost cause.
It appeared that time was running out for Valero, who turned 28 on Dec. 3. However, if he can take care of Velazquez, the New Year brings the promise of a second chance.
A fight with the mandatory challenger to Valero’s lightweight title, RING-rated Antonio DeMarco, has already been scheduled for Feb. 6 and Showtime has agreed to televise the fight live in the U.S. The network is already announcing the lightweight showdown as its first Championship Boxing show of 2010.
Moretti told RingTV.com that the fight is “85-percent done.” Gary Shaw, who promotes DeMarco, said it’s 100-percent done.
“The fight has been made,” Shaw told RingTV.com. “It will probably take place in Monterrey, Mexico, because of Valero’s visa problems. I worked it out with (Fernando) Beltran (a Top Rank associate who does business in Mexico). It’s a done deal.”
That’s very good news for Valero, who will finally be able to reach a wide U.S. audience and exhibit his talent against an opponent who is respected by American boxing writers.
DeMarco (23-1-1, 17 KOs) is younger, more skillful and better known than Pitalua.
Moretti believes the DeMarco fight will be the first step in Valero salvaging his career.
“He’s got to beat DeMarco, but if he does that, then we will focus on getting him a visa so he can fight in the United States,” Moretti said. “The DUI doesn’t preclude him from ever getting a visa, it just pushes back the process six to nine months. It will eventually be worked out, probably by March or April.”
Once the visa issue is settled, Moretti said Top Rank will focus on getting Valero licensed in major states apart from Texas, such as Nevada, California, New Jersey and New York, where, in January of 2004, his boxing license was suspended after he failed an MRI exam and admitted to commissioners that he had minor brain surgery following a motorcycle accident in Venezuela in 2001.
Valero has passed numerous extensive neurological exams in six different countries and Texas since his license was medically suspended in the U.S. Moretti believes the suspension will be lifted in 2010.
“That will be worked out,” he said. “It’s not the hurdle it once was.”
If Top Rank can deliver on that plan, Adams believes that the sky is the limit for Valero.
“If he had been able to fight in the States this year, I think he’d already be a star in the making,” Adams said. “I think Top Rank would be ready to make a Pacquiao-Valero fight in 2010 instead of Pacquiao-Mayweather. I know Mayweather is a big star but he’s difficult to deal with, and although Valero’s stubborn, he’d do whatever it would take to get a Pacquiao fight done because he believes he can beat Pacquiao.
“And you know what? Even though I don’t train him anymore and I see flaws in his game, I think he can beat Pacquiao. His speed matches Pacquiao’s but he’s got more power. I think Valero can beat all of them.
“The only guy who can beat Valero is Valero.”