Oscar Valdez, alligator owner, just as fearless out of the ring as he is in it
Oscar Valdez is thought of as one of the most promising young fighters in the sport of boxing. He’s a two-time Olympian and on the cusp of a title shot should he see his way past former IBF titleholder Evgeny Gradovich on the pay-per-view portion of the Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley III undercard on Saturday.
However, away from boxing, Valdez has a love of animals, particularly reptiles.
“I grew up watching Animal Planet and one of the big characters was Steve Irwin: ‘Crocodile Hunters,'” Valdez told RingTV.com.
“One time I got a chance to meet a crocodile in a store in Monterrey, Mexico. I just bought it and ever since then, it’s gone from there.”
At one time Valdez had two crocodiles and two alligators. The crocodiles weren’t as strong as the alligators and died. He still has the two alligators today. He’s had them for seven years, watching them grow from fitting in the palm of his hand to roughly the same size as he is.
For awhile the alligators – named Steve, after Steve Irwin, and Rex – lived with him in Hermosillo. However, Valdez decided that having a young family and large reptiles living in close proximity wasn’t a good idea.
“One of them lives on the farm,” he explained. “A year-and-a-half ago I took him to the farm. I had him in my backyard but he was getting bigger and bigger. It wasn’t a good habitat for him.”
The other one Valdez is in the process of getting back. It was stolen from his home while he was away in training camp. (Some people really will steal anything.)
“I left him alone with a buddy of mine and they broke in the house,” Valdez said. “He was in the fish tank and they took him.
“A year later I saw in a newspaper that an alligator was cruising on the streets in Hermosillo. As a joke one of my friends, said ‘Is that your alligator?’ I said, ‘Yes, it is.’ The reason I knew it was mine was because its tale was a bit shorter because the other alligator had bit it off.
“Animal control picked him up and took him to the zoo. He’s in the zoo now. I’m pretty sure after this fight I’m going to claim it. They said it’s OK for me to pick it up whenever I want, so I’ll put my two alligators together again.”
So the two will soon be reunited. But seriously, how safe is it to handle large reptiles like those, especially when the key to your future success is the well-being of your fists?
“I had them since they were very little but they’re still reptiles,” he said pointing out he’s not reckless with how he spends time with them. “If I put my hand on them they would bite it. I always treat them with respect. There’s ways how to get them. Obviously I’m not going to put myself near his mouth. I put myself in a safe place. I would never risk my hands, that’s where my future’s at.
“Every time I get them, I always treat it with caution, there are proper ways to grab him.”
With that said, Frank Espinoza Jr. who manages Valdez along with his father Frank Sr. is understandably weary.
“We always encourage him not to be so hands on with it,” said Frank Jr. with a chuckle. “But that’s who Oscar is. At the same time, he does know to be careful with them because an injury can happen. We’ve had those talks with him. It’s OK to have it but play with it from a distance [laughs].”
Valdez says Top Rank CEO Bob Arum also thinks he’s crazy for putting himself in harm’s way with a wild animal. However, he doubts they’d be so concerned had they been with him in person.
“I’m pretty sure if they were with me when I get them [out it wouldn’t be so bad],” said the 25-year-old boxer puncher, who sports a perfect 18-0 (16) ledger. “It looks way more dangerous on a camera than it is in real life. I can teach them ways to get him, people would say it’s not such a big of a deal. If you get them the proper way.”
Frank Jr. points out Valdez isn’t the first boxer to home dangerous animals: “You know what there are other fighters who had animals, if you remember Mike Tyson used to walk around with a Tiger. It’s not the first time a boxer has had an exotic animal.”
Other notables to have wild animals include Floyd Mayweather Jr., who also has a Tiger, former middleweight titlist Peter Quillin, former lightweight champion Livingstone Bramble and recently dethroned strawweight beltholder Hekkie Budler have had or still keep large snakes.
Along with his reptiles, Valdez has a menagerie of other animals, including dogs, snakes, mini-pigs.
“If I was in a position where I’m a big shot like Mike Tyson, people would pretty much see me have a zoo at my house,” he said.
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