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From Golden Boy to Road Warrior: Excerpt From Berserk

The following is an excerpt, from pages 17–19 of Part II, “Birth Of A Nightmare,” from Berserk: The Shocking Life and Death of Edwin Valero, by Don Stradley. Copyright © 2019 Don Stradley.

***

In April 2005, Valero was dropped from the Golden Boy roster.

After living in Los Angeles for several months, and working for a spell as a cab driver to make ends meet, Valero returned to Venezuela. He and Jennifer now had a second child, Jennifer Roselyn, born in LA.

Valero was frustrated. He took the first opportunity that was offered. He passed his prefight physical and readied to fight in Argentina.

There were rumors of a mysterious fax sent to the WBA by Golden Boy, warning them of Valero’s suspension and suggesting he was a risk. The promotional group denied sending it, but Valero was already tired of De La Hoya’s fledgling company. He didn’t understand how they couldn’t fix a medical issue in New York. “If you ask any trainer or fighter,” Valero sneered, “they wouldn’t say a good thing about that company.”

Having been cleared by medical experts around the world—including the surgeon who had once operated on Elizabeth Taylor’s brain tumor—Valero claimed he was being held back for political reasons. He pointed out that Marco Antonio Barrera, another Golden Boy fighter, had undergone a serious brain operation years earlier and was fighting all the time. Valero felt Barrera received special treatment by Golden Boy. He fumed.

The bout in Buenos Aires, though, appeared to hearten Valero. He’d remember it as a special night.

The finish was electric. He dropped Valenzuela once, and then went lefthand crazy to finish him off. A white towel came flying in from Valenzuela’s corner to signify surrender. As referee Guillermo Pineda moved in to stop the bout, Valero landed two more punches, haymakers reaching back to the alleys of El Vigia. Valenzuela sagged along the ropes, out on his feet.

Valero jogged around inside the ring, howling and sticking his tongue out at the crowd.

Ironically, the bout was part of a WBA-sponsored event with an “antidrug” message. It was called “KO Drugs.”

• • •

Less than two months after his bout in Argentina, Valero was in Panama City fighting in an arena named after Roberto Duran, against an opponent seemingly named after one of Duran’s great rivals, Esteban de Jesús Morales. Valero stopped Morales in one round.

There were murmurs that Valero had set some sort of record by beginning his career with fourteen consecutive first-round knockouts.

“I’m happy to hear that I hold a world record,” Valero said. “That means I’d have already achieved something big if I’d retire today.”

Valero was entering his wilderness years. Though several important promoters expressed interest in him, no contracts were forthcoming. He put up an optimistic front, but later said the New York ban had left him devastated. In 2006, when his fortunes changed for the better, Valero recalled this tough year. “Things happen for a reason,” he said. “I did not let myself be defeated. I did suffer. I cried, I was depressed, I went through a little bit of everything.”

Valero made the best of the situation by taking a trio of “stay busy” bouts, one in Venezuela, one in Japan, and one in France. The opposition was weak, and the paydays were minimal.

Historians dug up Arthur Susskind, a Jewish lightweight from a century earlier. Fighting as “Young Otto,” Susskind started his career with sixteen first-round stoppages, a record no one had ever recognized or cared about. Valero broke Otto’s record in Paris when he crushed Aram Ramazyan twenty seconds into the first. From then on Valero would be introduced as being in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Knockout streaks were entertaining, but when Joe Hernandez saw tapes of Valero in this period, he claimed Valero looked worse than when he first arrived in Maywood.

“He was trying to knock people out without even thinking,” said Hernandez.

Perhaps it was the adrenaline of being in the ring for money, or perhaps he was becoming too concerned about scoring first-round knockouts. Whatever the reason, Valero no longer concerned himself with finesse.

In Japan, for instance, against a chap named Hero Bando, Valero looked awful, swinging away like an excitable rookie. Of course, once Valero connected, Bando fell so hard he bounced.

The promoter, Akohiko Honda, had promised Bando a bonus if he survived the first round. The bout was going to be televised in Japan, so Honda wanted a few rounds of action. When Valero heard Bando was offered roughly a thousand dollars if he went beyond three minutes, he suggested he should get the bonus if he beat Bando in one round. The promoter was amused by Valero and agreed.

The Bando bout was Valero’s first under the auspices of Japan’s Teiken Promotions. Honda, Teiken’s chief, was an important figure in Japanese boxing. Honda had clout—and had eyes for Valero.

“For Valero to respect you,” said Fischer, “you had to have been around. Young guys were always approaching him with offers to train or manage him, and he’d say, ‘Who the fuck are you? What do you know?’ He wanted experienced people. Valero saw how people listened to Honda. He realized this was a guy who could help him.”

Valero signed a contract to fight in Japan. If America didn’t want him, he’d be a road warrior.

***

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