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BoxingTalk, June 13, 2004

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One On One With Juan “Pollo” Valenzuela


Most boxing fans were introduced to the Mexican jr. welterweight Juan “Pollo” Valenzuela on February 15, 2003.  That night, on HBO, he came in as the opponent and soundly beat Ricardo Williams Jr. in his native Cincinnati.  As a last-minute substitute, Valenzuela overwhelmed the Olympic silver medalist with nonstop wild bombs from every conceivable angle.  Before the fight, the HBO commentators told viewers that Valenzuela was just a journeyman with a 15-6 record—he sure didn’t act that way.  He was fearless and brash and exhibited a chutzpah not seen since “Prince” Naseem was somersaulting into the ring: After delivering a combination, he’d sometimes drop his gloves, turn towards the crowd, and provocatively pump his hips.  They say boxing is full of metaphors, so I took this one to mean: One day you’re a million-dollar baby, and the next you’re getting buggered by some nobody without Vaseline.


Valenzuela may not have been a name fighter then, but the year before he also shocked Julio Diaz (who is about to fight for the IBF lightweight title) with a KO in the first round.  He then lost his next two bouts, albeit against an undefeated Alex Trujillo and a seasoned Ernesto Zepeda.  He promptly switched trainers and began working with Jesse Ochoa at the Boxing Gym 2000 in Orange, CA.  Their first fight together was against the aforementioned Ricardo Williams Jr.  Since then “Pollo” has been on a tear, winning four fights in a row (three of them blowouts).  BoxingTalk rates Valenzuela number twenty in the deep 140-pound category.


“Pollo” is the type of hungry fighter that insists on fighting the best.  So it’s only natural he had his sights set on Top Rank’s Puerto Rican phenom Miguel Cotto, arguably the best prospect to come out of the 2000 Olympics.  The fight was made, and was to be broadcast on HBO this past Saturday as the undercard to Pacquiao-Marquez.  But a few weeks ago, disaster struck Valenzuela.  While sparring, he sustained a detached retina to his left eye.  Now his career is suspended indefinitely.  Some fighters, most famously Sugar Ray Leonard, have survived this type of injury; others have not.  At 23, just when his career was kicking into high-gear and he was prepared to face his greatest test as a boxer, “Pollo” must instead contemplate the possibility of retiring.  Lovemore N’Dou replaced “Pollo” last Satuday at the MGM Grand, and gave Cotto all he could handle.  All “Pollo” could do was watch with the rest of us and wonder, “What if?”  


ZL: First of all, I’d like to say I’m very sorry about the injury you sustained to your eye.  Can you comment about how it happened precisely, and when? 

JV: It happened a few weeks ago, sparring at my gym here.  I was hit in the left eye.  And I didn’t think it was anything bad—I kept fighting.  There was some bruising around the eye was all.  About a week after that I had an eye exam (the routine physical before a fight), and they told me my retina was detached.  

ZL: Has your eye been operated on already?  

JV: Yes.  

ZL: How is your vision?  

JV: I feel fine. My vision never felt impaired or blurry.  I’m going for another visit tomorrow.  They’re going to check up on me.

ZL: Rumors are circulating that the nature of the injury is such that it might be career-ending.  Is that true?  

JV: The doctor said that it would be better for me not to box anymore.  

ZL: Have you made up your mind about that?  

JV: No, I’m going to wait about four, five months and get it checked out again.  I’m also going to consult with two other doctors, and then I’ll decide.  

ZL: Is your detached retina similar to the one Sugar Ray Leonard suffered?  

JV: It could be the same.  

ZL: Your trainer (Jesse Ochoa) has explained that you are, understandably, extremely depressed and emotional right now. Can you comment on your state of mind right now?  

JV:  Yes, I feel bad.  And I want to continue fighting.  

ZL: Oscar De La Hoya (Golden Boy Promotions) is your promoter.  Has he called you?  Has he offered you any support?  

JV: Yes, he called me through his people—they called me.  They said, ‘Anything you need, let us know.’  

ZL: Jesse said you were in very good form, very strong, very well-prepared for Cotto . . .  

JV: (cutting in) The BEST.  I was prepared better than ever.  

ZL: Did you or your trainer see any technical flaws in Cotto as a boxer?

JV: No.  Cotto fights very well.  He’s a very good fighter.

ZL: Do you think that Cotto would have been the greatest challenge up to this point in your career?  

JV: Up till this moment, yes.

ZL: What did you see in Cotto that gave you the impression that you would have beaten him?

JV: Cotto doesn’t fight good fighters . . . he fights a lot of fighters, but they’re easy.  You’ve got to consider that when you’re looking at a fighter.

ZL: Had you fought Cotto on May 8, would we have seen the same relentless “Pollo” fans have come to admire?

JV: Well, the same but better.  I’m better prepared, and I would have fought more franca (forthright, direct).  I wanted to make an impression on him and not leave him alone throughout the twelve rounds.

ZL: You’re one of the more entertaining boxers in the game but, if you don’t mind my saying, you sometimes get a little wild with your punches, a little out of control.  Is this something that you would have curtailed against Cotto?

JV: Well, I’m not sure if I understood you properly . . . But my consistency and pressure would have made the difference.  Well, anyway, the truth is I think I would have beaten him.  But I know he is a good fighter—he’s fast, he has good defense, he has a hard punch.  But I think I have the endurance to take his punches.  I think I would have given him a problem.

ZL: You turned pro at 18, that’s not uncommon among Mexican fighters.

JV: I started fighting at 17.  Where I come from (Culiacan, Mexico), one has to work for money.  I needed money.  Life at home was very hard.

ZL: I take it Culiacan is a poor city?

JV: Yes.  Everything was hard in every respect.  (Valenzuela moved to Orange, CA in May 2000.) 

ZL: Before you turned pro, what kind of amateur career did you have?

JV: I had 47 fights.

ZL: And how did they go?

JV:  41 wins, 5 losses, and one draw.

ZL: Compared to when you began, is there anything different in the way you train now?  Jesse said that you used to just hit the heavy bag and spar—and little else.

JV: Jesse makes me work harder than ever before.  And in the past I had never done things like mitt work.

ZL: How did you and Jesse hook up?

JV: I met him four years ago at the Westminster Gym.  I was with another trainer then.  I broke my contract with the other trainer in 2003, and have been with Jesse for my last five fights.

ZL: You two seem close.  It seems like Jesse cares a lot about your welfare in and out of the ring.

JV: Yes, we’re very good friends.

ZL: What has Jesse taught you as a boxer, and as a man?

JV: Boxing-wise, he helps me with everything he sees, any fault that I have.  He focuses me more on jabbing, improving my footwork . . . and in general, he helps me focus, so I’ll be in better condition when I fight.  I know he’s with me when I’m fighting.  He’s behind me, he’s behind me.

ZL: Culiacan is famous for producing the great Julio Cesar Chavez.  Has his success had an influence on you?

JV.  Yes.  He is a hero of mine.

ZL: Do you two know each other?

JV: I knew him a little bit when I was 11 to 13.

ZL: Did you always want to be a boxer?

JV: Yes, always.

ZL: Was fighting—be it in the street or in the ring—a big part of life in Culiacan?

JV: Yes.

ZL: Do you have any brothers and sisters?

JV: Yes, there were seven of us in the house.  I have five sisters and one brother.

ZL: Any other boxers in the family?  

JV: No, just myself.

ZL: What do your parents do for a living?  

JV: My father is a gardener in Culiacan, and my mother was a housewife.  

ZL: When you’re fighting, it seems like you have no fear.  Is that how you feel?  

JV: Claro (of course).  

ZL: Because even Mike Tyson talks about fear, and how it can serve you well.  It’s a matter of how you use it.  Do you agree with that?  

JV: I don’t know what fear is.

ZL: When you came in on short notice to fight Ricardo Williams, Jr., were you confident that you would beat him?  

JV: Yes, his conditioning was bad.  I was in very good condition, just like I always am when a fight might be coming up.  

ZL: Before your fight with Williams on HBO, you put yourself on the map by knocking out Julio Diaz in one round.  Did you expect to take him out so quickly?  

JV: The truth is that I was very well-prepared, and I knew that I was going to beat him.  But I didn’t expect to beat him in the first round.  I thought maybe in the seventh or eighth round.  Again, I knew I was going to beat him—I knew it.  But I never thought that I would knock him out so quickly.  

ZL: You looked devastating in your last two fights, stopping Ernesto Zavala (18-2) and Guillermo Valdes (12-1), respectively.  You definitely had momentum going into the Cotto fight.  We hope to see you fight again.  But it looks like we’re going to have to wait, what did you say, four or five months?  We wish you a speedy recovery.  

JV: Thank you.





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