By Jake Donovan (photo by Rafael Soto)
Far too often, a fighter that develops a huge cult following is built up to the point where he’s bound for a major letdown once the rest of the world finally has a chance to sneak a peek.
Edwin Valero did everything in his power to make sure he lived up to the lofty press clippings for his Showtime-televised debut against Antonio DeMarco on Saturday evening.
The end result was perhaps the finest hour to date, scoring a dominant ninth-round stoppage of DeMarco on the road at Arena Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico.
Both fighters weighed in at the lightweight limit of 135 pounds.
The bout was staged south of the border due to visa issues for Valero stemming from a DUI charge late last year denying the Venezuelan entrance into the United States.
It mattered little to Valero, who took note of the scouting report that had DeMarco as a deliberately slow starter and fought accordingily.
The preliminary plan seemed to be for DeMarco to force a deep fight by allowing Valero to empty his clip in the early rounds. Valero never quite took the bait, but still found the time to take advantage of DeMarco’s propensity for being a slow starter. The action offered by the Venezuelan came in a controlled sense, landing clean shots and wasting very few of them.
His newfound patience would be put to the test in the second, suffering two severe cuts in the round. The most visible of the two came courtesy of an inadvertent left elbow from DeMarco, which landed after missing with an overhand left. The sequence left Valero with a deep gash high above his right eye, prompting referee Laurence Cole to call time and have the ringside physician take a look.
The cut was severe, but action was permitted to resume. Valero continued to take the lead, pressing the action and landing the far more telling blows through the third and fourth rounds, mostly consisting of straight and overhand lefts.
DeMarco’s best moments through the first four rounds came few and far between, prompting his corner to demand he step it up. The Mexican didn’t quite go full throttle in response, but made some adjustments in the fifth to minimize the impact of Valero’s punches.
However, a reminder of how far he had fallen behind came when the PA announcer revealed the scoring through the first four rounds, which had the Mexican down 39-36 (twice) and 40-35. He didn’t offer enough to instantaneously turn things around in the fifth, but came alive in the sixth, landing two flush right hooks at center ring to get Valero’s attention.
It still wasn’t enough to win the round, and ultimately proved to be moot anyway. Still, it was enough to cause Valero’s corner to dig into their fighter, asking the defending titlist not to let up.
Valero responded immediately in the seventh, cutting off the ring and landing overhand lefts. DeMarco tried to break free, but once again found himself under siege in the corner as Valero continued to land in combination. The round continued to go from bad to worse for the challenger, refusing to let his hands go and landing nothing to earn the respect or even attention of the visiting champion.
The Mexican crowd was desperate for any reason to rally behind DeMarco, who finally gave them reason to cheer early in the eighth.
A straight left landed early in the round, giving DeMarco confidence as he went on the attack. The surge was quickly quelled after Valero place a left directly through the uprights, which for all intent and purposes proved to be the beginning of the end. Chants of “Tony” echoed through the arena, but it was all Valero for the remainder of the round, picking apart the challenger, who showed visible signs of fatigue for the first time in the fight.
By rounds end, DeMarco bore the look of a beaten fighter, breathing heavy in his corner and was repeatedly asked by his corner, “Are you OK? Are you feeling sick? Do you want to continue?”
His answer came in the form of getting off of his stool to come out for the ninth round. As the round begun, open scoring reminded him that a knockout was the only way he would win the fight, as he was down 79-72 on all three scorecards.
A stoppage came; just not the kind that did DeMarco any good. Valero continued to perform with surgical precision, while DeMarco was simply going through the motions. His corner recognized their man to be a finished fighter, informing referee Laurence Cole that their night was done.
The official time was 3:00 of round nine.
“This was definitely my best fight,” Valero insisted afterward, as he improves to 27-0 (27KO) with the win, the second deepest of his career.
DeMarco falls to 23-2-1 (17KO), with a four-year, 16-fight unbeaten streak coming to an end in his first bid at a major alphabet title.
The fight marked just the fifth time Valero has been extended beyond the third round, which taught him the valuable lesson of patience, something that hasn’t always been a part of his career.
“The experience tells me that I can’t keep going the way I used to, that I have to pace myself to go beyond six rounds.”
Once upon a time, there wasn’t such a need to worry about the sixth round, not when it took six combined bouts to fight that many rounds. The Venezuelan opened his career with 18 straight first-round knockouts, at the time a world record which has since been broken.
The streak coming to a close was the best thing that happened to Valero’s career, as it forced him to return back to the skill set he was so often praised for in his early years, when he was a gym legend before becoming an online cult favorite.
Beginning with tonight’s performance, he can now proceed with becoming a household name. The timing is perfect, as Valero believes an expanded audience is catching him as he hits his peak.
“The entire world is seeing a fighter that’s climbing. There is still a lot that I have to learn, but I came here tonight to look spectacular in front of the Mexican crowd, and for the whole world to see.”
With more performances like this and a little more forgiveness from stateside commissions, the entire world will continue to be afforded the chance to bear witness to the climb.
The opening bout of the evening saw Luis Carlos Abregu (28-0, 23KO) remain unbeaten after taking a ten-round decision over Richard Gutierrez (24-3-1, 14KO).
Action was considerably faster in the first half of the bout than the back five rounds, particularly in the early going. Abregu was floored hard in the second round, but came back to return the favor in the third, with Gutierrez touching ground for the first time as a pro.
Those who vehemently oppose open scoring were fed fuel for their fire and ire in the ninth round. After scores were revealed through eight rounds, Abregu went into cruise control mode in the final two rounds, taking zero risks and coasting to the finish line, allowing a bout that had plenty of bang to end with a whimper.
His strategy proved sound, if not completely fan friendly. Scores of 97-91 (twice) and 98-90 keep the Argentinean an undefeated fighter, though his reputation as a power puncher threatens to become unraveled, having now been extended the distance for the third time in his past five fights.
Gutierrez has now lost 3 of his last four bouts.
The show was presented by Gary Shaw Productions.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at [email protected] .