Thursday, April 2, 2009

Edwin Valero Lives Life at Full Throttle

Venezuelan Edwin Valero returns to an American ring for the first time in over five years on Saturday night in Austin, Texas.

Some people live a cautious life with one eye on the speedometer and with one foot on the brake. Others live recklessly, stare danger in the eye and chuckle. They skip over the speed bumps of life and live the only way they know how - wide open and at full throttle.

In case you’re wondering, in the above example, Edwin Valero is the latter.

Tomorrow night in Austin, Texas, Valero will walk up the steps and slink through the ropes of a boxing ring set up inside the Frank Erwin Center. He will fight in front of what promises to be a raucous crowd and before an international pay-per view audience. While this is not a feat of any great consequence, and also something that takes place in boxing on a fairly regular basis, there are some that believe Edwin Valero should not be allowed near a boxing ring at all.

In February of 2001, on a sunny and warm Venezuelan day, 19 year-old Edwin Valero was on the back of what was a stallion of a motorcycle and he was not wearing a helmet. His best guess is that he was traveling at 50 miles per hour, maybe more, when he smashed into a car, was thrown from the bike and landed on his head.

Knocked unconscious, he would spend two weeks in the hospital with a fractured skull. It would be revealed that in addition to the skull fracture he suffered a small, non life-threatening blood clot on his brain as a result of the accident. Valero claims that the Venezuelan doctors told him he could wait six months and the clot would likely go away on its own, or they could operate and deal with it in that manner.

Valero (left) will face Antonio Pitalua for the WBC 135-pound title as the main event of the "Lightweight Lightning" pay-per-view broadcast.

In either case, they told the young man that there would be the possibility that he may never box again. They told him he would not be able to train for at least three months, that he wouldn’t be able to take head blows for at least six months - and possibly a year. Edwin Valero opted for the surgery.

Eighteen months after the motorcycle accident Edwin Valero made his professional debut as a prizefighter with a first round knockout win. Over the course of he next five years he would fight seventeen more times and win every one of those fights by first round knockouts. By all accounts he is a murderous puncher who currently possesses a professional record of 24-0 (24)KO and he is the former WBA 130-pound title holder.

So what’s the problem here? Shouldn’t Edwin Valero be the toast of boxing and shouldn’t he be regularly fighting on HBO or Showtime? Shouldn’t Edwin Valero and the world’s pound-for-pound best fighter, Manny Pacquiao, be lining up to fight each other right now?

Well, they should be, but they aren’t.

In January 2004, just prior to a fight that was to have taken place in New York City, a routine MRI discovered that Valero still had “a spot” that showed up from the motorcycle accident three years earlier. He was banned from fighting in the state of New York and then all of the other 49 states followed suit. The one place on the planet where fighters from have to make it - in order to make it big - wouldn’t allow him to fight.

Valero's fights are usually short and usually explosive. He is an exceptionlly powerful puncher and always shows up in exquisite condition.

What followed was that Valero became a worldwide vagabond who would fight in any country that would allow him. He gloved up and continued his winning ways in Argentina, Panama, Venezuela, France, Mexico and Japan. He won a world title, became a YouTube sensation and continued to be the most mysterious fighter in the world for most U.S. boxing fans.

But now Valero is ready to make a triumphant return to America after a six year absence. The Lone Star State of Texas examined his medical records earlier this year and approved him for hand-to-hand combat. It's possible, with some further behind the scenes maneuvering that he’ll be approved to fight in additional states as long as things go well on Saturday night.

Valero said last week on an international conference call with boxing writers that; “Every fighter that steps in the ring runs a risk of being injured or being hurt. And I am in no more risk than any other fighter.”

Retired Canadian neurologist Dr. Cyrus Cohen claims that Valero’s proclamations may not necessarily be accurate. Cohen has not examined the fighter, nor has he seen any of the MRIs performed on Valero.

“The brain is a very complex and very delicate organ,” said Dr. Cohen. “Usually any small trauma or damage to it will heal over time, but depending on the individual and a plethora…a variety of other factors, one can never make a definitive statement that they are not at risk. Valero suffered a trauma, a bleed, a skull fracture - he was hospitalized, there was an operation. Obviously the New York MRI showed something or otherwise they would not have seen it on the scan. So ask yourself then - Is he the same as a person that has a clear MRI, that has never had brain trauma? I think the answer is obvious.”

In seven years as a professional prizefighter, nobody has heard the final bell against this man.

But Edwin Valero, like all confident fighters, views his case through a different prism.

“I’ve been to doctors all over the world. I’ve been to Argentina, I’ve been to Panama, I’ve been to Venezuela,” he says. “I’ve seen all the best doctors in America. I actually saw the doctor that performed the surgery on Marco Antonio Barrera, Dr. Madrazo, and they’ve all told me the same - that I’m clear to fight - that I’m O.K. and that I don’t run any more risks than any other fighter. In December I was in the Philippines and a doctor — the President actually — as a gift, gave me an exam and they cleared me as well out there. So I want to repeat that I’m in no more danger than any other fighter, to suffer any more injuries or anything because of what I have.”

Certainly the argument that Valero makes is supported by the evidence that he is a capable prizefighter. His professional record of 24-0 (24KO) and an amateur record that was reportedly 86-6 (57KO), proves that he does most of the hitting. Tomorrow night he will meet veteran Antonio Pitalua for the vacant WBC lightweight title. Pitalua, a very strong puncher in his own right, possesses a record of 46-3 (40KO) and Valero is heavily favored to win.

But as a profession, boxing is fraught with danger and risk. It is a sentiment echoed by Dr. Cohen.

“I don’t know of any neurologist in the world who will tell you that taking blows to the head is good for you or safe,” said Cohen. “I’ve read about Valero’s individual case and it would seem that what happened to him in the motorcycle accident was relatively minor. He says he was in and out of he hospital in two weeks and then a year and a half later he turned pro and has been very successful over the past several years. It’s interesting that Texas is allowing him in the ring. While he’s likely taken hundreds - if not thousands of punches over the past several years, all it takes is one punch on a weakened brain and that can be the end. In some respects, Mr. Valero could be playing Russian Roulette.”

April 2009

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