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Power propelling Valero to new heights

AUSTIN, Texas -- Before Saturday, Edwin Valero might have been the most famous fighter almost nobody had seen fight.

After his second-round demolition of Antonio Pitalua in the main event of the Lightweight Lightning card, however, Valero is not only the WBC lightweight champion but also is seemingly on the cusp of stardom, at least if he and his promoter are to be believed.

"This is the beginning of big things," he said triumphantly in the ring at the Frank Erwin Center after dropping Pitalua three times en route to an emphatic win. "No man can take my punch."

"I think he's the best lightweight in the world," asserted his aforementioned promoter, Bob Arum of Top Rank. Arum admitted at the postfight news conference that he was among those who had never previously seen his boxer fight in person.

Juan Manuel Marquez might take issue with Arum's elevation of his fighter to the top of the 135-pound mountain, but both promoter and boxer were more than happy in the glowing aftermath of victory to suggest a way in which the linear lightweight champion could right any wrong he might have felt Valero's coronation had done to him.

"I would love for Juan Manuel Marquez to step up to the plate," Arum said. "If he wants, we'll go to Mexico to fight him."

But, at least in Arum's mind, the options extend even higher than that, all the way to boxing's best fighter.

"Manny Pacquiao, if everything goes well with Ricky Hatton [on May 2], would fight him, but I have to build Valero more," Arum said. "Unfortunately, we're limited in our options because we're restricted to Texas and Mexico."

That's because of continuing concerns over brain surgery Valero underwent after a motorcycle accident in 2001. Texas was the only jurisdiction in the United States to grant Valero a license. As a result, Saturday's bout with Pitalua was something of an unveiling ceremony.

One round into the contest, it was difficult to know what to make of this newly revealed sculpture. Valero stood straight up, chin in the air, mouth open, hands low. He seemed to push his left hand from a southpaw stance without any obvious torque or snap. But whatever he may lack in finesse, technique and style points, he clearly more than makes up for in power.

By the end of that first round, Valero had begun to let his left hand fly more readily. It was his right hand that brought about the beginning of the end with impressive rapidity, however. Valero didn't even seem to have his full force behind the concussive blow, but when it landed, it felled Pitalua as if he had been shot. From that moment on, the fight was effectively over, even as the Colombian twice hauled himself off the deck, only to be met each time by a fusillade of bludgeoning blows. As he collapsed a third time, referee Laurence Cole stepped in to halt the contest, and Valero's career reboot was fully in effect.

"I proved one more time that I have too much power in my fists," Valero said. "I can go up to 140 pounds to fight Ricky Hatton or Manny Pacquiao, but I promise you I would knock out either of them."

As much as Arum would like to build up Valero before putting him in against the likes of Pacquiao, the seemingly effortless heavy-handedness of the Venezuelan may have proven a deterrent to any number of potential alternative opponents.

"[Promoter] Frank Warren had been talking about putting him in with Amir Khan," Arum said. "I think that just went out of the window."

The name of another leading lightweight, Juan Diaz, also was mentioned as a possibility. "We'd have no problem doing that fight in [Diaz's hometown of] Houston," Arum said.

"We have no interest in doing that," said Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, Diaz's promoter, who insisted he had other plans for the Baby Bull. Nor did Schaefer seem too keen on putting Valero in with Marquez -- at least, not yet.

"There is some unfinished business between Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao," said Schaefer, referring to the two exceptionally close fights between the Mexican and the Filipino, most recently Pacquiao's close and disputed points win early in 2008. "After Marquez meets Pacquiao a third time, Valero can fight the winner."

Asked Arum, "Why doesn't Marquez fight Valero, and the winner face Pacquiao?"

However it shakes out, with just three minutes of work, Valero has fought his way into rarefied company, indeed. And there's no mystery what it is about his makeup that has enabled him to crash such an exclusive party.

"The punch came, and it was lights-out," Schaefer said as he reflected on Saturday's events. "I think that's going to be the story a lot with Edwin Valero."

Kieran Mulvaney covers boxing for ESPN.com and Reuters.