Updated: February 5, 2010, 1:48 PM ET

Valero eager to please in front of the spotlight

Rafael By Dan Rafael
Edwin ValeroTom Casino/ShowtimeMainstream fans will get their first look at Edwin Valero when he meets Antonio DeMarco on Saturday.

Around 2003, word started to spread. There was this junior lightweight from Venezuela who was knocking his opponents dead, all of them in the first round.

One after another, they were falling at Edwin Valero's feet, unable to survive even three minutes.

His bouts turned up in grainy footage on the Internet and he became something of an underground cult figure.

That's when he signed with Golden Boy, which intended to unleash him on a card in New York that was going to be televised on HBO Latino in January 2004. Valero was 12-0 with 12 first-round knockouts and was generating enormous buzz.

However, Valero flunked a prefight medical test. He had an abnormality on his MRI exam, the result of a blood clot on his brain suffered years earlier in a motorcycle accident. Unable to get licensed in the United States, Valero's career stagnated. After 16 months of being unable to get reinstated, Valero left for Japan, which licensed him.

The knockout streak continued. It wasn't until his 19th fight that anyone even made it to the second round. In his 20th fight, Valero won a junior lightweight title. Yet, few in the U.S. had seen him other than the most ardent of Fight Freaks.

After four defenses, Valero relinquished his belt and signed with Top Rank, which pushed hard for him to be licensed in Texas after he passed a battery of medical exams in March 2008. Thirteen months later, he crushed Antonio Pitalua in the second round in Austin to win a vacant lightweight belt.

It seemed like only a matter of time until he had big fights in the United States, especially after Nevada tweaked a rule that would allow Valero to at least apply for a license, despite a past head injury. Top Rank's Bob Arum even mentioned Valero as a potential opponent for Manny Pacquiao and hoped he'd fight on the Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto undercard in November.

But Valero shot himself in the foot, so to speak. A drunk driving charge cost him his visa, and he was unable to get into the U.S.

However, interim titleholder Antonio DeMarco, who is from Mexico but has been fighting in the U.S. on Showtime, was so hungry for a serious challenge, he pursued the mandatory fight with Valero, even though he could have easily gotten an exception from the WBC because of Valero's visa issues.

The result: Valero will defend his 135-pound belt against DeMarco (23-1-1, 17 KOs) on Saturday (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET/PT) in Monterrey, Mexico.

For Valero (26-0, 26 KOs), it will mark the first time he'll be seen on American television other than appearances on two small pay-per-views. It's been a long time coming since the aborted 2003 HBO Latino fight.

In the televised opener, welterweight Luis Carlos Abregu (28-0, 23 KOs) of Argentina meets Miami-based Colombian Richard Gutierrez (24-3, 14 KOs).

Valero is pleased that American fans will finally be able to watch him ply his trade, even if he won't be fighting in the U.S., where he'd like to box.

"Fighting in Mexico is actually a benefit for me and I look forward to it," Valero, 28, said. "Mexican fans are great fans and they know this sport very well.

"I'm very excited about this fight and thrilled to be fighting on Showtime. DeMarco is a good, young fighter who has great aspirations, like most young fighters, and I respect him a lot. But I believe my experience will be an important key. He hasn't fought the kinds of fighters I have and he hasn't fought in world title fights. I'm very confident that once I connect with one of my power punches, he will feel it."

Valero, the quintessential knockout artist -- only five foes have survived past five rounds and only one has been as far as the 10th round -- said when he was scoring all those first-round knockouts, he looked to end fights quickly to keep the streak alive. Once it ended, he said he was more relaxed.

"There was pressure on me when I was winning all those fights in the first round, but once that ended so did the pressure," Valero said. "Now, I take it round by round and let the knockout come. I don't go into any fight looking for a quick knockout. I try and measure my opponent and get my timing down and go from there. I'm in there to do a job, which is to win and stay undefeated and keep my title. If this goes the distance and I win, I'll be just as happy as if I win by knockout. I am a pressure fighter, but I know I have to also fight smart."

DeMarco, 24, has been on quite a run himself. He's unbeaten in his past 16 fights, including three consecutive knockouts against his three best opponents: Almazbek Raiymkulov, Anges Adjaho and Jose Alfaro for the interim belt in October.

So he was confident when he called for the Valero fight instead of looking for somebody easier.

"Valero's a great champion of the world and it's an honor to get into the ring with him," DeMarco said. "I have a lot of respect for him as a person and for what he's accomplished. There's a reason he's champ and he deserves all the accolades. But, for me, once I get in ring, it is my job to win and walk away victorious.

"That means I have to not only box and move but also to fight and earn his respect. I know what kind of fighter he is, I know his record and that he hits hard. But I've been working on several strategies with my team. In the event one doesn't work, you have to switch it up and make the proper adjustments to win."

American TV for Haye-Ruiz?

Joerg Koch/AFP/Getty ImagesIf Golden Boy has its way, David Haye will kick off a night of fights headlined by Jones-Hopkins II.

With Golden Boy promoting the Roy Jones-Bernard Hopkins rematch on pay-per-view from Las Vegas on April 3 as well as David Haye's first heavyweight title defense against John Ruiz the same day in Manchester, England, Golden Boy's Richard Schaefer is working on a scenario in which Haye-Ruiz will be available in the United States on same-day tape for free on the pay-per-view channel during the hour time slot prior to the beginning of the pay-per-view.

"I'm going to try to see if it can be done," Schaefer told ESPN.com. "As the promoter of Haye and Ruiz, the first thing is to see if a network or some outlet is interested in acquiring the rights and showing it live in the afternoon in the U.S. At the same time, I think that in a perfect world we'd do a one-hour free lead-in to the pay-per-view where people can watch the Haye-Ruiz fight for free and use it as a promotional tool for the pay-per-view while giving fight fans the heavyweight fight for free. That's what I would like to see. It would be good exposure for Haye and Ruiz and it would be good for the Hopkins-Jones pay-per-view.

"It would make it a really nice night of boxing. And I am also going to make sure that we advertise that the main event of the pay-per-view won't start until after the [NCAA tournament] basketball games are over for the night."

No overtimes, he hopes.

'Swamp Donkey' title shot

Houston's Adam "The Swamp Donkey" Richards (23-2, 15 KOs) heads to Germany for a shot at cruiserweight titlist Marco Huck (27-1, 20 KOs) March 13, Richards promoter Brian Young of Prizefight told ESPN.com.

Richards, 29, campaigned as a smallish heavyweight until Chazz Witherspoon stopped him in the eighth round of a sensational action fight in November 2008. Richards then dropped to cruiserweight, won two in a row and landed the title opportunity against Huck, 25, an aggressive puncher like Richards.

"We've been working on this since October," Young said. "Huck had to win his Dec. 5 fight [against Ola Afolabi] and come out injury free, and thank God he did. The stars have aligned and we have the title shot."

Young said they leave March 7 for Germany, where Huck will make his second defense.

"I think Huck is a world class fighter and proven himself to be a formidable champion," Young said. "We have the opportunity to dethrone him and we're going over and give it our best effort. I think it will be the most fan-friendly fight German fans have ever seen. The Swamp Donkey is coming for it. It probably won't last five rounds, but it'll be one hell of a war. It will be whoever has the better chin. They'll be going at it within 30 seconds. They'll be throwing bombs. The best chin wins, period."

Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com.


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