The Man Upstairs: Edgar “Kid Neza” Valerio approaches a step-up fight


Valerio approaches a step-up fight

The Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, California will always hold a special place in the heart of featherweight prospect Edgar “Kid Neza” Valerio. It was there sometime in 2015 he was 4-0 with 2 knockouts, inactive, and in a managerial mess. He was known in the LA gym scene, but nothing was happening out of a three year career that could’ve easily stagnated into oblivion. One day, Valerio went ahead and decided to do something so simple, yet so complicated for a shy, lonely kid caught up in the web of a world where the meek and faithful don’t really last, and his trust was already bothered. That simple something was introducing himself to ask a question.

“It’s almost like a movie. It really was like in slow-motion,” recalled Joel De La Hoya, Edgar’s manager today. “I saw Edgar train here so many times. I used to see him beating up in n the guys up here. I’m walking down the stairs over by the tunnel here, and he calls me out, ‘Mr. De La Hoya, can I speak to you?’ – and I already knew. I kind of had it mind because everyone here would tell me, give this kid a shot man – give him a shot. I knew he was going to talk and ask me to try and help him out one way or the other. I knew I was going to say yes from the go. So it was just a matter of him asking me, getting that rapport going, and we hit it off.”

His story isn’t nearly finished, but how it started, and how it could’ve ended, will always be etched forever in the mind of Valerio.

“I was upstairs, and he brought his fighter Julian Ramirez with Rafael Sanabria, his trainer. I look out the window and, I was desperate man, I was like, ‘I need to tell this guy to give me an opportunity to fight,’ so I ran downstairs,” recalled Valerio. At that time, Ramirez was an active Golden Boy featherweight prospect, and there’s probably a reason why he interjected the detail. “’Look, I won’t take much of your time: just give me a fight,’” Valerio reenacted. “’I’m willing to fight anybody – I don’t care who it is. Any prospects from Golden Boy – just give me a fight. Don’t even pay me. Don’t even think about money, nothing. Just give me an opportunity, that’s all I want. Have your brother and yourself sit down and just watch me fight. If you like what you see, then we can talk business. But if you guys don’t like what you see, it’s okay.'”

It may’ve helped for them to remember so vividly while at Wild Card two weeks ago, where he and Joel spoke with at a media workout ahead of the soon-to-be 24-year old’s biggest fight to date. Valerio will take on fellow unbeaten featherweight prospect, Manny Robles Jr. this Thursday night at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California, and the intriguing match-up opens a card televised live on ESPN (8:30 PM ET / 5:30 PT).

“It will always stick with me.” Valerio said about that day, one he believes was more divine than anything. “I took a step of faith, and I say faith because it required faith. My faith moved me toward him, to be able to just ask him for an opportunity.”A better scene in Joel’s movie would be when he actually told Edgar he was signing him. While working his job as a gopher for an auto parts store, Valerio was on the clock and on the phone with Joel for about an hour, and the shop owner ‘Mr. Lee’ wasn’t to thrilled about it. That wasn’t keeping Edgar from establishing a relationship with De La Hoya, and by the end of the call, Joel broke the news to him. Edgar then told Mr. Lee to find a new delivery boy.

“I quit on the spot. I fired myself,” Valerio said proudly about what he says was his first and last job ever.

About a month later, Valerio got signed to Golden Boy Promotions and made his debut under their banner in January 2016, nearly 18 months removed from his last fight. He forced a stoppage of his opponent in the first round that night, and two months later, produced the same result, but this time by genuine knockout. It was a good showcase of what Joel had seen before, and the potential he could one day have. Valerio is a tall, lean featherweight with long arms and big hands. Out of the orthodox stance, he is light on his toes, a wide stance, and has a glaring ability to put good torque into his shots from his hips. Edgar proceeded to fight four more times within the year, which had already one-upped the amount of fights he had prior to signing with the De La Hoya’s, but there were still bumps in the road along the way. During 2016, he had a stint with former fighter turned trainer, Wayne McCullough, and after an off-night in a offset Hollywood gala in May, Edgar made amends with an old coach he had prior, Ricky Nesio, and he proceeded to start gaining the experiences needed to shape a fighter in the early stages.

Photo: Lina Baker

In September 2016, Valerio fought through a bad cut above his eye that eventually ended the fight early in the fifth round. He won a technical decision, but Edgar will tell you that it was another experience he’ll never forget. Same goes for his first eight round fight, where nine months and two knockouts later, Valerio had his most memorable fight so far against Jairo Ochoa, who at the time, was Edgar’s most experiences opponent to date. Valerio was knocked down in the second round after dropping Ochoa late in the first. Once going through his first ten count, Edgar reacted with vengeance and immediately dropped Ochoa again before going to war with him for the remainder of the round. Valerio ended up dominating by the end of the fight and earning a wide unanimous decision, but it’s moments like those that shape the psyche of a fighter like Valerio, who firmly believes his world is dictated by the beat of his maker’s drum.

“It’s been a privilege,” Valerio said about his career so far under Golden Boy. “Sky’s the limit. I walk with faith by my side. It’s like they say, ‘God’s plan.’”Robles (15-0, 7 KOs) is by far Valerio’s toughest test to date, but Thursday night will be just as important in the other corner too.

“This is obviously the most important fight of my career,” Robles told at the same workout. “This is gonna take me a step forward to fighting for a world title and getting me in the ranks. I’m gonna take full advantage of it. Once I heard the news, I was super excited. Who doesn’t want to take an opportunity like that and fight on ESPN?”
Both have technically fought on television before, but the reach of the Spanish-speaking station, Estrella TV, pales in comparison to that of ESPN, for which both will be making their debuts on the network. The son of a well-known trainer of the same name, Robles, 24, has had his past managerial issues as well, which like Valerio, marred his activity early on before signing with Golden Boy. He has two more fights and more experienced opponents than Valerio, but both are at this stage after making their pro debuts in September 2012. Being around LA, they’ve known each other all this time and have seen each other workout in the gym, but they’ve never sparred together, nor is there any personal relationship whatsoever.
“He’s a good fighter. He’s talented, tall, long, and he’s a good fighter,” Robles said about Valerio. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before I think. I know what he’s got. We’ve been knowing each other since the amateurs and I’ve seen him fight before. I’m going to have a good game plan come June 14th and I’m going to take full advantage of it.”

“I just know of him,” said Valerio about Robles. “We’ve done sparring inside the same gym, but never with each other. We’ve been around the corner, as he has, I have. It’s nothing personal. It’s what we were expecting. He’s a very crafty fighter, you know. He’s very calm. His Dad was selected as a candidate to be Trainer of the Year. It’s all respect.

“It’s how they say – every rose has its thorns – so you have to be careful on how you grab it, how you approach and cut it. You gotta know your way into a rose as well. Every fight is a challenge. Even if people say it was a walk in the park, you make it look like a walk in the park if you put in the work for it. To prove that you weren’t ready, but made ready for that. This is how I see this fight: This fight isn’t a walk in the park, it’s a step-up. A step-up to a new challenge, and even to a greater challenge and a better challenge. At the end of the day, they’re all challenges. Nobody is born perfect but we can all try to be perfect, and that’s what I strive for and that’s what I’m here for. To prove that there’s a point to be proven.”

Golden Boy matching up two of their undefeated prospects isn’t a rare occurrence, and this has been the fight that harkens back to the day when Valerio first approached Joel. The featherweight prospect whom De La Hoya was representing back in 2015 – Julian Ramirez – got himself a similar fight Valerio will have on Thursday night. In June 2016, he was matched with Abraham Lopez on an HBO co-feature, and after a dubious decision against him, he hasn’t fought since.

“This is what he wanted,” De La Hoya said about Valerio. “This is his dream, and I’m just happy to be along for the ride. As much as I can help him, that’s what I’m here for.”

Valerio (13-0, 8 KOs) had an opponent cancel on him earlier in the year, but he did fight in March against his most experienced opponent on paper. He knocked out Giovanni Caro with a perfect left hook, leaving his grand total of rounds midway through 2018 at one. Without forgetting the benefits that can come with a win over Robles, Valerio doesn’t see this fight as one prospect taking a step forward, and the other a step back.

“No. At the end of the day, we’re two undefeated fighters, were both young, and we still have a great career ahead of us,” he responded. “It’s all knowledge and experience. It’s something to pick up on and learn from. I’m not in the gym everyday just saying to myself that I’m going there just for an opportunity. I’m going in there to excel and to prevail. To demonstrate I’m a force to be reckoned with.”Valerio grew up in South Los Angeles, but was born in Nezahualcoyotl, Mexico, which of course is where the “Kid Neza” nickname derives from. English was his second language but you can’t tell. He has a mean mug but his kind-hearted spirit renders it useless. His personality and interests don’t fit the mold of your average fighter, but neither does it classify your average 24-year old. There’s an enlightened sensibility to Valerio – even psychedelic in a way – and he doesn’t let you wonder where it’s coming from. It’s also part of the reason why he looks like a classic Mexican fighter.

“I read a scripture of Samson, and when they cut his hair, he pretty much asked God for a last favor, or his last blessing, for him to die with his hair back intact to give him the strength and prevail. God did it, and I believe that’s pretty much why I have my rat tail. I read that scripture and it touched me. Things don’t touch you just because. Things happen for a reason and I believe that was a great reason to grow it.”

Stepping into the ring, of course, Valerio can’t be so nice or forgiving. “Well that’s when the mask comes on,” he said, comparing it to when the green guy in The Mask goes into  ‘Tasmanian Devil’ spin. Like most fighters, he’s had his fair share of troubles growing up, but it’s gone much further than using boxing as an avenue out of a youthful rage. Valerio isn’t part of a big stable of fighters with a famous trainer, rather a cast-off who is willing to travel for good sparring. Most of his days he’s at a private gym in Gardena, California called “Global Fitness”, where the work is done with no one really watching, but neither is he begging to be seen. Being alone is part of the deal in boxing, says Valerio, but he’s figured out how to circumvent that through faith. The man upstairs is always there for him, and it’s shaped and powered the mindset of a committed fighter who feels this is his destiny.”I’ve always been excited,” Valerio said about the big fight. “It’s not something you want to anticipate. You don’t want your own anticipation, or your own nerves control you because then fear, doubt or concern can set in. We’re not supposed to be ready, we’re supposed to stay ready. I said definitely: Bring it on. If you believe it, I believe it.

“If the mind can conceive it, the body and soul can achieve it.”

About Albert Baker

Writer/Producer/Director of the Under the Hand Wraps documentary series and owner of Albert Baker is currently based in Fresno, California and has been covering boxing since 2014.

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