Seize your moment. That’s what the greats of this sport do. So when a hot prospect obliterated a former world champion on the Errol Spence Jnr vs Yordenis Ugás undercard the boxing world couldn’t help but take notice. This is exactly what José “El Rayo” Valenzuela did to Francisco Vargas, launching a huge left hand to leave his opponent crumpled on the canvas after just 90 seconds. If fight fans weren’t already keeping an eye on this young Mexican lightweight, trained and lauded by José Benavidez Snr, then they certainly are now.
“I hope to stay busy this coming year,” he tells Boxing Social. “This past year I’ve learned a lot about myself. The deep rounds, coming back to the gym every time I fought I could actually feel things I needed to work on. I could actually feel me improving. How I’m placing my shots. When you train you’ve got the mitt work and you’ve got the bag but when you’re in a fight you place a shot a little differently, maybe a little longer. So, when I come back to the gym I’m making sure I’m doing the right things and working on my angles.”
Born in Los Mochis, Mexico, but raised in Seattle on the US West coast, Valenzuela’s path to the noble art is one already well-trodden by fiery kids armed with a score to settle and a point to prove.
“Growing up in rough neighbourhoods, getting in fights, I just fell in love with fighting. It became a passion of mine. Then I was about 10/11 years old I had a lot of energy and my dad was just like, ‘I need to put you into a sport where you can take some of that energy.’
He took me to boxing because he knew that I would always fight and he put it to good use.” At 17 years old Valenzuela began training at the Seattle Boxing Gym, owned at the time by Isaac Tadeo. Having previously trained under Benavidez Snr Tadeo was immediately struck by the unpolished potential of the young Mexican and began calling his former coach relentlessly, promising him he’d unearthed a gem of a prospect. Finally, Benavidez Snr relented and invited Valenzuela to take the long trip from Seattle to his gym in Phoenix, Arizona. Their relationship’s development has been fundamental to Valenzuela’s early success, growing from boxer and trainer to one of paternal guidance for an adopted son.
“He put me through some of the hardest workouts. He put me through pain, but he liked me. He said I had raw talent. And eventually me and David (Benavidez) clicked real good and he took me in and they’ve treated me like family ever since,” says Valenzuela.
“I was already an aggressive fighter so it was just a perfect fit for me. We’ve got a real good chemistry. He’s like a father figure of mine. Him and my parents are real close so when I left California I moved in with them and he raised me basically, teaching me manners, teaching me how to be a man in and out of the ring. He took that father role when my parents weren’t there. So we have a great chemistry, just like in the ring.”
Word had got around of Valenzuela’s heavy hands even before his pro debut, but it was when he reportedly stopped Teofimo Lopez after 30 seconds of sparring that his power began to be spoken of amongst hardcore boxing fans.
The Mexican confirms the truth behind that particular story and says the bad blood between them remains. “I could care less about Teofimo. I would love that fight. The history is already there but it’s not something I need or I’m dying for.” Valenzuela is now aiming to build on his 12-0 (8KOs) record and place his name amongst the best prospects in boxing. Looking across his own lightweight division he can already see the likes of Frank Martin (15-0 w/ 11KOs) and William Zepeda Segura (26-0 w/ 23KOs) making waves, and the thought of competing with this new crop of talent has him champing at the bit.
“I’m excited because it’s going to keep me on my toes and excited and motivated. I think it’s a stacked division but I don’t really see anybody too overpowering or that much better than another guy so I think it’s for the taking, honestly. I’m in great hands, I’ve got a great team around me. There’s gonna be big things ahead.”