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Slippery When Wet

By Richard E. Baker on July 27, 2022


A milky haze from wet bodies hovers around the ceiling lights. (Photo: Richard E. Baker)

Jose “Rayo” Valenzuela (12-0-0) steps to his corner. The gym is hot. The gym is very hot. A milky haze from wet bodies hovers around the ceiling lights. Sweat drips from under his headgear, drips in rivulets down his cheeks and dribbles over his chin. His t-shirt is soaked and clings to his body. Sweat runs down his arms and his legs. His breathing is slightly labored like puffs of wind through trees in the late afternoon. He has only been in the gym for a week and is getting ready for former multi-titlist Jezzrel Corrales (26-4-0). It is the biggest challenge of his short career. The fight is September 4th at the Center in Los Angeles and will be televised on Showtime. He is Showtime’s latest star, a young man who can give and take a punch. The viewers find him very exciting. He is no dancer.


The 30-second rest period comes too fast, time enough for one short drink of water. Boxers gather around the ring. They come from many places with all their dreams in their fists. Valenzuela is special. They know good boxing. They know a man with potential. They watch him in awe, hope someday to be in the corner having that one last sip of water before continuing the sparring then having a big television fight. Beating Corrales will move him from prospect to contender.


The bell rings. He steps to the center of the ring. He has been sparring with Jose Benavidez Jr. and Stephen Villalobos, a man starting to make his move. In past sparing he has bloodied Benavidez’s nose several times. Benavidez is larger than him and easy to hit. Benavidez does not like his nose bloodied.


Valenzuela appeared at the Benavidez’s doorstep several years ago. He wanted to box. He wanted Benavidez Sr. to train him. He wanted the best. Benavidez is the best. He trains champions. Boxing is the family business. Benavidez took him into his home. He treated him like a son. His sons David Benavidez and Jose Jr. treated him like a brother. Like all brothers they do not always get along. Like all brothers they respect and help one another.


Benavidez is a smart and careful trainer. Many trainers put their fighters into the ring too soon and build their reputations by sending them to Mexico to score easy victories over scrubs trying to earn grocery money rather than become contenders. Valenzuela entered the ring after he learned to fight. Eight of his victories have come against fighters with winning records, not minor winning records but records like 27-3-0 (Francisco Vargas), 14-2-0 (Austin Dulay), and 22-3-1 (Deiner Berrio).


Valenzuela likes women. Likes them a lot. After he appeared on Showtime for the first time they started crawling out of his groin protector. Women are cunning; men are stupid. His training started to slack after the big wins. He was lax in coming to the gym. Jogging became a chore. He is not as stupid as many men. He caught himself before it was too late, caught himself while he still had change in his pockets. If you want the women and good times to continue you have to keep winning. That takes work and a close eye on your finances.


Fighting Corrales may be a step too far. Not to Valenzuela. He fights anyone. There is no confidence like that of an undefeated fighter. Benavidez understands the risk, a risk worth taking. He detects a weakness in Corrales. Valenzuela will capitalize on that weakness, find the crack and open the aperture wider until Corrales’ heart and guts run out.


Corrales has a number of titles under his belt. In 2012 he won the Panamanian featherweight title. The thunder started there. That was followed with the WBC FECARBOX featherweight title, the WBC Latino featherweight, the South American Super featherweight title, the WBA super featherweight title, and the WBA Super featherweight title in 2015, before losing the title in Alberto Machado in 2017. He then lost to Ladarius Miller and Chris Colbert. He has since racked up three wins.


He is a tough nut and goes from righty to leftie with ease. He has been on the canvas several times but mostly for social calls, only once taking a nap. At 31 he is at the top of the long fall to obscurity. Valenzuela is pleased to make the fall quicker, give him that extra push to start him on his way.


Valenzuela slides quickly to the center of the ring and continues the sparring. As a kid he wrote poetry. It shows. His blows are quick and graceful. He steps in iambic pentameter, one foot then the other. He repeats his combinations like a crisp villanelle. He knows none of these terms. He is a natural poet and is not prone to composing Shakespearian sonnets. His poetry is from the trenches, bloody and real.


One thing he knows for certain:


It’s not the jabs that’s thrown in dabs.


It’s the stab that goes straight to the abs.


Now that’s poetry every fighter understands.

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