The rising unbeaten lightweight is ready to shine against former champ Francisco Vargas when the two square off Saturday night at AT&T Stadium, live on SHOWTIME pay-per-view.
In a stacked lightweight division, Jose Valenzuela might be the dark horse no one sees coming. No one aside from himself, of course.
Born in Mexico but raised in Seattle, The 22-year-old Valenzuela, nicknamed “El Rayo,” will look to crash the scene of boxing’s deepest division on Saturday night. Valenzuela (11-0, 6 KOs) faces former world champion Francisco Vargas (27-3-2, 19 KOs) as part of the undercard on the Errol Spence Jr.-Yordenis Ugas SHOWTIME pay-per-view card (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Vargas is undoubtedly the most experienced opponent Valenzuela will have ever faced. Once the king of the super featherweight division, “El Bandido” will show up Saturday night hungry for a win to revive his career. Known for his fan-friendly, come forward style, Vargas will likely attempt to use his championship experience to drag the young Valenzuela into deep waters and drown him with relentless pressure.
But Valenzuela has his own experience, experience that extends far beyond his 11-fight resume and even his boxing career. Valenzuela began preparing for this kind of moment when he was just a little kid whose parents often had to pull him out of street fights.
“I had a lot of energy as a kid, and I got into a lot of fights,” Valenzuela said. “My parents said they had to scare me when there were kids my size around because as soon as they would put me down, I would just swing at everybody.
“One day, when I was 10 or 11, my dad took me to the boxing gym and I fell in love with it. It felt like home.”
Boxing was more than just a fast track to fame and fortune. It’s his calling, the one place where he truly belongs.
“I wasn’t good at too many things when I was a kid,” Valenzuela admitted. “I was really bad at school, I wasn’t good at soccer, I wasn’t good at basketball. Boxing is the only place I fit in.”
While the boxing gym might’ve provided him with an outlet for his endless supply of energy, it wasn’t until he linked up with Jose Benavidez Sr., father and trainer of undefeated two-time super middleweight champ David Benavidez and 154-pound contender Jose Benavidez Jr., that he ascended to the next level.
“The experience of being around them so young and them being world champions, elite fighters and trainers. It’s an experience most people can’t have around them. I’ve learned so much from each and every one” Valenzuela said. “Now that I’m older, I’m a lot more polished and mature thanks to them.”
“ I don’t care about drama. I want to get my credit for great fights, great performances ” Undefeated Lightweight Prospect - Jose Valenzuela
Valenzuela has honed his elite skill set through a rigorous training regimen and hours of sparring with the much bigger David Benavidez. The Benavidez family has also positively influenced his growth outside of the ring.
“When I was younger, I was treated like I was the third son,” said Valenzuela. “They’ve taught me so much outside of the ring as well, telling me what to do and what not to do, and how to carry myself as a man.”
Still, the path to boxing stardom isn’t always paved with the respect Valenzuela feels he deserves. A less than friendly encounter with then rising star Teofimo Lopez stands out as a sour note in Valenzuela’s early career. A heated sparring session that went viral coupled with perceived disrespect from Teofimo himself was more than enough to marinate their beef.
But Valenzuela made it clear that he has no interest in drama or whatever social media shenanigans some of his peers at 135 seem to be up to. He prefers to let his boxing do the talking.
“I don’t care about drama. I want to get my credit for great fights, great performances,” said Valenzuela. “I don’t care about Teofimo. I’m not looking for fame from that situation. All these other guys, like Ryan Garcia, they just be on Twitter talking. But I don’t see them taking big fights.”
Against Vargas, Valenzuela hopes to cement his status as one of the sport's rising stars and answer questions his detractors may have about his ability to compete against elite fighters. Although he has tremendous respect for what Vargas has accomplished in his career, Valenzuela believes that his own experience will propel him to victory.
“He’s got a lot of experience, but I’ve got my own experience as well,” Valenzuela pointed out. I’ve been sparring with David Benavidez, working hard in the gym. I’m not just some green guy. But Vargas is still a great fighter. He gave [Isaac] ‘Pitbull’ Cruz a run for his money. It’s going to be a good fight.”
Vargas, renowned for his toughness and grit, will almost certainly try to drag Valenzuela into a high intensity war which Valenzuela expects.
“If I have to box and use my jab I will. But going to war wouldn’t be too bad either.”
For a closer look at Jose Valenzuela, check out his fighter page.