For most fighters, their careers are over or nearing the end at age 38. For New York’s Pablo Valdez, his career is just beginning, although the end is near. A complicated statement for a complicated life and career.
Valdez’s goal is to retire with a 10–0 record. From 2010 to 2018 Valdez was in prison. Admittedly, he got caught up with drugs that landed him an eight-year stay. Due to an altercation with a corrections officer while locked up, four of his eight years were served in solitary confinement. The only silver lining to being in “the box” was it allowed Valdez to train and stay in shape.
Using his mattress as a punching bag and building a strong mindset, Valdez came out of prison chasing a dream. He turned pro at age 35 in 2018 and has gone undefeated at 5-0 with 4 knockouts. On Saturday night, the dream continues as Valdez battles the 11–3 (with 6 knockouts) Julio Cesar Sanchez on the undercard of Vasiliy Lomachenko’s lightweight bout against Richard Commey. The card will be televised on ESPN and ESPN Plus live from Madison Square Garden.
Valdez shares his improbable journey from prison cell to Madison Square Garden with Zenger, along with his boxing goals his game plan on Saturday night.
Percy Crawford interviewed Pablo Valdez for Zenger.
Zenger: Did your training camp go smoothly for your fight against Julio Cesar Sanchez on Saturday night?
Valdez: Yes! It’s been good. Training hard. I just fought on Oct. 30, so I was already in shape, so it’s been good.
Zenger: You have a very set plan pertaining to your boxing career. Is the key to stay busy and fighting?
Valdez: I got about four more fights and then I’m going to retire. My goal is to be 10–0 and fight for a [regional] belt. And then retire and manage fighters and stay true to the game. If you know my story, you know I’m just living my dream and making my dream come true. Fighting on a big card and on the big stage, I train just like a world champion does. I bust my ass in the gym every day, and it’s serious to me.
Zenger: Being a New Yorker, do you get nervous fighting in Madison Square Garden?
Valdez: Not at all. I just wanna fight. I want to eat; I want to fight. That’s it.
Zenger: I like that you have a very realistic approach to what can be done in your career given that you had a late start from being incarcerated.
Valdez: The key that that life has taught me going away [to prison] and getting those bumps is you gotta be real to yourself. As long as you’re real to yourself and you got a real team around you, that’s the best way to describe being realistic.
Zenger: You did an eight-year bid. Any lessons you can convey from prison and apply it to your boxing career?
Valdez: Never give up! There is always a light at the end of that tunnel. Never give up. My first fight here in the United States… my first fight and pro debut was in the Dominican Republic. Then I fought here in the Kings Theater in New York, sold out the arena, I got dropped twice, and I came back and knocked the guy out. I won’t ever give up. Literally, you gotta kill me in there.
That has taught me a lot. Coming home, going to Andre Rozier and telling him that I wanted to fight, and getting my ass beat every day in sparring from these top boxers, Sadam Ali, Curtis Stevens, Marcus Browne. Getting beat up every time was not an easy task. I’m just not going to give up. Once I put my mind to something, this goal is what I want to accomplish.
Zenger: Would you say to a degree, boxing saved your life?
Valdez: Yes! It shows you how to be mentally strong. I did four years in solidary confinement. Straight I did 33 months, and what kept me sane was my mother sending me the Ringside Magazines. I was seeing my boy Marcus Browne going to the Olympics, Curtis Stevens fighting Triple G [Gennadiy Golovkin], seeing Luis Collazo knockout [Victor] Ortiz. These are all my friends. I knew all of these guys.
I would read the magazine and go train. I wrapped my mattress up with my sheets, anybody that was there with me in prison will tell you this. Especially when I was in solitary, the COs [Corrections Officers] would see me wrap up my mattress with sheets, and I would hang it up like a punching bag. I would hit it when they gave us an hour of rec [recreation time]. I put socks on my hands and punched the mattress.
Zenger: You got caught up with drugs and got sent away for a very long time. What lessons did you learn and how do you not repeat those mistakes again?
Valdez: Life is not granted. You gotta watch the people around you because there are bad influences out there. That’s what I tell the youth, don’t give up, and watch your surroundings. You might get caught up from nothing. You might not be involved and get caught up. So many people go down like that.
Zenger: Sanchez has only lost to undefeated fighters, obviously you’re trying to keep that streak going for him. Have you been able to watch film on him?
Valdez: Yeah, my team has studied him. A couple of people told me don’t take this fight. He’s got a lot of experience; you could fight somebody else. He is 11–3. But as you get to know me, you will understand that I am a risk-taker. I love the challenge and I like challenging myself. If you tell me not to do something, I’m going to do it. That’s just the person I am.
I’m always going to challenge my body. If you tell me not to do something bad, I’m not going to do it, but in the boxing game, if you tell me I’m not ready for somebody, that just makes me go harder. My team studied him. He’s tall, he switches from southpaw to orthodox, he’s a boxer. My game plan is to put the pressure on him and break him down to the body.
Zenger: Is that what we can expect from you, a two-fisted pressure fighter that is a volume body puncher?
Valdez: That’s the type of fighter I am. Last fight I started doing that and I got hurt a little. Guy hit me with a good shot, and I got hurt, and I had to listen to my corner and box. But all my fights end in knockout except my last one. That one went the distance. That’s what people can expect from me, a lot of pressure. He’s tall. He’s almost six feet, so I have to bring pressure.
Zenger: What does it mean to you to be included on a card headlined by Vasiliy Lomachenko and Richard Commey?
Valdez: Richard Commey is my stablemate, we have the same trainers. Edgar Berlanga is my best friend, Sergey Derevyanchenko is a good friend. We’ve been training together, so watching him spar, him seeing me spar is just history. It’s been an amazing feeling. It’s like, “Wow, I made it.” No matter what I made it to the Big Garden [Madison Square Garden]. The main event is crazy, and I’m a part of the card. It’s amazing.
Zenger: You did eight years in prison; you came home and now you are knocking on the door of fulfilling your dreams at 38 years old. What would you say to someone who may be on the brink of giving up on their dreams?
Valdez: You gotta stay strong mentally. If you’re a boxer and God forbid you go to jail, stay running. I was always running. I was doing 10 to 15 miles when I was not in solitary confinement. I was running in the yard. I always kept myself in shape in there. I always had a goal. You just can’t give up. They’re going to tell you that you can’t amount to nothing, you’re going to be a nobody, that’s what COs used to tell me. They really mentally screw you up. They say, “Why are you boxing? You’re a loser. You’re going to come right back here.” They really test you and they really break you down mentally.
Physically, it’s not that hard, but mentally, it breaks you down. To all the guys out there that if God forbid, they get in trouble and they were boxing before they went in, stay mentally strong. Focus is the most important thing. Staying focused and visualizing your dreams. I visualized all of this. I visualized myself fighting in The Garden. I was into really deep thought, and I visualized all this. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I visualized all of this.
Every time they came to me and starved me to death… they starved me for two weeks. They had me in “The Loaf.” That’s where they don’t give you no food. The guy told me my kids and my mother was getting violated by big black guys, but not in those words, and all hell broke loose. They beat me up. I fought them. I was getting pictures of my kids and my mother, and they were telling me that she was getting screwed by big black guys. Very disrespectful things, so I lost it. And they beat me.
Once you have anything against an officer, they treat you bad. They were just giving me bread. “The Loaf” is a whole roll of bread to last me a whole day for two weeks exactly. I’m sharing these stories with you to say, nothing can break me. My mental is on another level. It doesn’t matter who is in front of me. My mental is strong, and I will break you in there any type of way I could. That’s just the way it is.
Zenger: I can’t wait to watch you perform. Good luck Saturday night. Is there anything you want to add?
Valdez: @prettyboy_pablo on Instagram!
Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Kristen Butler
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