Fans bid farewell to boxer Valero

By JORGE RUEDA Associated Press Writer

EL VIGIA, Venezuela(AP)—Weeping relatives and fans gathered around the coffin of former boxing champion Edwin Valero on Wednesday, mourning the troubled fighter who killed himself after slaying his wife.

Hundreds in this small town in southwestern Venezuela attended the funeral Mass for a fighter who rose to international fame before quickly falling into disgrace. Many wiped tears from their faces during the ceremony. Fans, friends and family members later brought Valero’s coffin to a gym where he once trained before his body was buried at a nearby cemetery.

Valero, famed for an impressive record of 27 straight knockouts and a huge tattoo of President Hugo Chavez on his chest, was arrested Sunday in the stabbing death of his 24-year-old wife. Police said the boxer hanged himself in his cell early Monday.

The killing, coupled with Valero’s suicide, shocked many Venezuelans. Many have been asking what went wrong in his life and why authorities hadn’t stepped in to protect his wife, Jennifer Carolina Viera, after numerous reports of domestic violence.

A boxer who was close to Valero, Jose Luis Varela, lamented that many of the fighter’s friends didn’t urge him to seek help to deal with what had become a serious drug and alcohol addiction.

“We didn’t want to see that he had problems,” Varela said.

During Wednesday’s Mass, Priest Esteban Gudino told parishioners he hoped Valero “receives the mercy of our Lord.”

“It’s a tragedy for all of use when the life of a youngster ends like this,” Gudino said from the church’s pulpit. “Hopefully, this will serve others to emulate his positive side, and they’ll distance themselves from drugs and alcohol.”

The fighter’s mother-in-law, Mary Finol, told reporters at her daughter’s funeral Tuesday in El Vigia that Valero was addicted to cocaine and had grown increasingly violent before he was arrested for his wife’s murder.

“We knew that he used cocaine beginning at 12 years of age,” Finol said, adding that her daughter had told her that Valero “didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, got high everyday and was increasingly violent.”

Valero’s fans shouted “Champion! Champion!” from a caravan of motorcycles and cars that accompanied the hearse carrying the coffin, a Venezuelan flag draped over it.

Fellow boxer and friend, Joel Finol, broke down in tears. “It broke my heart to see him like that: dead,” he said.

Venezuelan news reports since 2008 had repeatedly linked the former WBA super featherweight and WBC lightweight champion to domestic violence incidents, but the fighter and his supporters rejected those reports.

In September, Valero denied he had been detained on domestic violence charges after Venezuelan news reports said a neighbor called emergency services and told authorities the boxer had struck his mother and a sister.

Last month, Valero was charged with harassing his wife and threatening medical personnel who treated her at a hospital in the western city of Merida. Police arrested him following an argument with a doctor and nurse at the hospital, where his wife was being treated for injuries that included a punctured lung and broken ribs.

Valero was detained March 25 on suspicion of assaulting his wife, but his wife told a police officer her injuries were caused by a fall.

Valero’s lawyer, Milda Mora, said that after that incident, the boxer was held for nine days in a psychiatric hospital, where he underwent police-supervised rehabilitation. She said people close to the fighter posted bail April 7 and he was allowed to go free.

Mora said the Venezuelan government had arranged for Valero to attend a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program in Cuba. He had missed a flight to Cuba and was scheduled to fly there soon, she said.

Valero and his wife left behind two children, ages 9 and 5, who have been taken in by the boxer’s sister. A local court has to decide whether the orphans will remain in her custody or live with their maternal grandmother, according to the Venezuelan television channel Globovision.

Valero had fought mainly in Japan and Latin America because he had trouble obtaining a license to fight in the United States. He suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in a motorcycle crash in 2001 and most jurisdictions had refused to grant a license to a fighter who had sustained a brain injury.

As a result of that accident, Valero had a metal plate inserted in his head. Venezuelan newspaper editor Teodoro Petkoff asked in an editorial published on Wednesday in the newspaper Tal Cual: “Can anyone be sure that his final emotional explosions didn’t have anything to do with the damage his brain suffered?”

Petkoff said the justice system was unwilling to take action against a government supporter. “A politicized, submissive justice system killed Edwin Valero and his wife,” Petkoff wrote.

The fighter’s last victory in Mexico was in February over Antonio DeMarco. Valero was replaced as WBC lightweight champion in February after he expressed a desire to compete in a higher weight division.

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Updated Wednesday, Apr 21, 2010