Say what you will about Gary Shaw – and there are a lot of people in boxing who will say an awful lot of nasty things about the outspoken promoter – but never let it be stated that he looks for the easy way out for his fighters.
Even Shaw, though, had some second thoughts about pairing Antonio DeMarco with the Venezuelan knockout artist, Edwin Valero.
Shaw has long been an advocate for DeMarco, whom he believes has been largely overlooked by the media. When Showtime offered Shaw a DeMarco-Valero bout for the World Boxing Council lightweight belt, though, Shaw had to think long and hard about it.
"Honestly, when it came up, I thought about it and I didn't really like the fight for Antonio," Shaw said. "I thought maybe the smart move would be to go in a different direction. But I talked to [DeMarco] and his people about it and they convinced me it is the perfect time and perfect place. They sold me on it and now I'm on board."
The boxers will meet Saturday in Monterrey, Mexico, in a Showtime-televised doubleheader. DeMarco, 24, has quietly compiled a 23-1-1 record with 17 knockouts against solid, though not overwhelming, competition. It's almost certain, though, that he's never faced anyone as naturally powerful as Valero, the fast-living, hard-partying knockout machine who has 26 KOs in 26 fights.
Valero is something like an octopus, though, and his punches come from all angles. His defense makes the Detroit Lions look fearsome, though, and if one can absorb or avoid his punches, he can be had.
So far, though, none has. The best effort came when he fought Vicente Mosquera in 2006 for the WBA super featherweight belt. Valero entered that bout 19-0, with 18 first-round knockouts and one second-round stoppage. Mosquera made it until the 10th before Valero stopped him.
"Edwin makes a lot of technical errors, but he has the kind of power that allows him to overcome them," Showtime boxing analyst Al Bernstein said. "DeMarco is the better ring technician and if he fights the right way, he could make it work.
"A big question in this fight is power and how well DeMarco can handle it. Valero is dangerous every second of the fight and DeMarco can't afford to make a mistake or he'll pay a severe price. If he can absorb the punches, then we have a very interesting fight on our hands."
DeMarco is reed-thin and looks like the kind of guy who'd bruise if you slapped him on the back upon meeting him at the grocery store. Shaw jokes of DeMarco that "if you saw him walking around without his shirt on, you'd want to take him out and get him a meal."
Behind that boyish smile and frame, there's a tenacity buried deep inside. DeMarco is a skilled boxer, but he's so competitive, he jumps into a slugfest the minute he gets hit. He sometimes is too brave for his own good, although he insists this time that he'll stick to boxing and the plan that trainer Romulo Quirarte has devised.
"I've worked on a lot of different tactics, but I know I have to be in control and I will be," he said. "I won't just go flailing away."
As much as Shaw would love for him to keep that promise – the more boring the fight, the better DeMarco's chances – he knows there's little chance of it happening.
"To be 100 percent honest with you, this is a guy who is too brave and too [competitive] to stick with a plan to box too long," Shaw said. "You love him for it, but you also know it's not the smartest way to be when you're fighting guys like this guy.
"Once he gets hit, it's balls to the way. It goes instantly from a boxing match to a fight. Those are the times when I hold my breath."
DeMarco has earned much respect in the boxing community for his fearlessness. Valero, whose celebrity is such in Venezuela that he's had several face-to-face meeting with President Hugo Chavez, recognized that as well.
Valero, though has the kind of killer instinct few fighters have and he's become one of boxing's best finishers.
"I have never gone into the ring looking to knock anybody out, but I know that if I hit someone with a solid shot with either hand, they are going down," Valero said. "And when I see someone hurt I will go all out to take them out."
Both men are the same way, but Valero has a vast edge in punching power. DeMarco could win – potentially easily – if he pops Valero regularly with his jab, uses his feints and stays out of range of Valero's power.
One mistake, though, and it could prove deadly to his title chances. DeMarco is a proficient enough debater that he convinced Shaw to go forward with the fight. And while Shaw believes in his man, he isn't ashamed to admit his heart will be in his throat while the fight lasts.
"You know me and you know I put my guys in there with anyone," Shaw said. "Here we are, but this is the kind that give you sleepless nights."