Interview with Victor Valenzuela
January 26, 2009
Victor “Joe Boxer” Valenzuela is a paradox of a fighter. He doesn’t like his nickname, despite that 1) he’s known by that name almost as much as his own name and 2) it describes a style of fighting he’s trained in all his life. His team, Millennia MMA, is particularly recognized for their jiu-jitsu game, and he’s won at least half of his victories by submission, but he’ll be the first to acknowledge that he prefers a stand-up slugfest. And he’s the champion of a weight class above the one he’s fought at throughout his career.
But few names are more synonymous with King of the Cage than “Joe Boxer.” After a stuttered MMA start in 2003, Valenzuela went undefeated from 2006 to mid-2007. His feud with Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett was already KOTC’s equivalent to the Ortiz-Shamrock legacy, and when both he and “the Horse” were called up to EliteXC, their bitter rivalry continued on a national stage. In August 2007, Valenzuela beat Krazy Horse by submission from punches, and one year later, he would become the King of the Cage Junior Welterweight championship.
In between training sessions for his upcoming title defense, I caught up with “Joe Boxer” and got his thoughts on his infamous rivalry, what it means to win championship gold, and the key to giving fans a good fight.
VB: Let’s start with your background and how you got involved with MMA.
VV: I grew up in Covina, CA. I’ve been boxing pretty much since I was probably around eight or nine years old, when I started training with my uncles. They used to box, so they would teach me how to throw a punch and stuff. . . I married my high school sweetheart, had a couple of kids, worked, and stopped fighting for a little bit. You know how that goes.
I got back into boxing in my early 20’s. Just amateur stuff, because I liked to fight. I didn’t think I was going to turn professional or anything. I just liked training and stuff.
VB: Did you go pro with boxing? Win any championships?
VV: I won a Golden Gloves by a walkover one year. There were no opponents in my weight for that one. I was supposed to go to Colorado for the finals, to try to get into the Olympics, but I never made it there, only because of work and stuff. I had a mortgage payment and I had a family to take care of. I was a runner-up in another Golden Gloves tournament. I turned pro when I was 30 years old. I tried it out and went 0-2 as a professional; only because I couldn’t really train the way a professional boxer has to train in a fight. I was working 70-80 hours a week and trying to box and it just wasn’t working out for me. So I retired.
A buddy of mine – my son used to play baseball with his son – said he knew some guys that grappled and did MMA. And because he knew I boxed, he wanted to know if I was interested in checking that part of fighting out. I was interested from watching Royce Gracie do his thing. I said “yeah man, I would love to learn how to grapple.” So that’s what got me turned on to Millennia MMA.
We were Millennia Jiu-Jitsu, back when it was a straight jiu-jitsu academy then. I started training there back in 2002. And everybody there was grapplers and wrestlers. I was the only boxer coming in there. That’s how I got my nickname “Joe Boxer.” Nobody knew my name, but I was the only boxer in the gym. [Some guy said] “I guess his name is Joe” so they just started calling me “Joe Boxer.”
VB: That’s one of the more unique ways to get a nickname.
VV: Yeah, they still clown me about it. ‘Cuz I hate the nickname. I told them I didn’t like it, so after that, it was over. They ran with it and that was my name. I train with a bunch of clowns.
VB: You should have known that was going to be the final nail in the coffin. If you could pick a nickname, is there another name you would want?
VV: I used to be called One-Punch back in the day, in high school, when I did street fighting. One punch and I would knock people out. I wouldn’t mind having that nickname now, but “Joe Boxer” has stuck, so I just roll with it.
VB: You talked a bit about the street fighting. I always like to ask fighters if there was anything in particular of their upbringing that they think led them to MMA. Obviously, with you, there was the boxing and the adrenaline rush of competing.
VV: Honestly, I’ve been fighting since kindergarten. My first fight was in kindergarten, over a girl. I don’t even know the guy’s name, but I remember that he liked the girl and I was sitting next to her and he wanted my seat or whatever. One thing led to another, we got into a fight, and I beat him up.
Ever since then, I guess I had a bulls-eye on me, because guys are always trying to pick fights with me. I’ve never started a fight in my life. If we had YouTube back in my day, I’d be Kimbo Slice in the 80’s.
I didn’t even plan on fighting. I just wanted to learn how to grapple, actually. I was infatuated by that stuff. The guy at the gym actually talked me into doing a King of the Cage fight when I fought Shad Smith back in 2003. I was basically just a boxer fighting Shad Smith, and I almost beat the guy.
VB: What do you remember of that first fight, as you prepared for it and when you were in there?
VV: At Millennia, we had a downstairs area we called “The Dungeon,” where all the fighters practiced. Since I was a boxer, all the fighters wanted to get ready for the fight, they wanted me to go down there and spar with them all the time. So I never really got a chance to grapple for the first six to eight months. I was always down with the guys, getting them ready for their fights.
I was doing pretty well sparring with the guys, beating everybody up, dropping people with body shots and hurting people with hooks and stuff. One of the co-owners from Millennia says “Terry Trebilcock is looking for an opponent to fight Shad Smith.” I said “hell now, I’m not even in this to be a cage fighter. I’m just a retired boxer who wanted to learn how to grapple.” I wasn’t even expecting to be a fighter. I just wanted to learn a little bit of jiu-jitsu. Just in case I got into a fight on the street or something. If somebody took me down, I’d know how to ground fight a little bit. So he hit me up and I told him “no, I’m not a fighter.” They kept pushing it, saying “we think you can beat this guy. He’s a pretty well-known name.” I slept on it a couple of days, came back, and said “let’s do it.”
All I basically did was box for that fight. I tried to learn how to sprawl a little bit. And the guy there told me that Shad Smith is a stand-up fighter. “He’s not gonna take you down or anything.” And I’m like “cool, we’re gonna fight.”
And even the rules were changed for that fight. It was a no-submissions match. He wouldn’t fight me unless submissions were thrown out. So we fight and the next thing you know, I crack him a few times and hurt him. I almost knocked him out, and he turns into an Olympic wrestler. I lost that fight on a decision from a takedown. If you watch the fight, you hear the commentators saying “we’ve never seen Shad take anybody down. This is the first time” and blah blah blah. Well, what’s he doing taking me down in the first place? It was his idea for no submissions, and the next thing you know, he’s taking me down. I didn’t really get it.
VB: So he wanted to prohibit the submission skills that you hadn’t really had a chance to develop at that point?
VV: I didn’t even have any submission skills yet, but he didn’t know that. I guess he knew Millennia, so he probably thought that I had some pretty good submissions. Which I didn’t [laughs]. He probably would have won if it was a submission fight.
VB: For the fans who don’t know, talk a little bit about Millennia MMA.
VV: It’s awesome, man. All the coaches, and the fighters, and students – it’s like a big family there. I can’t say enough about them. They brought me from being retired and got me a belt around my waist. They molded me into a champion. You’ve got Romie Arum, Javier Vasquez, and Betiss Mansouri. Chad Davis helps me out a lot. All my training partners. There are so many people there. I’m going on seven years with them now. If it wasn’t for those guys, I don’t know where I would be. I would be just working and nobody would know who I was.
VB: And now you’re a champion and at the top of your game.
VV: And that’s all because of those guys. They’re the ones that talked me into fighting. They saw something in me.
I’m looking at this fight to keep my belt. The guy’s coming into my backyard. He’s from New Mexico. This is my stomping grounds, bro. This whole West Coast right here. . . I was knocking people out before the guy was even born; you know what I’m sayin’? If he thinks he’s gonna come into my backyard and take my belt, then he’s got another thing coming. It’s gonna be a dogfight. I’m not gonna lay down for nobody.
Especially in that this is my hometown right here. And if he thinks [because] he’s from New Mexico, New Mexico this and New Mexico that, he’s got another thing coming. Because my whole family is from New Mexico, so you’ve got nothin’ on me.
VB: You pretty much got both sides covered.
VV: I got both sides covered. The guy says he’ll stand and bang with anybody and then he fights my guy, Will Sriyapai, and ends up taking him down and ground-and-pounding him. Don’t tell the world you’ll stand and bang and then go in there and shoot and take the guy down. . . To me, if you shoot and take a guy down and ground-and-pound him, that’s not a fight. People want to see guys standing up. They want to see guys punching each other. They don’t want to see guys shoot, tackle, and watch guys roll around on the ground. It’s boring. I mean I’m an MMA fan my damn self, but when I see guys do that, it’s boring to me. I wanna change the channel.
VB: What’s the toughest part of fighting for you? Is it the preparation? The mental part? The rules from one state to another?
VV: It’s just the preparation. Getting ready for the fight sucks, bro. That’s where you get injured. You get up every day and go to the gym, and bust your ass for four, five hours. It’s tough, but that’s a part of being a fighter, dude. The day of the fight, I don’t get nervous or nothing. I just can’t wait to get in there and do my thing. It’s like going to an amusement park for me. I love the adrenaline. Like I said, I came out of the womb to fight. I’ve been fighting since I was a kid. My ancestors must have been some great gladiators down the line. Some good stock, I guess.
VB: Some Aztec and Inca warrior blood going on there.
VV: Sometime like that. I feel like I was born to fight. I’m almost 40 years old and I’m still hanging with these younger cats, you know what I mean? I’m fighting a guy 14 years younger than me next month. And it’s like I said – to me, it’s like a man fighting a child. To me, a child can’t beat a man; you know what I’m saying? I’m almost old enough to be his pops. And I’m old school. I can’t see a kid whoopin’ me. Can’t see it.
VB: Let’s step back in time a bit. Your first match with Krazy Horse was your second fight. It led to a scheduled match in EliteXC, which didn’t happen. You finally got your match and revenge on a ShoXC event in August 2007. Now that that whole thing is a year and a half in the past, do you have any new thoughts on it?
VV: Honestly, as soon as he gets out of jail, I’m ready to get back in there with him. You guys don’t see it, but behind the scenes, the guy has the biggest mouth. I mean he talks so much crap. “Hate” is a bad word, I really don’t hate anybody, but I really can’t stand this guy. He gets under your skin. He talks a lot of stuff. If you go on YouTube and you punch in ‘Krazy Horse,’ he’s got a bunch of stuff talking about my kids, talking about how he’s gonna beat my ass. The guy doesn’t shut up.
When we fought in Mississippi, we stayed at the same hotel, and he had camera crews following him around like he was a big superstar. When we would pass each other in the lobby, he would just talk so much shit. You know how ghetto the guy is. Just imagine him in your ear for two or three days talking about how he was going to whip you, how you’re too old for him, how he was gonna kick the senior citizen’s butt. I just can’t stand the guy. Hopefully, when he gets out of jail, I can whip his ass one more time for everybody.
VB: Seems like you just wanna make that part of your career. Every time he comes up, knock him down again.
VV: The guy’s an idiot. They guy’s got so much potential. He’s making a lot of money fighting, but . . . the guy’s actually got talent. If he trained and got into a good school, he’s probably be pretty damn good.
And EliteXC was paying him so much money. Same thing with Kimbo. He’s a smaller version of Kimbo Slice, I’d say. Kimbo was another guy they spent all this money on and he gets knocked out in what, 14 seconds? I’m over here training my ass off every day doing this and doing that and I’m not making that money. It’s kinda discouraging.
VB: Let’s talk about personal triumphs. You won the King of the Cage Junior Welterweight championship. You had a big smile on your face. That must have meant a huge deal to you, to achieve that kind of championship status.
VV: It’s like going to college and getting your Master’s degree. I’ve been fighting for so long. Since I was a kid, I’ve always thought I could be a champion. I thought it was going to be boxing, but it happened to be MMA. This sport gave me an outlet, another option to be a champion. I’m grateful to MMA bro. I got my Master’s degree finally. You go to school for so many years, and I’ve finally got it.
VB: You got that at 160 lbs. Most of your career, you’ve been fighting at 155 lbs. Would you feel comfortable going down to 155 lbs. and chasing after that title or would you rather focus on defending?
VV: That’s another thing I’ve been thinking about. I just jumped into this 160 lb. weight class because EliteXC didn’t have a 155 lb. weight class. But no, 155 lbs. is my weight. That’s the weight I like to fight at.
I just jumped into this King of the Cage 160 lb. weight class because it was made to order for me. Joe Camacho was the champion. I’d trained with him a few times and I knew I could beat him. Terry asked me if I wanted to fight and I’m like “let’s do it.”
Actually, after this defense, I’d most definitely want to jump back into my more comfortable weight class, which is 155 lbs. Because the guys that are coming down to 160 lbs. now are welterweights that are coming down from 170 lbs. to cut another 10 pounds to come in at 160 lbs. If I stay at 160 lbs., I’m gonna be fighting guys that are a lot bigger than me still. I think at 155 lbs., I’ll be fighting guys that are my size, or a little smaller than me, but I’ll have the advantage, you know? After this defense, I’m definitely coming after the 155 lbs. champ. That’s my goal.
VB: The current champ [KOTC Lightweight champion] is Rory McDonald. Do you know anything about him?
VV: I don’t know, but I heard he’s like a 19-year old kid. So it’s like beating up my son. I got an 18-year old son.
VB: You’ll use him as a training partner?
VV: Probably. He needs to get his ass kicked. [Laughs]. But that 155 lb. belt, that’s actually another goal of mine. So let’s just see how this fight turns out, but 155 lb. weight class is a legitimate weight class. I’m pretty sure they made the 160 lb. weight class for Nick Diaz, because they had all their plans with Nick Diaz and EliteXC. He couldn’t cut to 155, so I’m pretty sure they made that 160 lb. weight class because they thought Nick Diaz was going to be the next superstar. And then KJ Noons too. He couldn’t cut to 155, but he’s their 160 lb. champ. You know what I mean.
VB: What would you say is your best and worst memory in your career?
VV: Losing in 47 seconds to Edson Berto on the Strikeforce card (“Strikeforce / EliteXC: Shamrock vs. Baroni”) up in San Jose. That was the first fight of that main event and I got heel hooked in 47 seconds. That was the worst. . . I felt like retiring right after that fight.
I was supposed to fight Krazy Horse that night and he went to jail again. [EliteXC] was supposed to bail him out, so the whole time I was out there in San Jose, I would hear every hour, half-hour “oh yeah, Krazy Horse is getting bailed out. You’re gonna be fighting Krazy Horse . . . oh no, you’re not. You’re gonna fight such-and-such.” So I didn’t know who I was going to be fighting until that day.
I’m not making any excuses, but I really didn’t do any grappling for that fight. It was all just basically stand-up. Because when you fight Krazy Horse, you’re not gonna really grapple. It’s just throwing punches as hard as you can and it’s basically a street fight. So I did a lot of sparring, a lot of boxing for that fight, and I go in and fight a guy that, I guess his best move is an ankle lock. So I got caught, bro. Shit happens. But that was pretty much the worst part of my career.
VB: At first, I would assume that your best memory is winning the title, but the way I hear you talking, maybe it’s also knocking Krazy Horse out.
VV: Yeah, they both pretty much running neck-and-neck. I gotta say winning the belt. I mean that’s why I got into the sport – to be a champion. I’ve fulfilled my dream there.
VB: Who are some of your favorite fighters or the best matches that you’ve ever seen?
VV: I like the stand-up fighters. I like the guys that just stand-up and just bang. I’m a Wanderlei Silva fan. Just the way he fights; he’s an animal. He doesn’t take a backward stance. He comes at you. He tries to kill you with every shot. I like BJ Penn. He’s one of the best, I gotta say. Anderson Silva’s another one. Guys like that.
But yeah, in this sport, people are evolving, dude. You can’t just go out there and think you’re a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and you’re gonna go out there and tap everybody. Guys that are well-rounded in every aspect of the game. . . It’s tough now. Like I said, I thought I could just go out there and punch people out, but these guys – they know they’re fighting me, they’re working on their wrestling, their grappling, they’re working on tying my punches up. I gotta extend my game now. Next fight, you might see me throw some kicks, bro. You never know.
VB: What do you like to do in the downtime, when you’re trying to get away from fighting or training?
VV: Nothing, really. If I’m not fighting, I’m working. I basically just hang out, chill, and watch TV. I got pretty much a boring life. I’m basically a loner. Which ain’t bad; I mean, no stress, man.
VB: Besides the Horse, is there anybody else you’d like to put your skills to the test with?
VV: I’d like to fight Nick Diaz before I retire. Or KJ Noons. Guys like that. I think KJ and I would be a good fight, because we’re both boxers. We both have boxing backgrounds. I think it would be an exciting fight for the fans. Nick Diaz the same thing. He likes to stand and please the crowd too, so I think that would be an exciting fight also. But actually, before I retire, I would like to fight some of the best of the best.
VB: You’d go in there with BJ?
VV: If the money was right, you better believe I would!
VB: How about if the money was wrong?
VV: I’d probably fight him just to say I fought him. When I was older, I could say “hey, I fought that guy.” It would be an honor to fight that guy. Probably wouldn’t last a few rounds, but it would be spectacular.
VB: Who are some of your sponsors and why should the fans know them?
VV: I got MaxMuscle here in Rancho Cucamonga that helps me out with all my supplements, keeping me young. I got Warrior Wear taking care of all my fight gear, my shorts and stuff like that. I got AA Glass & Mirrors. He’s my uncle, his name is Armando. He gives me money monthly to help me live and stuff, to train. I got Chronic Cantina, over in Upland. It’s a nice little place to go chill.