Everyone, it seems, was extremely fond of esteemed trainer Victor Valle Sr. who passed away at the age of 82 in December 1999. Although the Puerto Rican-born Valle had been a standout New York-based featherweight who compiled a 35-2-3 (10 KOs) record between 1934 and 1937, he is best known for training such championship caliber fighters and top contenders as Billy Costello, Alfredo Escalera and Gerry Cooney in the seventies and eighties.
After years of working with scores of relatively anonymous fighters, most of whom were Hispanic, in the Bronx for what seemed liked an eternity, Valle’s ship had finally come in. His most glorious career moments came when Cooney unsuccessfully challenged Larry Holmes for the heavyweight title in 1982, and when Costello won and made several defenses of his junior welterweight title.
“Victor had toiled long and hard for so long, and it was so good for him to have that success near the end of his career,” said Harold Lederman, HBO’s unofficial official, whose father once owned a drugstore not far from Valle’s South Bronx home. “Victor never made two cents until he started training Cooney, but I bet he had no regrets about doing what he did. He loved boxing, and he loved boxers.”
More than anyone else though, he loved his son Victor Jr., who Lederman says was “the apple of his father’s eye.” Victor Jr., now 54, and a successful trainer in his own right, was literally raised in the many dank gyms in which his father worked tirelessly year in and year out. As much as Victor Jr. loved his father, though, Lederman remembers there were periods where Valle Sr. thought he was losing young Victor to the streets.
“I can’t tell you how many times Victor Sr. cried on my shoulder,” said Lederman. “He could live with the fact that his son might not want to be a fighter, but he was worried about him joining gangs and doing drugs.”
This was the sixties and seventies, and the streets, especially the streets of the South Bronx, were swallowing up kids with cruel abandon.
“There was nobody in boxing that didn’t love the Valle’s,” added Lederman. “Victor Sr. and his wife Lola were so kindhearted they used to take in foster kids. Victor Jr. was a good kid, but like so many other kids he needed some direction. He had to find his own way. Sometimes there was conflict, which is perfectly normal but stressful for a parent.”
Lederman would see Valle Sr. sporadically over the years, and always inquired about his son. Not long after the father passed away, Lederman encountered Victor Jr. working a show with a young professional prospect.
“We got to talking and caught up on a lot of years that brought back a flood of memories,” said Lederman. “By this time Victor Jr. had cut out a nice career for himself. He was a working man, a trainer, and a chaplain. He was working with some fine fighters and seemed really happy. I got tears in my eyes when I told him how proud his father would have been of him.”
Victor Jr. had taken his father’s death hard. Everywhere he went, and everything he did, reminded him of his father. He was proud of the Valle name, and a bit angered that his father didn’t get the recognition that trainers like Emanuel Steward and Angelo Dundee received. Most of the fighters that Valle worked with, his son emphasized, he had developed from the ground up. His more esteemed counterparts often got the fighters when they were already a work in progress.
“My father was a great, great fighter,” said Victor Jr. “But he was even a better trainer. Sugar Ray Robinson loved my father. He was a good man, a strict man, but an extremely fair man. I’ve never heard nobody—I mean nobody—say a bad word about him.”
Victor Jr. is now establishing his own legacy, working with such notable fighters as heavyweight Oleg Maskaev, middleweight Johnny Boy Vargas, and junior welterweight Emanuel Clottey. The apple of his eye, however, is his son Danny Joey, a recent 126 pound New York City Golden Gloves champion.
“He and I are very close,” said Victor Jr. who is employed full-time in building maintenance at Hostos College in the Bronx. “But as a father and a coach, I have to give him his space so he can grow. My relationship with him is a little like the one I had with my father. If he wants to fight, he could be another [Floyd] Mayweather. He’s that good.”
There’s no reason to doubt his word. The late Al Reid, a rough and ready club fighter from the thirties, once told Lederman that Victor Sr. was the toughest guy he ever faced and described him as an “out and out killer in the ring.” Victor Sr. had also given such championship caliber fighters as Sammy Angott and Harry Jeffra, the latter of whom he beat by 10-round decision, fits.
From all accounts, Victor Jr. had the tools to be successful had he opted to fight professionally. His son, it seems, not only has the genes but also the skills to pick up where his grandfather left off.
Sometimes the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and boxing stories do have happy endings.