They call him "Pollo," Spanish for chicken, not because of his mellow mien, but because of that day long ago when all he had to wear was a bright yellow T-shirt -- he looked like a giant chick -- and he was teased mercilessly by the neighborhood kids.
Juan Valenzuela, who grew up in Culiacan, Mexico, has been fighting for respect ever since.
A huge fan favorite at junior welterweight, Valenzuela (19-6, eight knockouts) will meet Guillermo Valdes (12-1, three) of the Dominican Republic tonight in a scheduled 10-round fight as the main event on a six-bout Solo Boxeo card at Grand Olympic Auditorium.
"I feel good, and I'm in good condition," said Valenzuela, who was one of the first boxers signed by Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions in May. "I tell [De La Hoya] all the time that I'm ready for the big names at 140 pounds."
Valenzuela, 23, has improved his stock from spoiler -- he has handed heavy favorites Julio Diaz and Ricardo Williams shocking upset losses -- to contender.
Should he get by Valdes, Valenzuela will next face World Boxing Council International super-lightweight champion Miguel Cotto (19-0, 16). That would occur May 8 on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez featherweight title fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
"We have a lot of confidence in him," Golden Boy matchmaker Eric Gomez said of Valenzuela. "He's a dangerous fighter to a lot of fighters.
"A lot of people look at his record, but a lot of those losses have come in fights he's taken at a week's notice."
The co-main event, which will begin at 6 p.m. and will be shown live on Telefutura, will be between Daniel Ponce De Leon (17-0, 17) of Cuauhtemoc, Mexico, and Ivan Alvarez (19-12, eight) of Monteria, Colombia, in a scheduled 10-round featherweight bout.