‘Berserk: The Shocking Life and Death of Edwin Valero’ by Don Stradley (2019)

Valero was a Venezuelan boxer with a growing profile on a seemingly inevitable track to fight Manny Pacquiao and to potentially become a superstar.  He was a knockout king and won all of his first 18 fights with a first round knockdown.  He had a career record of 27-0 (all by knockout) and was a 2-weight world champion when he died in 2010.

Tragically however, Valero could never escape his demons.  He turned to cocaine and booze.  His paranoia took over and he murdered his young wife in cold blood.  Not long after being arrested, he took his own life while in prison.

In Berserk, Don Stradley recounts the story of Valero’s rise, the bumps along the way and his ultimate descent.  Different versions of Valero are presented with conflicts  emerging between accounts of how he treated his wife in particular. Stradley does well to separate fact from fiction and to dismiss conspiracy theories while recognising the limits of what we can really know about Valero and his relationships.

It is a short sharp captivating read and one any boxing fan will find interesting.   The punchy style of the book neatly matches Valero’s own relentless fighting style.  I found watching the many YouTube clips of Valero’s fights a great accompaniment to the book.

The book is published by relatively new boxing publisher Hamilcar books as part of it’s true crime imprint.  I’ve been really impressed by their work – both reprinting US editions of boxing classics like Dark Trade and these new short books.  I’m really looking forward to their publication in 2020 of a book by Tris Dixon on brain damage and boxing.

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‘The Ghost of Johnny Tapia’ by Paul Zanon (2019)

Johnny Tapia was a force of nature.  A five time, three weight, world champion, Hall of Fame, boxer.  A drug addict who served time in prison. A much-loved husband and father.  A man whose charisma and talent earned him countless friends and fans.    Tapia lived ten lifetimes in his one and survived multiple near death experiences before his body finally gave up aged just 47.

The Ghost of Johnny Tapia is a short, sharp and entertaining read. At just 96 pages it naturally gives a pretty high level overview of Tapia’s life and career but there is more than enough there to capture the craziness, the charisma and the talent of a very unique man.  In particular it gives a fascinating insight into the tragedies of his young life which gave rise to the demons he could never fully overcome.

Johnny Tapia

While tragic, some of the stories in the book are mind-blowing.  Tapia had the kind of charisma that draws people to him coupled with the talent to reach the very top of boxing.  Sadly, he had demons, borne from a childhood of intense tragedy, and he simply couldn’t shake his addictions.  There is something incredibly compelling about that kind of character, that intriguing mix of charisma and vulnerability that draws people in.

The book’s key strength is the co-operation of Johnny’s wife Teresa who gives a remarkably candid insight into their life together.  Teresa is clearly a remarkable woman who put up with incredibly difficult behaviour from the man who she married aged 20 after knowing for just 2 weeks.   .

I’d definitely love to read a fuller length biography of Tapia’s remarkable life.  As an intro to his story, and a great excuse for a YouTube binge of his best moments, I’d definitely recommend The Ghost of Johnny Tapia.

Brilliant HBO documentary on Tapia’s life and career