Hockey gave Valencia his fighting spirit

Thu, 21 Apr 03:02:00 2011

US MMA correspondent Kevin Iole finds out where Charlie Valencia got his fighting spirit.

- 0

If things had worked out a bit differently, Charlie Valencia might still be fighting in Canada this month. Only, he’d be doing it with skates on his feet and a hockey stick in his hands rather than in the cage as a mixed martial artist.

Valencia, 36, will meet Ivan Menjivar in a three-round bantamweight bout on the preliminary card of UFC 129 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto on April 30. He’s a diehard LA Kings fan and said he’d love to wear a Kings jersey to the cage in the heart of hockey country, but laughed and said “I’m afraid they’ll throw bottles at me.”

So, Valencia is considering an alternative. He is also a big fan of former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Wendel Clark and is thinking of wearing Clark’s jersey on his way to the cage.

“Wendel is the man,” said Valencia, who said Stevie Yzerman, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky have been his favorite players. “Maybe I’ll get some love if come out with Wendel’s jersey.”

Valencia was born and raised in Rosemead, Calif., a small city of about 50,000 east of Los Angeles. It’s one of the last places one would expect to find a hockey diehard, but there was something about the game that always fascinated him.

When he was a kid, there wasn’t a lot of hockey equipment around and even less ice surface, so Valencia and his friends adapted. They used plumbing pipes they’d find to make their own hockey sticks and crushed cans to use as pucks.

He played roller hockey and ice hockey and became an unusual sight as a 5-foot-2 enforcer. Valencia, who played ice hockey throughout high school and said he received interest from college programs, was a good skater and hard forechecker who, not surprisingly, relished the physical aspects of the game.

He got as much of a kick out of dropping the gloves and fighting as he did scoring a goal.

“I got into fights all the time, in roller hockey and in ice hockey,” said Valencia, who is 12-6 in his MMA career. “In ice hockey one time, it got so bad we ended up clearing the benches. Family members came on the ice. I remember my teammate grabbed one guy and I tore his helmet off and started punching it. It was great times. We had a really good time.”

Valencia loved the sport so much that he wanted to take it as far as he could, but he also realized by the time he was 18, the pros weren’t too interested in guys his size. He turned to mixed martial arts and has fashioned a standout professional career.

Of his six losses, four have come to men who have held or currently hold World Extreme Cagefighting or Ultimate Fighting Championship titles: Urijah Faber, reigning UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, Brian Bowles and Miguel Torres.

He’s coming off a one-sided loss to Torres and is just 3-3 in his last six fights. He’s spoken frequently of retirement the last few years, but also faces the specter of getting cut. The UFC roster is so deep that it is a rare fighter who keeps his job after back-to-back losses.

That would put extra premium on the Menjivar fight, but the affable Valencia shrugs off the pressure. The last thing he’s worried about is being cut.

“I’ve got enough to worry about thinking about Menjivar, because he’s an all-around great fighter and I have watched him for a long, long time,” Valencia said. “I’ve been looking at things for a while now like I’m on a one-fight contract each time. I’m used to it and it’s better that way, because you know you have to perform every fight.

“You have to go in and fight your fight and that’s what I’m going to do. I want to be exciting and I’m not expecting there to be any lulls in the action. I think the way we match up, we could have people talking and pretty excited after this fight.”

Valencia said it never ceases to amaze him the way the crowd gets into the fights at NHL games and roars its approval when the home team slugger skates to the penalty box.

He wouldn’t mind bringing a little bit of his hockey experience with him and bring the house down with a rousing performance in hockey country.

“This is a huge show and if you asked, I think pretty much all of the guys would want to be on it,” Valencia said. “Given that I got this spot, I want to take advantage of it and give everyone a fight to remember.”

In other words, he wants to put on a fight that even Wendel Clark would have enjoyed.

Kevin Iole / Yahoo

Not already a Yahoo! user ? to get a free Yahoo! Account