LAND O'LAKES — Right around his son's fifth boxing match, Sammy Valentin Sr. knew he had a special talent on his hands. Sammy Jr. was just about to hit his ninth birthday.
That early sign of talent has not proved misleading. On May 17 in Las Vegas, Samuel "Hurricane Sammy" Valentin Jr. hit the pinnacle of his amateur boxing career, winning the 152-pound weight class at the National Golden Gloves Championships in Nevada.
"Golden Gloves. That's huge," the proud papa said Tuesday from the family gym, Hurricane Sammy's Boxing, just south of State Road 54 on U.S. 41. "When you want to turn pro, the promoters will look at the national fighters, and Golden Gloves is the biggie."
And have no doubts, Valentin Jr. will be turning pro soon. Even though he had no concerns over his readiness for the next step, the performance at the Golden Gloves proved it to everyone else. He had finished third and fourth in his previous two attempts.
In the finals he earned a tight 3-2 decision over hometown favorite Quontez McRath.
"I was the underdog but I'm used to that," said Valentin Jr., a Wharton High graduate who turns 20 on June 23.
He had to fight five bouts in as many days to take the title. Valentin Jr. has won several national events, but this was by far the most prestigious.
There was a time when he wanted to be an Olympian, but those plans have been altered by recent requirements for boxers who choose that path.
One that concerned Valentin Sr. was the removal of headgear in athletic competition. Then there's the intense travel schedule set by the International Boxing Association for its Olympic hopefuls.
"I don't want to be one of those boxers who gets burned out," Valentin Jr. said.
While he's training for a pro career, the would-be Olympians have an upcoming 10-week span that will see them travel to Scotland, China and Korea. All that time, other trainers may be infusing new — and not necessarily welcome — methods. Valentin Jr. figures he's better served honing his craft training at home.
And the kicker is that at the end of it all, as long as he stays under the 15-fight mark as a pro, Valentin Jr. can still enter Olympic qualifying.
"To make money in the meantime, that's a no-brainer," his father said.
The decision to put his son into a fighting sport, one would assume, was just as natural. But Valentin Jr. started off as a bystander. Then one day, at age 6, father noticed son mimicking a boxer's every move — impressively and a bit fiercely.
"He had this look in his eye and he says, 'I want to box.' Well, I told him to go back in the corner," Valentin Sr. said.
Obviously, he worked his way into the ring, starting off his career at the age of 8 (the earliest allowable). Officially, Sammy Jr. has participated in 171 matches, winning 150. He is undefeated in the dozen he has fought since January.
As one might guess, Valentin Jr. has tremendous focus. He trains every day, mixing up boxing elements with strength and conditioning to avoid monotony. Mary Ch-hab, his nutritionist, says he never slips.
"He might drink coffee sometimes but we all drink coffee, so that's not bad. He's very disciplined," said Ch-hab, whose special "Hurricane" chicken fajita wrap (and Coach Sammy's Detox Elixir, a consumed-daily smoothie) are on the menu for anyone to try at Hurricane Sammy Boxing.
Valentin Jr. already has plenty of fans. Fifteen-year-old Louis Lebron, who moved here a few months ago from Massachusetts, trains with him.
"He is a great role model. I've learned more in the last three months here than I did my whole life," Lebron said.
Expect that fan base to increase quickly. That pro announcement could come in a matter of weeks.
"Pro boxers, they're animals. And I've always wanted to be one," Valentin Jr. said. "Looking in the eyes of a true fighter, the focus they have, they look like warriors. And I'm doing it now."