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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – As the old saying goes: Never judge a book by its cover – or in this case a fighter.
22 year old Niko “Baby face” Valdes could be boxing’s next big thing.
Training at the legendary 5th Street Gym on South Beach, he’s gone pro after just four years in the sport and how he was discovered was just as improbable.
“I got discovered by Oscar de la Hoya on Instagram,” explained Valdes. “He found me on the popular page, like ‘how’d you find me’. He said ‘oh I was scrolling through the popular page. I saw you hitting mitts and you hit really hard.’”
This kind of new found fame is a familiar story.
Valdes is the Justin Bieber of boxing. The Beebs was discovered by Usher on YouTube and as evidenced by Niko’s hairdo, he’s a big fan.
“I think he’s cool. Even though people hate him I think Justin Bieber is cool,” said Valdes. “I work out to only Justin Bieber music in the gym. Everybody hates it.”
Don’t let the Bieber-hair fool you. According to his coach Dino Spencer, Babyface was meant to be a fighter.
“This is a kid that’s never been in a street fight in his life,” said Spencer. “This is a kid that was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. You don’t find kids like that. That doesn’t happen. Usually people fight because they have to, not because they want to. Niko just fights because he wants to.”
Valdes has gone all in on boxing and his commitment has led to special relationship with coach Dino.
“This morning I was at his house for breakfast,” said Valdes. “I’m with him all the time, more than anybody in here,except for Mercedes his wife. I’m second.”
“Throughout this training he’s traveled and worked with other coaches and there are wonderful things that they’ve done for him and taught him, great boxing experiences,” said Spencer. “But when he always comes back he says no matter what they teach him, we’re a team and it touches you more than you imagine.”
While Niko was going pro in a brutally physical sport like boxing, another relationship was forming between Dino and Israel Valdes, Niko’s father.
“In the beginning as a father you’re like ok hold up wait a minute,” explained Israel. “He didn’t have anything to do with the process of you getting here. But when you see the bond between them it makes you feel as a father, you almost want to cry, because it makes you feel as a father that no matter what happens to you as a father if you’re here or not here anymore there’s someone taking care of your son.”
“I only know Niko as the fighter. I don’t know Niko as the baby,” said Spencer. “So I don’t treat him like a baby, I treat him like a man, and I expect him to act like a man. And he always rises to the occasion so I provide a different relationship than a father or mother that wouldn’t be fair to ask them to do.”
This boxing team has made it work.
Valdes is 1-0 professionally and gearing up for his next pro fight later this summer.
They all hope this is just the beginning for fighter they call Babyface.
“There’s being a world champion and there’s being a star,” said Valdes. “I want to be a star world champion. There’s 100 world champions but there’s only one Canelo, one Mayweather, one Oscar de la Hoya. I want to sell pay-per-view on tv and be like a show and not really just another champion.”