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He started boxing for enjoyment, however. Once, when Jesse was 11 years old and weighed 85 lbs., his mother watched him box, and lose, and never watched him box again. She couldn’t stand to see her son “beaten up.” She, and others, impressed upon him that if he was to succeed in life, he needed to go to college. One of his coaches was able to get him a scholarship to Howard Payne College, in Brownsville, Texas. It was a boxing scholarship, the first one that college had ever given. They had no boxing team, and Jesse was the only boxer at the school. They got him a heavy bag and other equipment. He also ran track to stay in shape during the year he was there. His record at that time was an impressive 175-5. The school must have assumed that it was good publicity, as everyone in Texas knew about Jesse Valdez.
Jesse soon realized that he couldn’t study and train and do justice to both, so he quit boxing and got a job as a court bailiff, and transferred to South Texas Junior College. At that time, he thought that his boxing career was over. Having difficulty making ends meet, he decided to join the U.S. Air Force, so that he could get a free education. They made a security policeman out of him, but he didn’t like that job. He mentioned that he had done some boxing…and the rest is history.
While in the Air Force, he met his wife Jacquelyn, who also was in the service. Like Jesse’s mother, she didn’t like to see him box. Jesse, who was a classic boxer, retired permanently from the sport he loved with an amateur record of 231 wins and 13 losses. He never turned pro. Jesse remained in the Air Force as a career military man.
Along the way, Jesse had won the National AAU welterweight championship as a 16 year old, in 1964. In 1967 he was the National Golden Gloves light middleweight champion. Three years later (1970), he won the National AAU championship again, also as a light middleweight, and in 1972, he was National Golden Gloves welterweight champion. He had also picked up three Inter-Service Championships, a bronze medal in the 1967 Pan-American games, and a bronze medal in the 1972 Olympics, in Munich, losing by split decision (3-2) in the semi-finals to the eventual gold medalist, Emilio Correa, of Cuba.
Not bad for someone who only boxed for the enjoyment.