You couldn’t make this guy up if you tried. And when you do stories on relatively unknown boxers like Vasquez, it’s a Godsend to have men like Hernandez fill the blanks in for you.
“The young man has been out of his country on maybe three, four, five occasions,” explained Hernandez this past Friday afternoon at the Bristow Park Gym in the city of Commerce. “One of those occasions was against [Takashi] Uchiyama in Japan where he lost by eighth round knockout. Other than that, he’s never really had any exposure anywhere internationally as an amateur or as a professional.”
Vasquez has a record of 32-1 (17) and while it looks impressive, it’s one in which the “1” stands out more than the “32” based on how Vasquez was handled until the respected Japanese titlist dispatched him in Tokyo on New Year’s Eve 2012.
Hernandez, as blunt as ever, says of that fateful night, “It was an amateur versus a pro. I mean, in Costa Rica, you never fight anybody. [Vasquez]’s got 32 wins right now, 28 dead bodies, maybe three C-minus fighters and maybe one great fighter. He went in, ‘What am I doing here? Am I back home? Is this a preliminary fight? Is this an amateur fight?’ No, it was just lack of experience. He learned so much from that particular fight but the improvement that he made is what amazes me.”
And yeah, “Uncle Joe” is all-in with Vasquez.
“‘Stevie Wonder,’” said Joe, who usually addresses this scribe with this moniker, “the only time you will see me bragging or stating what type of fighter you have is when we have a great young talent. I think he’s a great fighter if he can take a shot, number one, if his discipline doesn’t change, if he’s not lazy - he’s kinda lazy in his training - but as far as natural, God-given talent, I remember a young man named [Francisco] Bojado. I had the media, the promoter, the public on the alert.”
(And more on the long-forgotten “Panchito” later.)
Hernandez, who could sell ice to Eskimos, is now on a roll.
“OK, I’m going to put everyone on the alert again. This is a young man with a lot of talent. I mean, he’s got everything: offense, defense; he’s got everything in boxing," Hernandez states with conviction. Yeah, you want to roll your eyes because, after all, every manager claims to have the next Sugar Ray Robinson but it’s hard to argue with Hernandez’s track record as he was instrumental in bringing up the likes of Edwin Valero, Mike Anchondo, Abner Mares and Daniel Ponce de Leon (with whom he had a bit of a love/hate relationship. Nobody could talk up Ponce de Leon quite like Hernandez and yet be so frustrated by his usual awkward performances that failed to live up to Hernandez’s expectations).
But to this day, Hernandez says Bojado was the best talent he ever came in contact with. And yeah, this reporter wasn’t just on the bandwagon; he was driving it. And, well, Bojado was more Ryan Leaf than Peyton Manning. He’s Hernandez’s greatest disappointment in boxing.
“I think so. Bojado had everything to become, maybe not a money maker like Oscar De la Hoya but if there was anybody other than a gold medalist who’s coming out of the Olympics to make a lot money - it would’ve been Bojado. I still feel in my heart that is the best fighter I have ever...ever seen in my life.”
So where did it all go wrong? Why was this guy derailed on his way to Canastota?
“lt was simple; people just don’t understand he was born with so much talent but his discipline wasn’t there 100 percent,” said Hernandez of the can’t-miss prospect - who did just that: he missed. “But it’s not what people think on the account of money or bad luck or whatever. No. He fell in love with a young girl - I think a 15-year old girl - and that’s when his career started going down.”
Hernandez has been off the grid the past few years. This is the most interesting sport to cover because of individuals like him. He’s funny; he’s eccentric and he’s an individual who can be both charming and frustrating at the same time - but he’ll always make you laugh. Boxing isn’t just about the fights but the people who make up the fabric of the sport. Hernandez is someone you can only meet in this racket and you’re not really a part of the boxing community in Southern California till he addresses you as “Son.”
It’s rarely a dull moment with this guy and when he decides to take on a fighter, he wears many hats from supervising the trainers to monitoring their strength-and-conditioning to handling their diets and serving as their de facto publicist. Hernandez is a one-stop shop for fighters. After Vasquez had finished his days sparring, Hernandez pulls out a fat wad of hundred dollar bills and starts to pay the sparring partners for their work. “Oh, I tell ya, Stevie,” he says with a sigh as he looked around the gym. “I blow so much money on this sh*t.”
You can’t help but chuckle as he states this (yeah, it’s a funny comment but the way he says it makes it the funniest thing you’ll hear all week). For this Puerto Rican, this is very much a labor of love. It’s not so much what he does; in many ways, it’s what he is - a boxing guy. This is why he’s back.
“After what, five, six, seven years in Costa Rica working on a project – really, between you and I, I’m going on 70, 71 - but I think I look like a 30-year-old in boxing,” Hernandez says as only he can. “But it’s like heroin - I’m an addict. But the thing is I will not come back unless I see potential in a young man. This young man has got everything to be a superstar. Top Rank [Promotions], HBO, the press and the media, the public: watch this kid; I’m telling you. I’m not saying he’s going to win. You can’t predict if he’s going to win; I’m not saying he’s going to be knocked out or whatever. You’re going to see a great fighter.”
As you see Vasquez work, it’s obvious he has talent. He has two-fisted power and the ability to switch-hit (being a natural southpaw who boxes regularly out of the orthodox style). At 26, he’s just entering his physical prime but in Felix, Vasquez is facing a young, undefeated prospect at 26-0-1 (21).
“Watch this; this kid is tough. He’s a mover; he’s a boxer. He can jab; he can be difficult. He can hit with the left; he can hit with the right - but y’ know what, Stevie? That’s a good fighter,” Hernandez says of their opponent.
“But this [Vasquez] is a helluva fighter.”
My latest contribution to www.SportsOnEarth.com on how Manny Pacquiao is fighting to retain his pay-per-view status and his market value this weekend versus Tim Bradley:
Here’s the latest episode of “The Next Round” with Gabe Montoya and Yours Truly: