Hernandez ushered in 1995 with an eighth round TKO over 64-fight veteran and world champion Jorge Paez in March of 1995. This earned him a shot at the WBO lightweight title held by Olympic hero and mega-superstar Oscar De la Hoya. “The Golden Boy” was defending his belt for the fifth time and both fighters were also competing for local bragging rights as Hernandez and De la Hoya had each emerged from the tough, South Central district of Los Angeles. While De la Hoya boxed and moved well, his damaging power shots broke Hernandez’s nose, forcing him to bow out after the sixth round. After recovering from his injury, Hernandez returned to the ring to close out 1996 with two wins.
The comeback wins placed “Chicanito” in line to face Azumah Nelson for the World Boxing Council (WBC) super featherweight title in March of 1997. He gutted out a hard-earned split decision win to claim the WBC strap. Hernandez would defend the title three times over the next year before defending it for a fourth time in what would turn out to be his last fight. Next up, challenging for Chicanito’s WBC belt was (now universally-recognized pound-for-pound champion) Floyd Mayweather Jr. While Genaro fought well, showing the heart of a champion, the thunderous uppercuts and vicious counter-shots of the “Pretty Boy” convinced trainer and brother Rudy Hernandez that Genaro had taken enough and the fight was stopped at the close of the eighth round. Mayweather always appreciated the great champion Genaro was, thanking him for the opportunity to fight for his belt. Speaking on HBO’s “Ring Life”, Mayweather said, “Genaro Hernandez, may he rest in peace. He gave me my first opportunity.” (In a heartfelt gesture for a fellow champion, when Hernandez passed away, Mayweather paid his funeral expenses.)
In December of 1998, after he was diagnosed with a blood clot and a torn cartilage muscle, Hernandez announced his retirement. He closed out his outstanding career with a record of 38-2-1 (17).
In retirement, Hernandez enjoyed training fighters along with doing commentary on television and PPV telecasts for Top Rank Promotions. Sadly, in 2008, Genaro was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Much like the way he conducted himself in and out of the ring, he handled the disease with class and dignity. Throughout his battle, his good nature always shone through. Hernandez was always smiling, never feeling sorry for himself, always brave. Top Rank chief Bob Arum, who quietly went about covering medical expenses during Genaro’s cancer treatment, summed him up best to ESPN boxing writer Dan Rafael thusly, “He was a lovely man and he was really a credit to the sport of boxing.”
Hernandez, a great fighter and champion in and out of the ring, passed away two years ago this month on June 7, 2011. Hernandez is survived by his wife, Liliana, and their two children, then-19-year-old Amanda and 11-year-old Steven. Gone but never forgotten.
Rest in Peace, champ!
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