Hernandez knew he was a heavy underdog but the fighter who was once inflicted with brittle hands kept punching as long as he could.
On May 4th, his brother, Rudy Hernandez, sent out this text message: "My brother will be sent home and take the weekend to spend with his family because it could be the last one he has with them outside of the hospital. His cancer got aggressive and took over."
“Chicanito” fought the good fight but he knew it was time to throw in the towel. Chemotherapy, which had taken so much from him, could do no more. This past Tuesday at 3:04 PM, at his home in Mission Viejo, CA, he passed away, surrounded by his family and loved ones.
I’m sure most of you know about his career inside the ring, where he cut his teeth as a boxer at the Great Western Forum. Hernandez eventually captured the 130-pound title twice, once memorably against Azumah Nelson (when he decided to fight on instead of forcing a disqualification for a punch after the bell) and his disappointing night against Oscar De La Hoya and a career-ending performance versus Floyd Mayweather were the only two losses in his 41-fight career. He was a skilled practitioner of the “Sweet Science” who used his freakish size (5’11”) as a 130-pounder to artfully outbox his foes. Hernandez wasn’t necessarily spectacular but he was a steady and polished prizefighter. As his record shows, you had to be more than just “good” to defeat him.
But why he was so well-liked and respected really had nothing to do with his accomplishments inside the ring. It was the person he was outside of it. Whether you were a fellow world champion, media member, trainer, cutman or fan, you could not find a nicer, more gracious individual. Hernandez was the very definition of humility and grace. Genaro was a better individual than he was a boxer; there is no debating that.
His brother, also a former fighter (ultimately becoming his trainer), says, "He was a genuine gentleman, as [Top Rank matchmaker] Bruce Trampler put it. He was a genuine gentleman."
There was an everyman quality and a certain normalcy to Hernandez and in many ways, he was the embodiment of that. While he had a storied career and made some money, he still had to go out into the real world and make a living for his family as he retired, which was just fine by him. If that involved boxing, even better. What Rudy will remember most about his brother is, "that he never thought he was better than anybody else and that his whole thing was if he could only be treated equally to a guy who was a four-round fighter, then he could be happy with that. It took him a long time to get used to the fact that people called him ’champ’."
This reporter began covering boxing back in 1996 (Where does the time go?) and the now-closed L.A. Boxing was the first gym I visited on a regular basis. It was there where I secured my first relationships with world-class fighters like Hernandez and an up-and-coming lightweight that was the best-kept secret on the West Coast by the name of Shane Mosley. They were frequent sparring partners (and it was Mosley that broke Hernandez’s nose before his bout against De La Hoya in 1995, effectively taking away any chance he had of beating the “Golden Boy”) and as I found out like anyone else, Hernandez was as accommodating as any athlete I have ever covered.
From being a guest on my radio show (the long-lost “Main Event” on KIEV and later, XTRA 1150) to coverage from my early days as a scribe at HouseofBoxing.com, Hernandez could always be counted on to be a real pro. After his retirement in 1998, he would jump over to our side of the ropes and work as a member of the media as an analyst. He was eventually hired by Top Rank (whose leader Bob Arum, sans fanfare, covered the cost of Hernandez’s medical bills along with Akihiko Honda of Teiken Promotions and the WBC) to do their international broadcasts.
As news of Hernandez’s passing spread through the boxing world, I received this email from Rick Seara, who, at the time, was the executive producer of those telecasts:
"Hey, I know you are aware already. I just wanted to say that some of my funnest memories were with you and Genaro working together in the States and in Mexico. You guys made a good team and always brought out the best in each other. Heaven just got classier with a great champion
For the better part of a year between 1999 and 2000, it was “Chicanito” and me behind the mic. Being that we both lived in Southern California, we would get booked on the same flights in and out of LAX, traveling to the likes of Madison, Wisconsin, Boise, Idaho and Chihuahua, Mexico, calling various fight cards. We had a familiar pattern. We’d fly in together, share a cab, get our per diem from Top Rank site coordinator Jay Edson (another real “boxing guy” who is greatly missed) and then go eat. Hernandez and I had some great memories on the road. Running like hell in Madison from a torrential downpour in the middle of August after eating dinner at a local diner. Genaro somehow getting us upgraded to first-class on the way home to Los Angeles one time after just chatting with the ticket agent in St. Paul. Calling the classic first encounter between Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales (we were actually on the ring apron right next to the HBO crew) at the Mandalay Bay. In the immediate aftermath of that pitched battle, Arum- who promoted “El Terrible”- looked down at us from the ring and asked who we had winning. In unison, we blurted out, “Barrera.” Arum just rolled his eyes. Then there was the time just minutes from the first edition of Shane Mosley-Oscar De La Hoya at the Staples Center when I lost my color guy because he was also committed to work for HBO Latino (Hey, the guy was in demand). Seara nearly had a heart attack and just like that, I was a solo act that evening.
Those were good times. I learned a lot about boxing from Hernandez but what I really learned was what type of person he was. There was not one time I can recall that he turned down an autograph or a photo for an admiring fan or anyone that wanted to strike up a conversation with him about boxing as he hung out in the hotel lobby. From a grassroots level, Hernandez was as good an ambassador as the sport ever had. He was boxing’s version of Will Rogers.
This past weekend, his former colleague at CompuBox, Joe Carnicelli, let everyone in press row at the Staples Center know that things were looking grave for our friend. Word spread quickly; most of us already knew but just hearing it again was disturbing.
At age 45, a life well lived was coming to an end. This upcoming Monday starting at 11 AM, services in Hernandez’s honor will be held at the Resurrection Church in East Los Angeles (3324 Opal St. The cross streets are 8th and Lorena). He will be buried with his WBC belt around his waist, his Teiken jumpsuit on and a pair of boxing gloves on his hands. Yeah, he’s a fighter…even now. His brother says, "I hope a lot of people show up and I want his son, who’s only 11 years old…I hope that he can see the impact on who his dad was."
Rudy said his goodbye on Sunday night as “Chicanito” lay in bed.
"I was literally on top of him, face-to-face, and I told him, ’We did good, huh?’ and the big ol’ smile of his, he just gave me that smile and he said, ’Yeah, we did good’ and he shook his head like, ’Yeah, we did really good’ and then he just kinda laid back on that pillow and he pretty much went into rest that night.
"He went to sleep and that’s the last time we ever saw him smile."
Steve Kim can be reached at email@example.com and tweets at www.twitter.com/stevemaxboxing.
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