By John J. Raspanti
It seems almost inconceivable that a fighter with the credentials of former interim world junior welterweight champion, Mauricio Herrera, would be racked by doubt.
But that’s exactly what happened a few months ago after Herrera suffered his second consecutive loss to middle-of-the road contender Pablo Cano at the Fantasy Springs Casino I Indio, CA.
“When camp began for this fight (March 23 on ESPN2), I was doubting myself for the first time,” Herrera told this writer on the phone last week. “I was asking myself whether I could still do it.”
Herrera has “done it” very well over the course of a career that began at the relatively old age (for boxing) of 27.
Victorious in his first 13 fights, Herrera suffered a loss, but rebounded three bouts later to hand future welter champion Ruslan Provodonikov his first career defeat. Herrera handled Mike Dallas Jr, dropped decisions to contenders Mike Alvarado and Karim Mayfield, and in 2014, traveled to Puerto Rico to square off against heavily favored (10-1) world champion Danny Garcia.
In the best shape of his life, and motivated to prove the naysayers wrong, Herrera frustrated the champion all night long. He fought intelligently, jabbed to the body consistently, and landed more punches. Garcia connected with the heavier shots, but Herrera controlled most of the fight.
Or so it seemed.
Two judges had Garcia winning the bout by four points, while the third scored the fight a draw.
Showtime commentators Al Bernstein, Paulie Malignaggi, and Steve Farhood, all had Herrera winning the bout. This boxing scribe concurred.
But the decision shocked few. Garcia was fighting in Puerto Rico for the first time. His parents were born there. The hometown crowd cheered Garcia‘s every move. In a perfect world, Herrera deserved to win the fight. But boxing is miles away from being perfect, especially in its judging.
Nine months later, Herrera was again on the short side of a controversial decision. His opponent that night, undefeated Jose Benavidez, was being groomed Top Rank for stardom. Herrera appeared to outwork his taller opponent. To most watching from home, and at ringside, Hererra did more than enough to win the fight.
As the decision was announced, Hererra sensed it wouldn’t go his way. His intuition was proved correct. All three judges had Benavidez the clear-cut winner.
According to CompuBox, Herrera was the busier fighter. He threw 870 punches, 200 more than Bevavidez. He also landed 35 more blows, but to the three at ringside, his vitality wasn’t enough. For the first time in his boxing life, Herrera felt bitter.
“Those bad decisions are hard to take,” Herrera said. “I was tired of being cheated out of my fights.”
As always, he bounced back, capturing the interim world title four months later, and the NABF in 2015, by defeating Hank Lundy.
Then he made a mistake.
“After the Lundy the fight—that was a great victory,” said Herrera. “I took a long break and didn’t really do anything for a while. I didn’t go to the gym. I stopped sparring. Then the (Frankie) Gomez fight came up, and after not doing anything for over a year, it was hard to put everything together in two months.”
Herrera lost virtually every round against the young and talented Gomez. He looked like a car stuck in neutral. Six months later, he tried again, this time against Cano. He did better but still came up short.
Many told him to hang up his gloves.
“I did feel that I was finding my edge as the fight (against Cano) went on,” Herrera said. “I started getting comfortable. I found my jab. I was telling myself to throw the jab. I was teaching myself in there.”
Herrara’s jab is his most effective weapon. It’s what propelled him to victories over Provodnikov, Dallas Jr, Miguel Angel Huerta, and Johan Perez.
His jab is so educated it earned Herrera the nickname of “El Maestro”
“I need to get back to the jab,” said Herrera. “I think a tune-up fight is just what I need.”
The first tune-up fight of his career will happen March 23 at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, CA. against grizzled veteran Hector Valazquez.
Herrera needs a victory, badly. He feels like he has something to prove, not only to the critics, but to himself.
“I want to show myself that I’ve still got it,” said the soon to be 37-year-old. ”How will I look? This fight should let me know. I’m going to take my time and show that I can still do it on March twenty third. I hope this fight will prove it.”