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Melissa Hernandez: "Looking Up"
By Bernie McCoy
June 4, 2006

     
   
   
   
   

(JUNE 4) Melissa Hernandez was sparring in one of the rings in Gleasons Gym when I checked in at the battered old front desk in that Brooklyn landmark last week. That made sense. Melissa Hernandez has a fight on June 15 in Canyonville, OR. Hernandez said, later, that she plans to spar more than 100 rounds before she steps into the ring in Oregon. That, likewise, makes sense. The June 15 fight, the fourth for Hernandez as a professional, is a big step up for a boxer who has been fighting for money for less than a year.

Asked if she had done any mountain climbing in her native Puerto Rico, Melissa Hernandez thought for a moment, then graciously laughed because she "got" a writer's somewhat awkward attempt at humor. "No," she said, "no mountain climbing down there, but I guess you could say this fight is a bit of an uphill climb."

On June 15 Melissa Hernandez, who has won all three of her professional bouts, will step into the ring with Kelsey Jeffries, a pro boxer for almost seven years, who has won 33 of her 42 bouts, against some of the best fighters in the bantam and featherweight divisions. The ten round bout will be for the IFBA featherweight title and, for Melissa Hernandez, it qualifies, by any definition, as climbing a mountain, or, at the least, a very steep hill. However, before the Mismatch Police descend on Canyonville, OR, listen to Melissa Hernandez, who has a tendency to talk at the same speed with which she moves in the ring.

"I look at this bout as a ' win/win ' situation for me. I'm fighting one of the best boxers in the sport and that's exactly why I turned ' pro ' in the first place," Hernandez explained, taking a break from her sparring and heavy bag work. "I had no intention of staying in with pro debut boxers and that type of fighter any longer than I had to. When the opportunity for the Kelsey Jeffries bout came up, I jumped at it. When I was still in the amateurs and thinking of turning professional, I had a list of four fighters that I held in a great deal of respect and esteem. Kelsey Jeffries was second on that list. Belinda Laracuente was at the top and she's now my manager. Chevelle Hallback and Melissa Del Valle were the other two."

Hernandez did, indeed, turn pro last October and now she will be, in her words, "going toe to toe" with one of the fighters she held out as an ideal. "Kelsey is a great boxer," Hernandez says, "I've studied the tape of her bout with Layla McCarter and she [Jeffries] comes right at you. I think I can match her speed and I'm a bit younger (Jeffries is 30, Hernandez, 26) and my hand speed is as good as anyone. But, worst case, this fight will be a great learning experience for me. If I stay with Kelsey Jeffries for ten rounds, my name becomes much better know that it is now. Also, and this is a fact, I'll probably learn more in ten rounds with Kelsey Jeffries that I would in ten bouts with inexperienced fighters. If I win, I'm right at the top of one of the most competitive weight divisions in the sport of Women's boxing. As I said, it's nothing but a ' win/win ' for me."

Hernandez, like most of the up and coming boxers in the sport today, came through the amateur ranks. Hernandez's amateur career consisted of "about" 18 fights and included two Golden Gloves titles along with state titles in Florida and Georgia. Asked to describe her style, "boxer," "puncher," "brawler," Hernandez thinks for a moment and replies, "All three, probably, depending on what's needed in a particular fight. In my first pro bout with Mao Mao Zhang, I went out intending to punch with her and got caught with a terrific shot and I turned into a boxer real fast. I look at the tape of that bout and I barely recognize myself, but sticking and moving was what I had to do to win a close fight against a good fighter. My next two bouts were a bit easier and that's why I was looking to step up." A step up is certainly an understated description of what Melissa Hernandez got when she signed to fight Kelsey Jeffries.

Hernnadez fully understands that as big an opportunity as the Jeffries bout is, her career will not be solely defined by what happens on June 15 in Oregon. Hernandez began her professional career around the same time, in the same area, New York City, and started training at the same gym, Gleasons, as Maureen Shea, currently unbeaten in five fights [after a "no-decision" bout with Kim Colbert late last month]. "I know Maureen Shea and I can blow the roof off women's boxing in New York in the future, if we both continue to build our records. We both came out of the Gloves, we're both from the Bronx, it's a bout made in ' matchmaker heaven ' and I hope it happens sooner rather than later. But, in the meantime, there are other very good fighters out there: Jelena Mrdjenovich, Jeannine Garside and a lot of other talented fighters, including Ronica Jeffrey, who's still in the amateurs and currently fighting on the national team after winning another New York Golden Gloves title. Believe me, with talent like that, women's boxing is no longer a sideshow, there's talent up and down every weight division."

Melissa Hernandez goes into the bout on June 15 in Canyonville, OR with her eyes wide open. She recognizes she's the underdog, the big underdog, in a bout against one of the very best fighters in the sport. Melissa Hernandez also know there will be other fights after Kelsey Jeffries. It could be that Bronx "neighborhood brawl" with Maureen Shea, or bouts with either of the talented Canadian fighters, Jelena Mrdjenovich and Jeannine Garside, or a fight, if and when she "turns pro", with Ronica Jeffrey. "I'm looking forward to June 15," Hernandez says, as she heads back to the calisthenic part of her workout, "I appreciate the opportunity to fight Kelsey Jeffries, but I'm also looking forward to a lot of other great bouts, in the future, with a lot of other great fighters."

As I'm leaving Gleasons, the guy behind that battered old desk, says, "Looked, like she was talking your ear off." "Those are the best kind," I reply, "they usually have a lot to say and what they say is usually worth hearing." Melissa Hernandez does have a lot to say, in and out of the ring. She may or may not make a big statement in Oregon on June 15, but it's probably safe to assume that before she's finished in the sport of Women's boxing, Melissa Hernandez will make her share of statements in the boxing ring and fans of the sport would be smart to pay attention.
Bernie McCoy 

 
     
     
   
           
 
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