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Melissa Hernandez: Four Years Later
by Bernie McCoy
June 14, 2010

     
   
   
   
   

(JUNE 14)  It was almost four years to the day, the setting was exactly the same and the roles were identical. Late last week I was sitting in Gleasons Gym, the hectic business of boxing swirling around, as it always does in that Brooklyn landmark and I was talking with Melissa Hernandez about her sport. Certainly, there were differences: In 2006, Melissa Hernandez, with three professional bouts on her record, was preparing to go to Oregon to step into the ring with Kelsey Jeffries, at the time, one of the top female featherweight boxers in the world, a veteran of 42 bouts. A couple of weeks later, Hernandez came back from Oregon, having gone ten rounds with Jeffries and come away with a draw. Most observers in the sport thought, "Wow!"

A week ago, Melissa Hernandez went to Evansville, IN to fight Lindsay Garbatt, a 4-3 Canadian boxer. Hernandez went eight rounds with a fighter who was coming off a third round KO loss to Jeannine Garside and Hernandez suffered the second defeat in a 16 bout career.  Again, the result of the bout prompted a chorus of "Wow!" in the boxing community. But the difference in those two exclamations was as wide as the four years separating the bouts.

"I didn't overlook Lindsay," is one of the first assurances Hernandez stipulates as we settle down on the outskirts of the gym activity. "She (Garbatt) did her homework and came to the fight totally prepared. I thought I fought hard enough to get a decision or at least a draw, but I won't take anything away from her, she got the ' W.' It was a good fight and now it's time to get back to work, time to get back to my roots. First thing is a rematch with Garbatt and I've been calling my manager every day to get it done. Right now, we're targeting the end of July, possibly in Michigan."

"As far as Indiana, maybe I needed a lesson, a wake up call, maybe I was getting stale, taking the sport, which is my life, my existence, for granted. Of course, you don't realize it's happening, you certainly don't recognize it, but bit by bit, every day, if you don't stay hungry, you start to lose that fire that got you into the ring and to your place in the sport. And, in Indiana, there was, probably, only one fighter in that ring with that type of hunger and fire and she was coming out of the other corner. I give Lindsay credit, she's evolving into a very professional fighter and she certainly could be a champion someday. I can hardly wait to fight her again.

Melissa Hernandez is an acquired taste, always has been, starting with the amateurs in Florida. She was the one fans remembered, most favorably, some others, not so much. She promotes herself unabashedly to whomever will listen, but, always, she promotes her sport in the same breath. Hernandez sees that as one and the same, "I don't stay cooped up in a hometown, I go to the other boxers' hometowns, such as Panama, and take on the local fighter. I outtalk the talkers and I outfight the fighters and when I leave, it's usually me the fans remember. I'll bet I'm the one they remember in Indiana." That could be true, but Indiana was a blip on the radar screen. Not surprisingly, Hernandez has ready a "spin" on that blip.

"I truly believe (Indiana) may turn into a positive for me and my career. Looking back, I might have been just going thru the motions for a long time before that bout. I was doing the same things I've done for the five years I've been a professional boxer but I was almost sleepwalking thru my training routine. I lacked that fire in my butt, that fire that first got me to the gym, looking forward to each day of training, hard. This loss has energized me, made me realize boxing is what I'm doing now and for the foreseeable future and that I better do it with energy and dedication. I'm not going to obsess over a loss, it's eight rounds and I didn't get the decision. I've been through a lot tougher times than that. But what I do regret is the disappointment I caused others, those who are close to me, professionally and personally. That's the worst aspect of losing. But I can change that. First things first and that's a rematch with Garbatt and I promise you, that will be a fight worth watching."

Melissa Hernandez uses words as adroitly as she spins off the ropes or slips out of a corner and she knows that such sentiments are merely words. Admirable words, but words, only. Melissa Hernandez also knows that the sport of boxing isn't about words. It's about putting in a mouthpiece and answering a bell; it's about enduring long dreary hours, days and weeks of gym work prior to that bell; it's about getting up in the dark to run empty streets. Melissa Hernandez not only knows this, she did exactly that for much of her career and it led her to an elite status in her sport. I think she also knows that she lost some of the desire to do the tough work this tough sport demands. And she lost that desire, gradually, over the five years she's been competing as a professional. How much did she lose? Who knows. I don't think Melissa Hernandez knows, but she knows Indiana was a red flag. Melissa Hernandez knows that better than anyone. She says she's ready to "get back to my roots," but again those are words. Boxing is an action sport.

As we wind up our conversation and Melissa Hernandez heads towards the activity of Gleasons, I catch just a fleeting glimpse of someone I hadn't seen in four years: a young, hungry fighter on the verge of shocking the boxing world by going to Oregon and holding her own over ten rounds with one of the best fighters in the sport. It could have been wishful thinking on my part, it could have been the words and fervor I listened to for over an hour. I hope not. I hope it really was a glimpse of things to come for Melissa Hernandez and the sport of Women's boxing. Both will be better for it.

Bernie McCoy

 
     
     
   
 
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