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Melissa Hernandez: "Fighters Fight"
by Bernie McCoy
December 7, 2014
Photo: Mary Ann Owen
     
   
   


 

(DEC 7)  That was the answer Melissa Hernandez snapped out following my expression of surprise over her recent bout (November 21) with Layla McCarter in Las Vegas. My feeling stemmed from the fact that even from several time zones away the match-up, to me, seemed like the ultimate home court advantage for the hometown fighter and that wasn't Hernandez. While Melissa agreed that McCarter is certainly more comfortable fighting in her adopted hometown, Hernandez was steadfast, "I came to the fight prepared to win. I thought I hurt her a couple of times and, in the end, the judging was ridiculously one sided, but that's boxing."

I was on the phone with Hernandez late last week from her home in Miami and my primary purpose was to determine "what's next" for the diminutive Puerto Rican boxer who has been, over the past decade, one of the more compelling athletes in the sport of Women's boxing, in and out of the ring.

Hernandez got to the "what's next" answer quickly and simply, "I want to fight as many times as I can. I came in weighing in the mid 130s for McCarter and while I'm comfortable at 130 even, my target is 126. I'm going to be 35 soon (February 4) and that takes a toll, particularly with your speed. I first started to notice it when I fought Acuna (July 2013) and I had trouble staying with her. I'm not as fast as I used to be but I think I stack up well against anyone in the 126-130 range. I know Maureen Shea is making some noise again on the West Coast against some 'interesting' opposition and I've always thought that she and I would make for a good bout in New York. But every time I've brought it up in the past, Luigi (Olcese, Shea's trainer) changes the subject."


Maureen Shea - Courtesy photo by Richie Maldonado

Beyond what has always been, realistically, wishful thinking on Hernandez's part regarding getting the "Real Million Dollar Baby" into the ring, she maintains a more practical goal, "I'd like one more bout with Jelena (Mrdjenovich, the current WBC featherweight champion). We've fought three times.  I won the first two and the third was stopped in the sixth round (scheduled ten) due to a Mrdjenovich cut and 'going to the scorecards' gave Jelena the win. I felt I was coming on in that fight and with four rounds left, I had a real shot at winning. Jelena's a good fighter and, having fought her three times, I learned two important things: you have to travel to Edmonton to get her into the ring and more important you have to stay away from her left hook. I've been in with her for 24 rounds and that big hook hasn't found me yet."


Jelena Mrdjenovich

Hernandez has had 28 professional fights in nine years and admits that staying busy has not always been easy, "I know a lot of promoters think I'm difficult to deal with, but I've been around long enough to know what's right and what's wrong about the way this sport works." The Hernandez/Holly Holm fight night cancellation (December 2009) remains a sticking point over Hernandez's career. She, in my opinion, incurred considerably more than her fair share of blame for the failure of that night of boxing. In point of fact, the fiasco in Albuquerque can be laid squarely on the sanctioning bodies who were supposedly in a supervisory capacity for that bout and did nothing, absolutely nothing, to resolve a minor dispute over wrapping the fighter's hands. As for the "difficult" label attached to Hernandez she is, indeed, aware of every aspect of the often complicated matchmaking ritual in the sport and she has a reputation as a hard negotiator. But the fact is, once she is committed to a fight, she is "all in" in her promotion of the bout and, to my knowledge, has never "mailed in" a performance in the ring. It is simply not in her DNA. She is professional from opening bell to last. In fact, during the run-up to the ill fated Albuquerque bout, it was Hernandez who was the "star" at most of the press conferences. It was Hernandez who memorably climbed on a chair to emphasize the height difference between her and the 5' 8" Holm.


Photo by Mary Ann Owen

I hope Melissa Hernandez gets to "fight as many times as I can." And I hope she does it in the United States, where the sport continues to need the infusion of excitement that a Melissa Hernandez brings to the sport. She mentioned possible opportunities in Tampa or the Dominican Republic. Let me make a pitch for New York and a suggestion for match-up opportunities: currently on the East Coast, two super bantamweights, Heather Hardy and Shelly Vincent have worked their way through a typical list of starter kit opponents, racking up twelve and thirteen straight wins, respectively. Both Hardy and Vincent have shown some ring skill, both Hardy and Vincent have attracted sizable fan bases in New York and Providence and both Hardy and Vincent are reaching the point in their careers where "up and comers" step up to the "adult table" for a bout against an established fighter. At 126 pounds Melissa Hernandez has been at that adult table since her fourth professional bout (June 2006) against Kelsey Jeffries who was 33-9 at the time. (Hernandez came away with a ten round draw). Both Hardy and Vincent are supported by top flight boxing organizations who will recognize both the opportunity and the downside of a bout against a Melissa Hernandez. I think the boxing community would welcome the compelling scenario of a Hernandez bout against either Heather Hardy or Shelly Vincent. Will it happen? Who knows. It's a matter of whether team Hardy or team Vincent deems their fighter ready for a "cross the Rubicon," career defining bout against a quality, veteran opponent.

I do know one fighter who would, at this point, ask, only, "where do I sign." Last week, Melissa Hernandez provided me with a series of good quotes during our forty minute phone conversation, most notably, "I want to fight as many times as I can." I hope she gets her wish. The sport of Women's boxing will be better for it.

Bernie McCoy

 
     
     
   
 
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