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Genaro Hernandez hangs tough in his toughest bout

BILL DWYRE

The former boxing champion has cancer, but even as undergoes treatment, he proves he has much to live for.

February 07, 2011|Bill Dwyre
  • Genaro Hernandez, left, works against Raul Perez during a fight that Hernandez won by knockout in the eighth round.
Genaro Hernandez, left, works against Raul Perez during a fight that Hernandez… (Allsport )

All you need to know about former boxing champion Genaro Hernandez occurred the night of March 22, 1997.

He was fighting Azumah Nelson in Corpus Christi, Texas, for the WBC super featherweight title. He was ahead on all three cards when the bell for the seventh round sounded. Nelson threw a punch clearly after the bell and knocked out Hernandez.

When he regained consciousness, Hernandez was told by officials that the fight would be stopped and he would be declared the winner. Instead, Hernandez told the referee, in a conversation heard clearly on the telecast, that Nelson was a worthy champion and should not go out this way. Henandez said he was OK, and would fight on.

Hernandez won that fight, and lost only two of the 41 in his 14-year career. Now, he is in another fight and this opponent, cancer, is lots tougher.

"I feel like an old man that somebody needs to take care of," says Hernandez, who will turn 45 in May. "For awhile, I lost 50 pounds. I limp. I've got tumors on both shoulders, one on each thigh, one on my neck and three on my back. I haven't been able to produce any saliva for the last two years.

"I'm hanging in there."

He reports his condition like you'd report a trip to the grocery store. He has lost energy, weight and strength, but never hope, nor sense of humor. There is no poor-me, no pity parties, in Genaro Hernandez.

He lives in Orange County. He got fired recently from his training job at a gym in Lake Forest. The firing came by text message.

No worries. Thursday, he drove himself to a doctor in Santa Monica. Saturday, he helped on a fight broadcast in Maywood. His body is breaking down. Never his enthusiasm.

His boxing career, while training behind a gas station in East L.A., produced less fame than it deserved mainly because of the shadow cast by fellow East L.A. star Oscar De La Hoya.

Hernandez won his first title by beating French fighter Daniel Londas in Epernay, France, in 1991. Fighting in the other guy's back yard is always tough, but Hernandez has proof. When he won the match, they handed him a plaque that read: Champion Daniel Londes, City of Epernay.

"I still have it," Hernandez says. "It's one of my favorite things."

He got his dream match with De La Hoya in September, 1995, at the height of De La Hoya's career.

"A week before the fight," Hernandez says, "I was sparring with Shane Mosley. He got in an overhand right, it got inside my headgear and broke my nose."

Hernandez says he went on with the fight on the slim chance he could still prevail. He says now that it was clear the word had gotten out.

"Oscar never threw a body punch all night," Hernandez says. "Shane started the broken nose and Oscar sure finished it."

Hernandez stopped the fight himself after the sixth round by telling the referee he was done. For this, he was greatly criticized. When he went to a specialist a few days later, Hernandez was told that the fracture had left his nose in 22 pieces.

"The doctor said it was like taking an egg out of the refrigerator and dropping it," he says.

His relationship with De La Hoya remains one of nodding acquaintance. The night of the fight, he was rushed to the hospital for treatment.

"I sat in the waiting room for 15 minutes," Hernandez says. "Then they brought Oscar in with a bad shoulder and rushed him right in."

Nose broken, eyes black and blue, Hernandez got on the plane to fly home the next day.

"There was Oscar and his whole team," Hernandez says, "on the same plane. Man…"

There is the extra dynamic. De La Hoya went to Garfield High, Hernandez to Roosevelt — two schools where the term rivalry understates it.

There is also irony. De La Hoya fought Mosley twice and lost both times.

Hernandez's other loss was to Floyd Mayweather, Jr., in 1998. It was his last fight. He was 32, at 5 feet 10 struggling to make 130 pounds and diagnosed a few weeks later, after seeing a doctor about double vision, with a small blood clot in his brain.

"The blood thinners took care of that," he says, "but I knew it was time."

When his neck and head cancer was first diagnosed, Hernandez's insurance company said it would not cover all the costs of his specialized needs. While haggling over this, Hernandez ran into Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who had never promoted him but knew his situation and said he'd help.

So, under the skin of promotional propaganda beats a heart. Who knew?

In the last two years, Arum has quietly sponsored nine trips by Hernandez to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

"I see the bills sometimes," Hernandez says. "One the other day was $17,000. He really had no reason to help me, but he did. I told him he better get me a fight so I can pay him back."

Hernandez is married to his wife of 20 years, Liliana, a department manager at Macy's in Mission Viejo. His children are Amanda, 18, and Steven, 11.

He is in the middle of two more chemotherapy cycles. Hernandez continues to work where and when he can. He is glib and knowledgeable, ideal broadcasting skills. He has much to live for.

And lest we forget, Azumah Nelson knocked him out, but he didn't beat him.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com.

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