ESPN’s Dan Rafael reported that: Genaro Hernandez, the genial two-time junior lightweight champion, lost his three-year battle with a rare form of cancer and died surrounded by his family at his home in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Tuesday. He was 45.
Hernandez, who fought professionally from 1984 to 1998, became a fan favorite, fighting regularly on Forum Boxing-promoted cards at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, Calif.
Hernandez’s crowning achievement came in 1991, when he traveled to France and stopped Frenchman Daniel Londas in the ninth round to win the vacant WBA 130-pound title.
“I think that the best fight he had was when he went to France and won the world title,” Rudy Hernandez, Genaro’s brother, said a few hours after Hernandez’s death. “He was looking to land and it was just a matter of time until he would catch him and knock him out. I was his brother, his trainer, his adviser, his manager, his friend.”
Hernandez (38-2-1, 17 KOs) defended the title eight times — including five times at the Great Western Forum — but then got the shot he had always wanted, a showdown against East Los Angeles rival Oscar De La Hoya. Hernandez moved up in weight and challenged De La Hoya for his lightweight belt outdoors at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in 1995.
De La Hoya stopped Hernandez, who retired on his stool after the sixth round. Hernandez was roundly criticized for not continuing.
Little did anyone know at the time, but Hernandez had suffered a shattered nose. He hid the fact that he had suffered a broken nose sparring against Shane Mosley a week before the bout, and the punches from De La Hoya inflicted even more damage.
Three fights later, however, Hernandez got another title shot when he challenged future Hall of Famer Azumah Nelson for his WBC version of the junior lightweight title. They met March 22, 1997, in Corpus Christi, Texas. While Hernandez won a split decision to claim his second world title, he will be remembered more for the fighting heart he showed in the bout than the victory.
Hernandez, nicknamed “Chicanito,” was ahead on all three scorecards when Nelson hit him in the throat after the bell ended the seventh round. Hernandez was down and in agony and was told that if he did not continue, he would win the fight and title on a disqualification. But that is not how Hernandez wanted to win.
After taking a few minutes to recuperate, Hernandez, perhaps still stung by the criticism from the ending of the De La Hoya fight, elected to fight on, eventually winning a split decision.
“He was a lovely man, and he was really a credit to the sport of boxing,” said Top Rank’s Bob Arum, who promoted the Nelson fight and many of Hernandez’s late-career bouts, and also quietly covered many of Hernandez’s medical expenses during his battle against cancer.
“I remember one instance (the Nelson fight) where he was fouled, and he knew he could win if he stayed down,” Arum said. “He insisted on continuing. He didn’t want to win the fight that way. He was a brave guy, a great guy.”
Hernandez made three defenses before being matched with a young Floyd Mayweather Jr., who stopped him in the eighth round to win his first world championship. Hernandez retired after that fight and stayed involved in boxing by working as a television commentator on many of Top Rank’s cards.
“As a commentator, he was everything you could ask for,” Arum said. “He had such a good understanding of what was going on inside the ring. He was just a great person. Eventually the cancer got him, but he did really well in his fight against cancer. He lasted for a long time and did everything he could to beat cancer. He showed a lot of heart.”
One of the last fights Hernandez called was in December, working a Top Rank pay-per-view that was headlined by lightweight titlist Humberto Soto’s decision win against Urbano Antillon in the 2010 ESPN.com fight of the year.
“We last worked together last December doing (Soto-Antillon), and he was still exhilarated by what he was watching,” said broadcaster Rich Marotta, who called many of Hernandez’s fights before partnering with him when he became a television analyst after he retired from the ring. “We will all miss him very much.”
Hernandez was diagnosed in late 2008 with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare kind of cancer usually found in children. It affects the muscles that are attached to bones. Hernandez had a period of remission before it came back.
“I had the good fortune to call many of Genaro’s fights, from early in his career when he was appearing in prelims at the Irvine Ballroom to his days as a world champion at the Forum to his biggest fight against Oscar De La Hoya at Caesars,” Marotta said. “He was the same guy through all of that, friendly, accessible to all and simply one of the finest athletes I’ve ever had the pleasure of dealing with. He was still the same guy, with the same accommodating demeanor, in the years following his boxing career as a ringside commentator.”
Rudy Hernandez said he and his brother joked around that he had not lived up to his potential in the ring.
“He pretty much ended up playing it safe sometimes. He wanted to demonstrate his skills,” Rudy Hernandez said. “He fought as hard as he had to. He made things look a lot easier than they were. But he was a very, very dedicated fighter. Never once did he ever go into a fight not being 100 percent in shape. He was so dedicated, even when he wasn’t fighting or scheduled to fight, he remained in the gym. He fought Azumah Nelson on a Saturday, and on Tuesday he was back in the gym working out.”
Hernandez is survived by his wife, Liliana; their two children, 19-year-old Amanda and 11-year-old Steven; three brothers; two sisters; and his father, Joe Rudy Hernandez. His mother died in 2004. Rudy Hernandez said funeral arrangements were pending.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.