Nico Hernandez, Wichita’s first Olympic medalist since 1984, will make his professional boxing debut March 25 at the Kansas Star Arena in a nationally-televised main event against Patrick Gutierrez.
Hernandez also announced Thursday that he has signed a contract with Knockout Night Boxing, guaranteeing at least four fights all scheduled at the Kansas Star Arena and all televised on CBS Sports Network in 2017.
Starting his career in front of his hometown fans as the headliner on a nationally-televised card may sound like a lot of pressure, but to Hernandez, who won the bronze medal in the light flyweight division at the 2016 Olympics, it doesn’t.
“There can’t really be more pressure than being on the USA team with the whole world watching you,” Hernandez explained. “I can’t wait. I’m ready to go in there and do my thing for my fans.”
According to John Andersen, a promoter with Knockout Night Boxing, the circumstances of Hernandez’s debut are rare in the boxing world.
“For most of these guys that are starting out, they have to start out on the bottom of a card and fight in front of maybe 400 people in the stands and nobody sees them,” Andersen said. “But Nico is different. I think him being an Olympian, this is deserved and I feel like he should be featured from here on out. That’s my plan, at least.”
In the months following Hernandez’s return from Rio de Janeiro, Nico and his father and trainer, Lewis, agreed Nico turning professional was the right career decision. Nico could have remained an amateur fighter with the purpose of remaining eligible for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo to chase a gold medal.
But the deal with Knockout Night Boxing was too sweet to pass up, Lewis said.
“Most pro debuts aren’t going to be nationally televised and as the headliner,” Lewis said. “It’s a dream come true, you can’t beat that. Everything was there. Everything was right. It’s every fighter’s dream to start out like this.”
Hernandez has decided to start down a weight class, as his debut against Gutierrez will be at junior flyweight (108 pounds). He said he will move up to flyweight (112) in pursuit of a world championship.
Just how quickly he wants to accelerate his career will be left up to the family, Andersen said.
“I’ll get with Lewis and we’ll make that decision on how he wants to move him along,” Andersen said. “Lewis will be the one that tells me yay or nay, but I’m not afraid of making a tough fight if Lewis wants it.”
Gutierrez has lost both of his professional fights. His next fight was scheduled to be an “easy win,” but once the opportunity to fight Hernandez came along, Gutierrez cancelled the fight and decided to risk dropping to 0-3 for what he sees as an opportunity to jumpstart his career.
“I see Nico as a top-5, maybe even top-3 flyweight fighter in the world today, even if he hasn’t had a pro fight yet,” Gutierrez said. “He’s got that magnitude to him. In boxing, all you need is to beat that one guy to drive you to the top and he’s that guy.”
But Thursday was all about Hernandez, as the promotion billed it as “history begins.”
Hernandez has the platform — now he just needs that first win.
“I’m hungry and I’m ready to get back in the ring and show what I can do,” Hernandez said. “I think all of this is making me even more hyped and making me want to work even harder. I just want to make my fans proud and put on a good show for them on March 25.”