The professional boxing debut of Nico Hernandez was everything he imagined.
From the more than 3,100 fans chanting his name inside the Kansas Star Arena to the dominant performance inside the ring that resulted in a fourth-round stoppage of Patrick Gutierrez on Saturday night.
It was the perfect debut for the 21-year-old Hernandez, notching his first professional victory in front of hometown fans and in front of a nationally-televised audience.
“It was just like I imagined,” Hernandez said. “I knew once I stepped in the ring I wasn’t going to let my fans down.”
Hernandez was a slow starter as an amateur, typically using the first round to size up his opponent.
Whether it was because of the crowd or because it was his first professional fight, Hernandez came out the aggressor on Saturday night. He pummeled Gutierrez with a flurry of combinations from the opening bell and seized control of the fight early on.
There was no waiting this time.
“I kind of got carried away because I wanted to go in there and tear his head off,” Hernandez said. “I had to pick my shots a little bit better after that.”
Gutierrez landed one significant shot, otherwise was primarily controlled by Hernandez in the ring. Hernandez was always the aggressor and delighted the crowd in every round with hard shots.
From his film study, Gutierrez correctly pegged that Hernandez threw wide punches and jumps in. But what he underestimated was the speed and precision in which Hernandez does so, as Hernandez was successful at creating the angles to tag Gutierrez with damaging blows.
“I’ve never had my bell rung like that in a fight before,” Gutierrez said. “And I’ve fought in heavier divisions.”
Hernandez also surprised Gutierrez with his body shots, something he had never shown before Saturday – as an amateur or in the Olympics.
“That’s something we’ve never done before,” said Lewis Hernandez, Nico’s father and trainer. “I really liked him going up the middle. We’ve never thrown body shots like that before.”
In the final flurry in the fourth round, Hernandez pinned Gutierrez up against the ropes and landed three straight right jabs to the jaw of Gutierrez. Although Gutierrez was still standing upright, his trainer decided to throw in the towel to forfeit the fight.
Gutierrez said he reinjured his right hand, which he broke one year ago, on a punch thrown in the first round and his trainer threw in the towel trying to protect his future once he saw the flurry.
“I know a lot of people underestimate (my power) because they’ve never been hit by me,” Hernandez said. “I mean, I don’t look like I can hit that hard.”
Hernandez said afterward that the crowd was a factor.
Last time he fought, in Rio, he was booed when he entered the ring. Saturday night was the polar opposite, as the rowdy crowd was energized by the performance of its hero.
“It felt like I was fighting 3,500 people in there,” Gutierrez said.
Sean Wheelock, who was calling the fight for CBS Sports Network, expected a lot out of Hernandez’s debut because he was so impressed by his amateur and Olympic career. He was left even more impressed after his pro debut.
“As good as I knew he was, he is even better than I thought he was,” Wheelock said. “That kid, Nico Hernandez, that’s a world champion right there. He’s a very special fighter and there’s no doubt he’s going to get on the fast track. It’s not unthinkable that he will be fighting for a world title at 10-0, 11-0 in Wichita in two or two and half years. He’s that good.”
So much pressure had been on him before the fight to perform and to put on a show and now that he had done all of that and more, Hernandez was able to relax and enjoy the night backstage with his father.
They had shared so many moments together, but this one, Nico’s first professional victory, will be remembered for a long time.
“This was like a new chapter tonight,” Lewis said. “He had his amateur career, then the Olympics, and now he’s a pro. That was very emotional for me when he stopped him. It’s something I’ll always remember. I’m a proud father after that one.”