There were a lot of firsts for Wichita boxer Nico Hernandez on Saturday night, but one thing remained familiar: Victory.
Facing an unexpected opponent and the first eight-round fight of his professional career, Hernandez came out with the IBA Americas flyweight title on Saturday at Hartman Arena with a fifth-round knockout of Victor Torres.
Torres (2-8) replaced the scheduled opponent, Hungarian fighter Jozsef Ajtai. Promoters said visa problems and weather conditions kept Ajtai in Chicago.
“I look at every fight the same,” Hernandez said after the fight, with the gold belt sitting in front of him. “I don’t underestimate any opponent because if they’re stepping in the ring, they have to have some kind of heart. They’re coming for the same reason I’m here. They’re coming to take my head off, just like I’m going in there to them.”
Torres said he received a call from his coach at 6:30 a.m. Friday in California after he got off from the night shift for the demolition company he works for. Torres gladly accepted the last minute challenge.
Going from Sacramento to Salt Lake City to Houston and getting delayed for five hours on the flight to Wichita, Torres spent the time studying Hernandez’s history. When he got the call, he did not realize he was going up against the former Olympian, Torres said.
As soon as Torres got in the ring, Hernandez punished with him with consistent shots and trapped Torres on the ropes in the early rounds. Hernandez avoided Torres’ swings in the later rounds, exhausting him in the fourth and finishing him just under the one minute mark in the fifth.
“He’s a slick boxer,” Torres said. “He was switching it up, giving me the angles and he’s fast. I just wanted to give him a fight. I wasn’t going to stop coming forward. My plan was to wear him out. I’ve been praying for (an eight-round fight). I get stronger the further the fight goes and I knew I could finish the fight.”
Hernandez said was fighting for his childhood friend and boxing teammate Tony Losey, who died in an industrial accident in 2014.
He wore a customized pair trunks on Saturday that Losey’s name and birthday on them. Hernandez said that he did that because he feels Losey’s presence whenever he is fighting.
“He’s like my other half. He’s like my brother,” Hernandez said. “I grew up with him. We grew up sleeping in the same bed, sharing the same room. Our dream was to go to the Olympics and become professionals together. I still hear him in the crowd when I’m in the ring. I felt like he’s still at my fights and pushing me, helping me out.”
With a change in opponent for a championship fight, the IBA had to make the decision whether or not Hernandez and Torres would be fighting for the Flyweight Championship. IBA Officials Committee member Steve Smoger, who was in attendance Saturday, said that while Hernandez will need to fight Ajtai “to make everything fair,” the fact that Torres had more professional experience than Hernandez gave the green light to put the title on the line.
“The IBA’s philosophy is firm, fair and they look at the fact that (Torres) had nine fights against (Hernandez) going into his fourth fight,” Smoger said. “Wins and losses plays a major role, but also the experience. You want to call this pass a pass, but (Torres) was tough.
“This kid has never been knocked off his feet, has fought at the StubHub (Center), the Staples Center, MGM Grand. He fought all highly rated opponents. That was the 24-hour thought process of the IBA and we’re comfortable knowing that (Ajtai), the kid that slept on the floor at O’Hare Airport, is going to get his chance.”
While Hernandez’s team wanted to avoid a blind fight after his previous fight was against an opponent that outweighed him by 10 pounds, Lewis Hernandez, Nico’s father and trainer, felt confident in sending his son against Torres. He credited Nico’s ability to adjust when he is in the ring.
“The last one, the fight was tough,” Lewis Hernandez said. “I always told myself (since then) that I wouldn’t put him in that situation again. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes and you have to make the right decisions. You always want things to your advantage. There’s things that we look at that we have to do.
“At the end of the day, Nico adjusted well. He’s a great athlete, he’s blessed, he’s got God-given talent. It’s second to none.”