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Bizarre 24 hours ends with Nico Hernandez winning his third pro fight

Nico Hernandez beat Jose Rodriguez in his second pro fight at Hartman Arena on June 17.
Nico Hernandez beat Jose Rodriguez in his second pro fight at Hartman Arena on June 17. The Wichita Eagle

A whirlwind 24 hours for Nico Hernandez, including a weigh-in debacle and a change in opponent (for the second time), ended late Saturday night with the Wichita native claiming his third professional victory at Hartman Arena.

The drama began Friday morning when Hernandez weighed in at 113 pounds, one pound over the 112-pound limit for his flyweight bout against Basyzbek Baratov, who was filling in for the originally-scheduled Francisco Lapizco. The drama escalated when Baratov choose to back out of the fight, even though Hernandez’s weight was still legal with the Kansas Athletic Commission’s one-pound allowance.

That left promoter John Andersen scrambling to find a replacement, ultimately landing on Kendrick Latchman, a 24-year-old southpaw from St. Louis with a 1-4-1 boxing record and a 6-3 mixed martial arts record.

“The stress level for I think all of us was at the highest it could be,” Andersen said when Saturday night was over. “Nico doesn’t want to let the city down, so he wanted to make sure the fight happened. This is one of those things where it never happens again, I’m really hoping. It definitely took a lot out of me.”

Not only was Hernandez essentially going into the fight blind, complicated further by Latchman’s southpaw approach, but he also fought at a catchweight of 125 pounds — more than 10 pounds heavier than what he typically fights.

A nightmare scenario nearly came to fruition 30 seconds into the opening round when Latchman landed a clean left hook that rocked Hernandez, the first time in his three professional fights Hernandez has had to absorb a punch of that magnitude. The crowd gasped in shock, but Hernandez quickly regained his composure.

“Nico took one hell of a shot, a shot that most men would’ve gone down on,” said Lewis Hernandez, Nico’s father and trainer. “To get hit like that by a guy that size ... was I worried? Absolutely. That’s a shot I’ve never seen him take before. But he’s got a chin of stone.”

“They were worried,” Nico said. “I wasn’t.”

Hernandez hinted he was looking for his third straight knockout to begin his career, or at least a clean victory. He didn’t get either on Saturday, although one judge had Hernandez winning every round and the other two had him winning five in the unanimous decision.

It still wasn’t what he was looking for.

“I definitely knew I won the fight, I just didn’t win it like I wanted to win it,” Hernandez said. “I wish I could have done a little bit better to come out with a better victory. But I got the win, so I guess I couldn’t ask for no more.”

Hernandez acknowledged he did have to factor in the change in opponent the day before the fight. After spending two months of his training camp training for an aggressive fighter, then the final two weeks preparing for a hit-and-run specialist, it threw him for a loop taking on a bigger opponent who was a southpaw.

“Back when I was an amateur, I would fight every other day not knowing who I was going to fight,” Hernandez said. “But since I was training that long for another figher, it was a little awkward.”

Ultimately, the weekend was a success with Hernandez moving to 3-0 and announcing his next fight would be back in Hartman Arena on December 2.

He’s hoping this time he’ll know his opponent for longer than a day.

“I think a lot of these guys don’t realize until they get to the weigh-in room, ‘Dang, I’m in a big show here,’ ” Andersen said. “It’s normal for guys to freak out and melt down. We just might have to step up the competition a litle bit that makes sense with guys that aren’t going to be scared to death.”

Taylor Eldridge: 316-268-6270, @vkeldridge