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Nico Hernandez scores first-round knockout to become youngest IBA world champion

Nico Hernandez, right, defeated Szilveszter Kanalas via a first-round knockout on Saturday night at Kansas Star Arena to win the vacant IBA flyweight world title belt. Hernandez is the youngest world champion in IBA history.
Nico Hernandez, right, defeated Szilveszter Kanalas via a first-round knockout on Saturday night at Kansas Star Arena to win the vacant IBA flyweight world title belt. Hernandez is the youngest world champion in IBA history. The Wichita Eagle

No fighter has been much of a challenge for Nico Hernandez during his 5-0 romp to start his professional career, which took a step forward Saturday night with a first-round knockout of Szilveszter Kanalas at Kansas Star Arena to win the vacant IBA flyweight world championship.

So after knocking out his fourth opponent to become the youngest world champion in IBA history, Hernandez, 22, tried to take control of his own scheduling in the future.

Handed a microphone in the middle of the ring with a raucous crowd chanting his name, Hernandez made it clear whom he wants to fight: Paddy Barnes, a two-time Olympic medalist from Ireland.

"We're just letting them know that we're here as soon as they're ready to start talking," said John Anderson, Hernandez's promoter with KO Night Boxing. "I'll be on the phone Monday. Maybe it's something where we fight on the same card, get people interested, get the juices flowing, then we make the fight sometime next year.

"It's something worth talking about, because that would be a fight-of-the-year candidate."

The paths of Hernandez and Barnes are similar, as the two nearly crossed paths at the 2016 Olympics. Barnes entered as the favorite to win gold after taking home a bronze medal the previous two Olympics but exited in a shocking early defeat. Hernandez went on to earn a bronze medal in Brazil.

Both turned professional after the 2016 Olympics, although Barnes, 31, is much older than Hernandez. Both are 5-0 and hold two belts, as Hernandez owns the IBA flyweight world title and IBA Americas flyweight title, and Barnes owns the WBO European flyweight title and the WBO Inter-Continental flyweight title.

"That's somebody down the road we'd definitely like to run into," said Lewis Hernandez, Nico's father and trainer. "I think Nico has all of the talent in the world to beat him and capture several more world titles, not just this one."

On Saturday, Hernandez made quick work of Kanalas. It began with the Wichita native hurting the Hungarian less than two minutes in with a left hook. Soon after, Hernandez knocked Kanalas down with another flurry, with Kanalas barely avoiding the 10-count.

"A lot of people underestimate my power," Hernandez said. "I believe that once he felt my power, I don't think he wanted it anymore. I felt like I took his heart away."

As soon as Kanalas returned to his feet, Hernandez rocked him with a double left hook that connected to the body then the head that collapsed Kanalas in a corner. This time for good, with seven seconds remaining in the first round.

"I wasn't even warmed up yet," Hernandez said, only half-joking. "I feel like I could have done 15 more of those."

It was yet another evisceration that left his promoters once again impressed by Hernandez's power. Kanalas (14-8) had the most professional experience of any boxer Hernandez had faced, yet Hernandez made the shortest work of him.

"He's already at a world-class level," said Whitfield Hayden, the matchmaker for KO Night Boxing. "It's just astonishing skills and athletic ability. I foresee a lot more knockouts for him. He's just vaporizing people right now."

Despite the impressive performance by Nico Hernandez, Lewis Hernandez said there is more in the arsenal.

"The world has seen Nico bang, but they haven't seen him box," Lewis Hernandez said. "Nico can box. They haven't seen the best from Nico Hernandez yet. He can do both. Either way you want to go with it, he can take you into deep water both ways."

In the post-fight press conference, someone mentioned to Nico Hernandez that he almost seemed disappointed when Kanalas didn't get back up the second time and the fight ended.

Those skills will have to wait for another fight, as Hernandez began down the path to a showdown against Barnes on Saturday.

"I'm a little disappointed it didn't last longer, but I can't really be that disappointed," he said. "I'm a world champion now."

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