One of the biggest boxing promoters in the world has placed faith in Nico Hernandez, moving one of the biggest cards of the year from Atlantic City to the Kansas Star Arena this weekend to capitalize on the rising stardom of the Wichita native.
Michael Buffer, the famous ring announcer, Sugar Ray Leonard, the boxing legend, and Eddie Hearn, the English promoter, will all be in attendance in Mulvane on Saturday and bring star power that Kansas has never seen before.
That doesn’t even include the card itself, which features undefeated heavyweight Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields, and Garden City native and former world champion Brandon Rios.
All coming to the Wichita area this weekend, for tickets as low as $20, because of Hernandez. The card begins around 5:15 p.m. and will be broadcast by DAZN, a streaming service you can sign up for with a free one-month trial.
“Kansas has never seen anything like this before,” Hernandez said. “There is pressure, but not really. Everyone is coming to watch me do my thing and all I’ve got to do is perform like I always do. I know I have to win, but that’s already my mindset going into every fight.”
Hernandez, a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist for Team USA, is off to a 5-0 start with four stoppages to his professional career and currently holds the IBA and IBA Americas world titles at flyweight. He will fight Josue Morales (8-7) on Saturday in a scheduled eight-round bout at 112 pounds.
It was clear before Hernandez was a rising star in the boxing world, but he may have caught a career-altering break when a promoter like Hearn has already taken notice. Hearn stated at a Madison Square Garden news conference that he wants to see Kansas sell out the 6,000-seat Kansas Star Arena.
“This is an opportunity and platform that very few, if any, young fighters get,” boxing analyst Chris Mannix said. “Promoters are always looking for ticket-sellers and how to squeeze every last dollar, but rarely do young fighters have a chance like this to shine. Most boxers can’t sell tickets anywhere, so for Nico to build up this home base is tremendous.”
“To have them come all the way here because of me, that’s really an amazing feeling,” Hernandez added. “I’m blessed to have this happen and to have this chance to show out in front of the world.”
Mannix said it is expected for Hernandez to be 5-0 at this stage in his career against the opponents he has faced to this point. But what does stand out about the Wichita native is his punching power for a 112-pounder.
“The hardest thing for an amateur to do is get away from the pitter-patter style that scored points for you in the amateur ranks to a pro style where you need to connect on those thudding shots to be effective,” Mannix said. “It’s hard to get noticed when you’re in that flyweight division, but when you have knockout power like Nico does, then the networks start getting excited. I think this is a very strong investment in a really good, young fighter.”
The venue change left schedule-makers scrambling somewhat to find Hernandez an opponent, but Morales, at least on paper, presents more of a challenge than past opponents. Morales is a bigger fighter (he’s typically fought at 118 pounds) who has yet to be stopped in 15 matches and has won his last three.
While his knockouts stand out on paper, Hernandez knows getting experience going longer in fights (he hasn’t been past a sixth round yet) will be just as valuable preparing him for future championship fights.
“We need to get those fights that will take us deeper into a fight,” said Lewis Hernandez, Nico’s father and trainer. “We’re hoping to get rounds out of this fight. We’re not looking for the knockout. We want to show more boxing, more technique to slow him down.”
“You don’t see many knockouts in championship fights, so you’ve got to be ready to go a bunch of rounds to win,” Nico added. “I believe this is a good stepping stone and a good test to see where I’m at. Hopefully he goes some rounds and doesn’t quit like the last one did. I’m not looking for the knockout, but if I see I hurt him then of course I’m going to try to finish him.”
Here is a full list of Saturday’s bouts, which start at 5:15 p.m. Hernandez will conclude the preliminary bouts.
Middleweight (8): Jeremy Nichols, Las Vegas, 8-1-1 (2 KOs), vs. Jeremiah Page, Wichita, 3-5 (2 KOs).
Super middleweight (4): Manny Thompson, Wichita, 7-0 (5 KOs) vs. Leroy Jones, St. Louis, 3-4 (2 KOs).
Light heavyweight (8): Anthony Sims Jr., Plainfield, Ind., 16-0 (15 KOs) vs. Colby Courter, Saint Joseph, Mo., 13-12 (10 KOs).
Middleweight (4): Nikita Ababiy, Richmond, Va., 1-0 (1 KO) vs. Javier Rodriguez, Mexico, 3-6-1 (2 KOs).
Flyweight (8): Nico Hernandez, Wichita, 5-0 (4 KOs) vs. Josue Morales, Houston, 8-7 (0 KOs).
Middleweight (12): Luis Arias, Milwaukee, Wisc., 18-1 (9 KOs) vs. Gabriel Rosado, Philadelphia, Pa., 24-11 (14 KOs).
Arias is a two-time amateur champion and started his career 18-0, but hasn’t been in the ring since suffering his first loss last November. Rosado is also coming off a year-plus layoff and has challenged for middleweight titles twice in his career.
WBA, IBF and WBC Middleweight championship (10): Claressa Shields, Flint, Mich., 6-0 (2 KOs) vs. Hannah Rankin, Scotland, 5-2 (1 KO).
Shields is a rising prodigy in women’s boxing. She’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist and already owns two championship belts, looking to add the WBC belt in this fight. But Shields has yet to score a knockdown in her career, something she’ll be looking to do against Rankin, who has only been a pro since 2017.
Super welterweight (12): Brandon Rios, Garden City, 34-4-1 (25 KOs) vs. Ramon Alvarez, Mexico, 27-6-3 (16 KOs).
The Garden City native still holds star power, even though he’s only fought twice since 2015. Once fought Manny Pacquiao for a world title. All four of his career losses have come in seven of his last fights. Alvarez is the older brother of Canelo Alvarez. He’s only been knocked down twice in his career.
Heavyweight (12): Jarrell Miller, Brooklyn, N.Y., 22-0-1 (19 KOs) vs. Bogdan Dinu, Romania, 18-0 (14 KOs).
Both enter the match undefeated, but Miller is the more highly regarded. He came in weighing 317 pounds in his last fight and is looking for another win to bolster his claim at a world title shot. Miller has never been knocked down and is fighting again six weeks after a second-round knockout in his last fight. Dinu has 150 fights to his name as an amateur, but has yet to defeat anyone of stature.