Nico Hernandez gets win by TKO in pro debut


Brian Hayes/File photo

Nico Hernandez throws a left hook against Pat Gutierrez during the first round at Kansas Star Arena in Mulvane. (Mar. 25, 2017)

MULVANE– When Nico Hernandez stepped in the ropes in Rio de Janeiro, he was booed on his way to a 2016 Olympic bronze medal.

Saturday was the complete opposite.

As Hernandez walked out for his introduction in his professional boxing debut, 3,100 plus fans at the Kansas Star Casino screamed in excitement. As Hernandez lunged at Patrick Gutierrez (0-2), chants of his name and the area code “316” filled the air to support the city’s symbolic sports icon.

“The crowd was on my side and I felt good about that,” Hernandez said. “At the Olympics when I walked out of the tunnel, everybody was booing me no matter who I fought. It was great to see how much support I had behind me.”

Hernandez, who received a full-ride scholarship offer to Wichita State in September, dominated the match from the first punch on. The 115-pound olympian said he wanted to be the aggressor early, something he had not done in the first round of his matches last August.

Guiterrez was struck by the fists of Hernandez, thrown into a plethora of combinations and swings that often forced him back to the ropes in the opening rounds. Although Guiterrez and his trainers scouted Hernandez as a slow starter, they were prepared for the bronze medalist to attack early.

“We knew he was going to come out like a rocket today in front of his hometown. We knew he was going to be hyped up,” Guiterrez said. “We wanted to withstand the first round and not try to bang with him and give up all our energy in the first round because we wanted to go the whole six rounds.”

The difference in pace between Olympic boxing and professional boxing was something Hernandez had to adapt to heading into Saturday. His father and coach, Lewis Hernandez, had prepared Nico for the change of pace by practicing in a 15 by 17 bedroom.

Training at the faster pace and the feel for the different gloves was something Nico adored in his four-round victory.

“I loved the way the gloves felt,” Hernandez said. “The eight ounces feel so much better than the 10 ounce, fluffy ones. That was the biggest difference (from the Olympics).”

Guiterrez’s wrist popped while trying to swing a punch late in the third round, an injury that sidelined him for eight months last year. As Guiterrez tried to fight it off, but could not continue to hold Hernandez’s power.

Hernandez finished off his first professional victory by getting the technical knockout with 2:42 left in the round.

“The first punch I landed, I felt my wrist clink again,” Gutierrez said. “I told my coach and he told me to ignore it and use my left. (The injury) threw my whole game off. I couldn’t land my big punch, which is my overhand right. I was hesitant to throw it, but I had to start countering with it because it was the only thing I could throw.

“(My wrist) started to hurt more and more and that last punch was the final straw for me.”

With the pressures of it being Hernandez’s first professional fight, competing in front of his home town crowd while performing in front of a nationally televised audience on CBSSports, Lewis Hernandez questioned how his son would respond to the “adversity”.

As Nico stood on top of the ropes with a fist of celebration in the air, Lewis had no doubt his son had laid those nervous aspects to rest.

“He had like five different things that he’s never came to in his life. He had to face all that adversity at one time,” Lewis Hernandez said. “It was like putting a weight on him and saying, ‘okay now let’s see if he can lift it.’ And he lifted it. He rose to the occasion, so I was very proud of him because it was a lot for him to handle.”