CHICAGO — For a professional ex-champion boxer with 50 fights, Carlos “El Famoso” Hernandez speaks with an unusually clear voice, unaffected by the accumulation of punishing blows over a 14 year boxing career. There’s no hint of the “cotton mouth” speech affectation common to boxers with less than half his experience.
He’s unaffected, period, a grounded and humble man. Yet now, after two years off spending quality time with the wife and kids, he’s putting it all on the line again for one more run at glory starting this Friday night at the Aragon Ballroom.
Say what you will about boxing, the seductive appeal of the cheering throng, testing ones utmost limits, and potential riches lures—or seduces—fighters back to the ring time and again. Hernandez is convinced he’s got the goods to go round once more.
In his career thus far, Hernandez has been in against some real killers. In fact, a cursory glance at his record reads like a “Who’s Who” list of boxers at 130 pounds: He’s fought multi-weight division champions Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Jesus Chavez, and Erik Morales, as well as former WBC and WBU Featherweight Champ Kevin Kelly and contender Bobby Pacquiao (the kid brother of Pound-for-Pound kingpin Manny Pacquiao who took David Diaz’s WBC Lightweight Title in June). They account for five of his seven losses in his record of 42-7 and 1 with 24 knockouts—four of which occurred in his last six bouts thus far. And let’s not forget Steve Forbes, who last fought and lost to Oscar De La Hoya in May, and whom Hernandez beat to win the International Boxing Federation Super Featherweight Title in October 2003. Through it all, Hernandez has never been stopped.
“El Famoso” grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of Bellflower, the son of El Salvadoran immigrants Carlos and Olga Hernandez. He loved his heritage and visited El Salvador often as a child. “When I was little, I went to El Salvador for many vacation times with my parents,” he says fondly.
Hernandez attended Summerset High School, where he tried a myriad of sports, including karate, track and soccer. And boxing.
“I was in sports. I was a fat kid. I played soccer, but I was never really good at that; baseball, but I wasn’t any good at that, either,” says Hernandez. “I did swimming—I liked that a lot, but I just wasn’t good enough. I wanted to eat all the time, especially donuts. I loved donuts!”
“Well, I used to love donuts; now I don’t like them anymore,” he adds. “I used to love donuts a lot.”
Then, something changed.
“Once I got into boxing at the age of 16, I really liked it. I didn’t do it serious—I started amateur when I was like 17 years old. I had 24 amateur fights, something like that. I don’t remember,” says Hernandez. “I was L.A. Golden Gloves Champ. I tried to win the State Golden Gloves, but I lost to Mark Louis, who was National Champion at that time – which was a fight that I believed that I won. But, I was more of a pro style than an amateur style.”
“After high school, I went to Cerritos Junior College for three years, and I was on the track team there and I was in really good shape and I still liked boxing,” he says. “I used to fool around with the shadow boxing – because I was in martial arts, too; I was in karate.”
That’s an understatement. He’d won a national karate championship in 1988, a hint of what was to come.
“I was going to the [college] gym, …I’m smacking some guys around in the gym, and [I said,] ‘I’m just going to do this. I want to try to be a professional,’” Hernandez says. “After a three year from boxing in the amateurs, I just turned pro. I said, ‘I’m going to do this; I’m going to try it out right now.’”
Speaking by phone, Hernandez talked about the experiences that have brought him to this point in his life.
On his training camp and how he’s doing:
I’m doing fine, thank you. You know, the last two months have been great: It’s been a good training camp that I’ve had and I feel very well rested. And, I’ve had a great diet! I feel very well prepared. I just need to do what I practiced in training camp; I need to put it into use this Friday night.
On how he compensates for having nearly two years off since fighting last:
Well, you know, I think I’ve been an active fighter for the past 14 years. And so, I was just—with the couple of losses that I had, like back in ’06—I was tired of boxing, I was tired of the politics in boxing, I was tired of the training—I did it because I had to, not because I wanted to. I was burned out in a way, and I said to myself, ‘I need to retire now and when I’m okay, not when something worse happens,’ like I get injured or, God forbid, something happens like with Oscar Diaz [who was stopped by Delvin Rodriguez for the USBA Welterweight Title in July and lapsed into a coma, a state that he hasn’t recovered from as of yet].
And, so I’m very happy that I did what I did because I think it was the right thing to do, instead of being around and just fighting because I needed to fight…or prove that I’m a man and I’m macho and ‘I want to fight—I’ll fight anybody.’ I didn’t want to get injured at all.
On whether burnout played a role in the last four bouts out of six that he lost (i.e., versus Kevin Kelly, Jesus Chavez, Erik Morales and Bobby Pacquiao):
Ah, Kevin Kelly, I think yes; the other ones, I put my time into it, it’s just the decisions; I felt I got a little frustrated with like the Pacquiao loss, especially, where I thought I won that fight, really. It just demoralizes you.
I guess I let them win; by the decision (s) getting to me, I let them win. So, I just needed to step back and relax and really think about what I really wanted to do.
And that’s what I did: I took some time off, I spent lots of time with my children, my young kids, and I thought of what I wanted to do, and I was getting into other things.
But then I got a call to train some [Mixed Martial Arts] fighters at a local gym, and that’s what I did, but after that, I got that itch of wanting to come back and it happened.
I worked with [former WBC Super Featherweight and IBA Lightweight Champ] Jesse James Leija, and he invited me to train at his gym, and I did, and he gave me that motivational talk to try to keep doing it because he believed I could do it. My wife thinks if I want to do it, then show [her] I can do it. And, so, that’s why I’m here, because I want to prove to them that I can, and I will do it.
On why he’s never been stopped in 50 professional fights:
I would say my preparation. Even though there were times that I said I was just preparing myself, I always tried to prepare myself on my very best, but my last few fights I was doing it as a routine. But, I still wanted to do it. I didn’t want to get hurt, but I think that was the reason why. It was just not getting knocked out, [and] of wanting to always win.
But, there were times I knew I wasn’t going to win because I wasn’t better prepared or I wasn’t as skillful as the other fighter, like [Floyd] Mayweather. But, I gave it my best. And that’s what I tried, even if I wasn’t the best prepared, I wanted to always give my best. And I think that was one of the reasons, thank God, I’ve never been stopped.
On karate and growing up an angry kid:
I was National [Karate] Champion in ’88—I believe it was. I started that—I believe it was—in ’85. It was the brown and black belt [competition]. So, it was really inspirational and really helped me in my life, as a young kid because I was an angry kid, I believe.
Just growing up in L.A., you know, people call you Mexican and I’m not Mexican, I’m El Salvadoran, so, I wanted to fight for my identity. And when you grow up in L.A., it’s not like growing up in the ghetto or anything, but Bellflower is close to Paramount, Paramount is close to Compton, so there’s a lot of gang activity around there, so you grow up around that.
On whether boxing saved him from the gangs:
You know, my parents did – actually, my dad; he’s the one that really did everything he could to have me busy in karate, martial arts, and from there, he would take me to boxing. He would leave home like 9:30 [PM], get to work at 10 at night, and work till six or seven in the morning. He was a janitor. And then he would come home like six or seven in the morning, then take a nap for like two hours, and then go to another job for like three hours (as a janitor and custodian at a store), but he did all he could to take me to these activities so I could stay off the streets.
On the sacrifices of turning pro as a boxer:
I was still going to college, I turned pro, and I got a draw on my first pro fight, and I said, ‘You know what? I have to put something aside; if I want to be successful, I have to put something aside.’ It’s either education or boxing. So, I picked education; I put that aside. I said, ‘I’m going to choose boxing now, because I won’t be able to do this later and my studies, I’ll be able to do that at any time.’ And, so I chose boxing and, thank God, I’m here.
On his college focus then and in the future:
I was studying general education—I wanted to get it out of the way, but what I was trying to get into was exercise physiology. Now, I’m thinking I want to get into some kind of business administration because I would like to go back to El Salvador and try to manage the sports teams of El Salvador when, God willing, I retire and everything goes well. I would love to go to El Salvador and help out over there, give myself over there.
On meeting his wife, Veronica, who serves as his public relations agent:
I met her back in 1994 when I went to go train with [former IBF Super Featherweight and WBA Lightweight Champ] Tony Lopez. He was going to fight Julio Cesar Chavez in Monterey, Mexico. So we were over there in Monterey, going out, and meeting some women, some girls, and I asked this girl, ‘You know what? Do you have a friend that I can meet,’ because a buddy of mine liked her. So, I said, ‘Do you have a friend so we can have a double date and maybe have drinks?’ And she said, ‘Sure, I have a friend. I’ll ask her to come along.’
And that’s how we met. We saw each other and it wasn’t like love at first sight. She had an attitude, so did I, and I had a girlfriend at the time – it was supposedly a serious girlfriend, but once she smiled, it was like she took my breath away, man. And it was something else. Now we have two beautiful children, a boy and a girl, ages four and two, and they’re the love of my life.
On the highlights of his boxing career so far:
It was many times. Even when I lost to Mayweather – it was a good night for me because I know that I put on a hell of a performance for me. Even though other people didn’t see it that way, it doesn’t really bother me. I know what I did and I feel very happy about that. And of course the Steve Forbes and the David Santos [wins]. Those were very good nights for me.
On his opponent, Hector Alatorre (15-4, 5 KO’s), this Friday night:
I’m looking at a guy who’s wanting to knock me off because of what I have accomplished and what he wants to accomplish. And so, I can’t let that happen. If I want to pursue the dreams that I still have for myself, I have to beat this guy. And I’ve prepared myself very well and feel very well motivated, very well rested, and ready to win.
It’s not like superstition or anything, I don’t like to talk, I try to be humble and I let my fists do the talking when I get into the ring.
On what he’d like to accomplish in life when it’s all said and done:
Really, just to be a happy man, a good father, a good husband and a good man.