In terms of brutality, the sport of professional boxing is far more savage outside the ring than in it.
It is a game for the “haves,” not the “have-nots.”
The “haves” are those fighters who have long, distinguished amateur careers with high-stakes bouts in national and international tournaments.
With their notoriety, those guys — and particularly those that end in the Olympic Trials or with the ultimate gold in a successor to Athens — generally have an professional infrastructure put in place with big promoters and TV contracts available to them as M&M’s to a consumer at a convenience store.
With these, up-and-comers make money from the start while building relatively long and prosperous professional careers.
The road for the “have-nots” almost always ends with a “road closed” sign and no detour.
Jesse Hernandez of Fort Worth is a “have-not,” a guy who, like so many others, turns pro too early with no realistic expectation for how difficult the game is — inside and outside the ropes — without the requisite amateur education.
Discouraged after two professional bouts as an 18-year-old, Hernandez left the game nine years ago. However, he could never shake the belief that he had left ability in the ring or the belief in himself.
Today, Hernandez is a poster child for the possibilities that come with the proverbial dreams and the uncommon will to follow them.
Three years into a long-shot professional comeback along the boxing road less traveled, the 27-year-old has put himself on the radar with two recent upsets that garnered the much-sought-after promotional contract and, most important, a second appearance on Showtime.
Hernandez, now 10-1 with seven knockouts, faces Ernesto Garza (9-2, 5 KOs) of Saginaw, Mich., in a scheduled 10-round super bantamweight (118-122 pounds) bout on Friday at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, N.Y.
The bout is on the undercard of the main event, a WBC and IBF super middleweight world title bout between Claressa Shields and Tori Nelson.
Coverage starts at 9 p.m.
“This fight is a big opportunity. It could open plenty of doors for me,” Hernandez said. “This has been what I’ve been working for. In the end, I hope I can inspire other people, from when they’re young or if they’re older … work hard and dedicate yourself and you can achieve your goals.”
The next opportunity, if he wins, is a ranking. That will help line up a regional-title shot.
Ultimately, Hernandez wants to join Fort Worth’s long list of world champions, which include Donald Curry and Paulie Ayala, both boxing “haves” with U.S. Olympic-caliber credentials.
“This will be a good fight for him to show the world who he is,” said Hernandez’s trainer, Ray Barerra, who also trains WBA-NABA regional super welterweight champion John Vera. “To me, he’s the best 122 right now. He’s strong, powerful. As rounds go, he just gets better and better.”
The fight will be Hernandez’s first 10-rounder.
Hernandez, tall in his division at 5-foot-8, is coming off two consecutive victories over previously undefeated and top-15 ranked fighters, the first a fifth-round TKO of previously unbeaten Vladimir Tikhonov of Russia on Aug. 4 on Showtime.
That victory caught the attention of Salita Promotions, which signed him after the fight.
Tikhonov discovered Hernandez’s combination of speed and power, and buckled under the lefty’s hard body punches. In November, Hernandez earned a unanimous decision over Glenn Dezurn in Detroit.
“He’s an exciting new prospect who has looked very good in winning his last two fights, both of which you could argue he was expected to lose,” said Steve Farhood, a Showtime analyst and member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
“He has a style that belies that belies his physical makeup. He’s a tall guy yet he takes the fight to his opponent.”
Against Garza, Hernandez will have an almost 4-inch reach advantage.
His share for taking this fight is $8,000. More evidence that there is still a long ways to go.
However, consider how far he has come.
He had quit boxing essentially for five years. During that time he had married and become a father. That required him to set aside any leftover boxing dreams for work full time in construction. Hernandez is the son of Mexican immigrants and the youngest of 15 siblings, including 12 brothers.
Eight other brothers boxed and six turned professional.
Brother Jose “El Loco” Hernandez, out of the game now, scored a draw against former world champion Mickey Bey.
“Being the youngest of 15 it was the right sport for me,” Hernandez joked. “I got beat up a lot.”
Hernandez has been dubbed “The One,” as in the Hernandez brother who will make it all the way in professional boxing, said Barrera, who described his fighter as both calm and a warrior.
Hernandez’s amateur record is listed at 67-6, with a number of Fort Worth regional Golden Gloves titles. He went to the Junior Olympics at 16 and decided afterward a professional career was calling.
“I wish I had stayed an amateur and gotten as much experience fighting national tournaments and international tournaments,” said Hernandez, who went to high school at Castleberry. “That experience propels you to another level, fighting different styles and guys from other countries.
“But … no regrets. I can’t go back and change anything.”
While he was off boxing, he still dabbled in it, working out from time to time, but certainly not enough to compete at a level such as this.
When he returned full time, his day working at a tire retreading shop started at 5 a.m. He went to the gym at 5 p.m. for a workout of up to two hours. Then he went on his run.
He said his day generally ended around 10:30 or 11 at night.
Since his November victory, he is all boxing all the time, knowing now that if he is to get all the tread out of his tires on this fight — every opportunity now is a golden opportunity — he has to go all in.
It has been a winding journey, from trying to find fights to having to drive as far as El Paso for one to airline travel to Showtime.
Hernandez is now wise enough to know that his experience doesn’t just happen to anybody.
On the wall in Barerra’s gym is an inscription: “Take pride in how far you have come. Have faith in how far you can go.”
All it is missing is Hernandez’s picture.
“I don’t regret the time off working because it made me grow, not just physically but mentally. It made me the person I am,” Hernandez said. “It’s been a long road, but I believed in myself.
“I have faith I can beat anybody in my weight class. I see myself as a world champion. There’s no doubt in my mind that will become reality. This is one step closer, but I have to move up in the ranks first.”