On paper, tonight's 130 lb. world championship bout looked like one of boxing's rare "pick 'em" matchups. Young, undefeated, and often brash Pretty Boy Floyd Mayweather faced longtime 130 lb. king Genaro Hernandez in a classic battle of styles: Boxer vs. Boxer-Puncher. Experience vs. Youth. Intelligence vs. brawn. Could the physical gifts of Floyd Mayweather carry him to a world title at only 21 years of age? Would the crafty Hernandez string along another rookie en route to a trademark decision victory?
We may never know. This fight was lost before it ever began.
Hernandez must have known something that we didn't. Two days before the fight, he told Dean Juipe, boxing writer for the Las Vegas Sun, that he was still struggling to make weight, and that his training camp was marred by a lack of suitable sparring partners. The morning of the fight, in the lobby of the Las Vegas Hilton, Hernandez told HBO analyst Larry Merchant that "I will be lucky to win." It was a far cry from his comments when the fight was announced, when Hernandez emphatically called out "Lose? I don't even know that word. There is only win!"
In the first round, Hernandez stuck out his jab and fired at his young opponent in a search for respect. He never got any. Mayweather came into the ring with no mental distractions, and his combination punching, speed and often surprising patience showed it. When a charging Hernandez made Mayweather slip to the canvas, young Floyd wasted no time in shoving back, sending the champion down a moment later. But the roughhousing would defer to rough night for Hernandez, as he absorbed punch after punch from the soon-to-be champion.
Mayweather fought a perfect fight. He outjabbed the champion, controlled the pace of the entire bout, outthrew and outlanded Hernandez, all while showing slick defense and a powerful arsenal of punches in bunches from all angles. Mayweather was often effective because of his speed and reflexes, but was also the beneficiary of an almost passive Hernandez. After being told (correctly) by his corner that he has lost the first 5 rounds, Hernandez began the sixth by not throwing a punch for over a minute.
As the rounds slipped by, Hernandez was increasingly unable to figure out what to do. He tried leading, then countering, chasing and being chased, and even laid back on the ropes at times, all in an effort to get things going. They never did. Mayweather could not be thwarted, and each round served as a confirmation of something Hernandez seemed to suspect before the fight: That he could not win.
After mounting his best effort in the seventh round (a round which he still lost), Hernandez returned to his corner with a dark brown mouse under his right eye. His brother/trainer calmly repeated "Last round. Take your last shot. Last round." Hernandez came out with only a little more vim and vigor to begin the eighth, and after three more minutes of sustained punishment, his corner stopped the fight. Fulfilling his "last round" promise, Rudy Hernandez asked the referee to halt the bout, a decision confirmed when Hernandez then told the referee "I'll do what my brother says." Mayweather TKO8.
For the second time in his career, Hernandez quit on his stool. After resurrecting the reputation he tarnished when quitting against DelaHoya, it remains to be seen if he will be able to live this one down. Despite being shutout by his upstart opponent, Hernandez was able to continue. His swollen eye was nowhere near Gatti proportions, and his best two rounds of the fight had been the 7th and 8th. Why not continue? Because he knew. He knew he could not win on points, and he knew he could not knock Mayweather out. With his pre-fight suspicions confirmed, he quit.
Hernandez's lackluster performance and uninspired resignation leave a few unanswered questions about Mayweather. Yes, he fought a brilliant fight, technically sound and devastatingly effective, and yes, he earned his shiny world title belt. But he was deprived of a chance to show his effectiveness in the later rounds. He was deprived of a chance to beat an opponent who would not quit. He was deprived of an opportunity to show what he can do against an opponent that fights back.
After Hernandez threw it in, an overjoyed Mayweather dropped to his knees in the ring, crying tears of joy. His uncles and father, all former fighters, leaped into the ring, each leaving his own trail of tears behind. The new star was uncharacteristically modest in his post fight interview, and Hernandez offered no excuses. A new champion crowned in a disappointing contest...but he is champion nonetheless. At only 18-0 (14), Floyd Mayweather becomes the first 1996 Olympian to win a world title, and his future is bright. The lightweight divisions are full of young talented names, and hopefully more challenging matchups, for Mayweather to choose from. Let's hope he chooses well.