Freddy Hernandez has never won a world title and almost surely never will. But at 37, he is a long-time fixture in the sport and has long since earned the respect of fans. Twelve years ago, at the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills, he defeated Jesus Soto Karass, in a battle of rising contenders destined to hang on in this brutal sport.
On his way up through the ranks, Hernandez won fights against the likes of Carson Jones, DeMarcus Corley and Luis Collazo. He has always been a hard-nosed fighter with good power. He has excellent length and is smart enough to use it well.
But following his victory over Collazo, Hernandez went on a six-fight losing streak. His competition over this skid was very tough. He lost to future world champion Erislandy Lara and Demetrius Andrade. He lost on cuts to tough contender Delvin Rodriguez, as well as undefeated rising prospects Julian Williams and Brad Solomon.
Hernandez won three fights in 2015, but against a decided step-down in competition. He knocked out Jorge Juarez in March and again in May. It sent his record from 8-18-3 to 8-19-3. He followed that by defeating 10-7-1 Todd Manuel via eight-round majority decision.
So Hernandez was on nobody’s radar heading into 2016. I was frankly surprised to see him receiving second-billing last Saturday night on a nationally televised PBC card.
Hernandez’s opponent was Alfredo Angulo, though, so the match up did make some sense. Angulo, like Hernandez, is a faded former contender. But he has always been a crowd-friendly slugger. His November 2011 TKO loss to James Kirkland was a thrilling shoot out. He knocked down Lara twice in June 2013, before getting stopped with an eye swollen shut in Round 10. He showed heart in a Round 10 TKO loss to Saul Alvarez in March 2014.
Angulo began to show real signs of fading in September 2014, when he dropped a decision to James De la Rosa. Like Hernandez, Angulo came into Saturday night on a winning streak, against lower-tier competition.
The crowd in Anaheim was clearly on Angulo’s side for the most part, chanting Angulo’s nickname, “Pero.” But Hernandez was the sharper fighter, using his reach and timing to consistently get off first with accurate, scoring punches. The result was his most high-profile win in half a decade.
I am always conflicted when I watch fighters compete past their prime. This isn’t baseball, where the risk is dropping a fy ball or failing to get around on a fast ball. The risks for an over-matched fighter are far more dangerous.
But it is hard not to smile when an old veteran like Hernandez unexpectedly comes back into the spotlight one more time.