By Bill Green
This Saturday night DAZN and Eddie Hearn put together a stacked card full of compelling undercard matchups including a middleweight grudge match between Luis Arias 18-1 (9) of Milwaukee, WI, and popular blood and guts warrior, Gabriel “King” Rosado 24-11(14), of Philadelphia, PA, 2 x Gold Medalist and undefeated Middleweight female champ Claressa “T-Rex” Shields 6-0 (2), of Flint MI, vs Hannah Rankin 5-2 (1), of Glasgow, Scotland and Brandon “Bam-Bam” Rios 34-4-1 (25), of Oxnard, CA, but born and grew up in the amateur ranks in nearby Garden City, KS, vs Mexican Super Welterweight Ramon Alvarez 27-6-3 (16), brother of Canelo Alvarez.
Heavyweights Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller 22-0-1 (19) and Romanian Bogdan Dinu 18-0 (14) fight in the main event to add plenty of punch to the card, especially for the affordable $9.99 per month price tag. While it’s true everyone loves a good heavyweight scrap the night most likely will belong to a man weighing a mere 112 lbs. Making his 3rd appearance at the Kansas Star arena, 2016 Bronze Medalist, Niko Hernandez 5-0 (4) of Wichita, KS, will take on battle and chin tested Josue Morales 8-7-3 of Houston, TX in an 8 round Flyweight contest. Hernandez, a hometown hero, has electrified the Kansas area both as an amateur and as a pro drawing big crowds without the aid of big television or more importantly a stacked lineup to support him.
Fightnews was able to sit down with the IBA Flyweight champ last night and gather his thoughts on this Saturday’s bout along with the magnitude of being on a card like this.
Fightnews: Hello champ, I know that you are a gym rat so to speak, and that you always stay ready. But wow this whole event went from New Jersey to Kansas in just 4 weeks. Did you have enough time to prepare in camp?
Hernandez: Yes, of course. Like you said we live at the gym. What people forget is when we were approached to be part of the event and having it in Kansas and all, I was already preparing to headline a bout here in late October. So i honestly feel like the extra few weeks prepared me even more. I’m in top shape, ready to go.
Fightnews: All 5 of your bouts have been in Kansas, and the crowds have been as high 2-3 thousand. You were able to generate that buzz on your own, what kind of atmosphere and crowd do you expect on Saturday night?
Hernandez: The support and fan base I have is unreal and I’m forever grateful. That’s another reason I pour my heart and soul into the gym. I want to give them something to be proud of. I can’t really take all the credit for the crowds, I have a great team behind me, my father, John Anderson, my sponsors, family, teammates and local media have all been part of the success. But I can’t lie, I’m even pumped for this card as a fan, Brandon returning, Manny Thompson back at it, my Olympic teammate Claressa, plus all the other names, you can expect a packed house for sure.
Fightnews: Speaking of Claressa, the 2016 Olympic team, continues to support each other not only via social media but even traveling to each other’s bouts. Can you talk about that unspoken bond that you guys appear to have?
Hernandez: Yea it’s crazy. It’s almost like one of us fights, we all feel part of it, you know. I get the whole goosebumps and itchy feeling for real when they fight. We want the best for one another. I came and watched Shakur (Stevenson) on Crawford’s card, once he found out about this card, he texted means said that he’s coming to support me and Claressa. Than earlier in the week Karlos (Balderas) said he’s making the trip too. It’s going to be like a reunion lol.
Fightnews: Well just like most the reunions I have been to, a fight always seems to break out too lol. In this case we are talking about perhaps one of your toughest opponents to date in Morales. He doesn’t have that flashy record or KO percentage but what he is known for is being tough as nails. He’s a southpaw and he’s been matched extremely tough. The man has fought as high as 127 lbs before and has never been stopped in 18 bouts. What are your thoughts on Morales?
Hernandez: Exactly what you said, he’s tough. We have watched plenty of video on him. I feel like there isn’t a style that I haven’t seen. My Olympic experience, prepared me well. We are growing as a professional and I feel extremely strong for this weight class. The fact that he is respected in the sport and people doubt whether I can stop or look good against him is exactly why I wanted him. I love making history and I want to be the first to knock him out. But if his chin happens to hold up, he’s going to feel it on Sunday that I promise you.
Fightnews: Does it feel like fighting these bigger guys is what you have to do or do you see yourself moving up to a bigger weight class?
Hernandez: I have been fighting at 108-112 for the past 2 years. Some other fighters have been growing a lot quicker than me I guess or chose to fight in different classes. I believe in the process my dad and my team have lined out for me. I can and do make 112 comfortably. Opponents early in my career are bigger than me and giving up some size is all part of this sport. It was that way in the amateurs and so far as a pro. I look at it as great experience for when those big fights materialize. But I always agreed when Floyd stated “skills pay the bills.” He’s absolutely right, size doesn’t win fights alone.
Fightnews: Speaking of those big fights, I know you definitely won’t look past Morales, but how soon do you want to progress to 10 rounds and perhaps a top 15 type of opponent?
Hernandez: My focus is on Morales and only on Morales. But, I will say this…. I wanted Paddy Barnes for this bout but he was stopped in his last fight by a body shot. I wanted to do exactly that to him, so who knows maybe I will eventually fight the guy that beat him and stop him with a body shot. (Cristofer Morales)
Fightnews: Boxrec already has you ranked as the top 5 US flyweight. There’s only a total of 15 listed in the US. What that means is most of the competition will be overseas. Do you have a problem fighting in their backyard?
Hernandez: Funny that you brought that up, because me and my dad were just talking about that. Most of my big amateur fights or tournaments took place overseas. I fought in Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Quatar, and Argentina. We are fully prepared to go wherever and to fight whomever to win a world title. I believe I’m ready now too. But, I’m being patient and sharpening my craft. I don’t want to just win a title, I want to defend it over and over again.
Fightnews: Good stuff champ as always. Before I let you go, I want you to be honest, this card is stacked, the magnitude is surreal. The stage is one of the biggest. Heck, the press conference was in New York. We are talking about Michael Buffer, Sugar Ray Leonard and powerhouse promoter Eddie Hearn all in the house. Are you sure you’re not the slightest nervous or in awe of the situation?
Hernandez: No, not at all. I have been on the big stage during the Olympics. Me and Shakur both were highly publicized. One time we even did mits at Time Squares in New York as part of the promotion building up to the Olympics. The experience I talk about wasn’t just boxing related, it’s everything. I have felt pressure, fought in front of enormous crowds, tough crowds, been the favorite, been the underdog too. Don’t get me wrong, I’m blessed and honored to be on a card such as this but to be honest… I belong at this level. On Saturday night I will prove it one again.
See you ringside