By Jake Donovan
At a time when his current weight class is desperate for a new star, there’s no time like the present for Adrian Hernandez to transform from a talented titlist to a budding local superstar.
The two-time 108 lb. titlist extended his second reign in emphatic fashion, stopping Puerto Rico’s Janiel Rivera in four rounds Saturday evening. More impressive than the stoppage win – which was expected, from an odds perspective – was the fact that it played to more than 14,000 crammed into the Caballerizas de Huixquilucan in Huixquilucan, Mexico.
Hernandez entered 2014 as the last hope for star power in the 108 lb. division, given the recent defection of unbeaten Roman Gonzalez and eventual departure of precocious two-division champ Kazuto Ioka. The Mexican’s title reign has led quite a bit to be desired, facing rather meager opposition since regaining his title some 16 months ago.
His entire second title reign has taken place in Mexico, beginning with his emphatic 6th round knockout of Kompayak Porpramook to avenge a knockout loss on the road in Thailand 10 months prior. Three defenses followed in 2013, none of which turned any heads as Hernandez was a prohibitive favorite in each bout.
In that regard, Saturday night was more of the same. The lone sidebar worth noting in the bout was that it played to the ongoing in-ring rivalry between Mexico and Puerto Rico. It hasn’t been much of a rivalry these days; while Mexico’s top fighters have fallen off a bit in recent times, the nation is still well represented in the title picture.
The same cannot be said for Puerto Rico, an island in a boxing drought as there doesn’t exist a single current titlist ever since Rocky Martinez conceded his 130 lb. title to Mikey Garcia last December.
Rivera was a massive longshot to bring Boricua power back to the title picture, even with the backing of his promoter, former three-division world champion Miguel Cotto who earlier in the week boldly guaranteed a victory.
Perhaps Cotto will be the one to restore much needed glory for his fighting nation, should he manage to secure a lucrative June 7 showdown with reigning middleweight king Sergio Martinez. Until then, all the fighter/promoter could do was sit back and watch his charge take a pounding.
That seems to be the normal course of action these days for any given Hernandez title defense, which can only be a good thing for his growing fan base. The rabid crowd on hand in Huixquilucan seemed to thoroughly enjoy the action, however one-sided was the affair.
Hernandez was came out firing and never thought to slow down at any point during the brief affair, showing the fruits of his work put in with new assistant trainer, former three-division champion Jeff Fenech, who flew in from Australia to assist with the champion’s camp. Hernandez rode a dominant opening round to the bout’s lone knockdown, which came during a brutally dominant second frame.
Rivera was brave beyond what the role entailed, though his courage only resulted in a considerable amount of punishment absorbed in just over six minutes of action. Hernandez had knockout on the mid all the way as he came out throwing in the third, unloading before referee Vic Drakulich recognized a battered fighter with no hope of rallying as he stepped in to stop the contest.
The official time was 1:34 of round three.
Hernandez picks up his seventh straight win as he improves to 29-2-1 (18KO). Rivera falls to 10-2-2 (6KO), falling well short in his first-ever title challenge.
It’s clear that Hernandez is a different fighter than was the case during his first title reign. ‘El Confesor’ was once a reckless brawler, whose lack of defense was normally compensated by his return fire. Those ways caught up to him in Dec. ’11, putting entertainment before ring intelligence, as he brawled his way out of a title reign when Popramook stopped him in the 10th round of their Fight of the Year-worthy war.
A pair of tune-up wins followed as Hernandez wisely eased his way back into contention. The strategy paid off, as a back-and-forth first encounter seemed like a distant memory when he battered Porpramook in their Oct. ’12 rematch in Mexico.
All seven bouts among his current win streak have taken place in his home country, a pattern that doesn’t seem to break stride any time soon. Future challengers waiting in the wings include countrymen Pedro Guevara and Ganigan Lopez. Amazingly, both managed to land in contention by beating the same fighter – former 105 lb. titlist Mario Rodriguez.
Guevara currently serves as Hernandez’ mandatory, a distinction the former 108 lb. titlist earned with a string of wins with a WBC “silver” title at stake. Victories over former champs Rodriguez and Raul Garcia have come on the heels of his title-losing effort to Johnriel Casimero in Aug. ’12.
Meanwhile, Lopez has emerged into the title picture thanks to his own victory over Rodriguez last month in Mexico. The 32-year old has scored four consecutive wins, including a 12-round decision over Luis Ceja, who won on Saturday’s undercard and perhaps represents yet another challenge awaiting Hernandez.
As long as the 5’8” boxer can still comfortably make the 108 lb. division, there will be no shortage of opportunities awaiting the reigning champ. Given the turnout for Saturday’s affair, there will be no shortage of attention paid to his continued progress as a star in the making.
The title fight aired live on Televisa in Mexico.
JULIO CEJA EYES 122 LB. TITLE RUN
In the televised co-feature, current bantamweight contender Julio Ceja (26-1, 24KO) scored a fourth round stoppage over countryman Jesus Acosta. The bout was a mismatch from the opening bell, with Ceja imposing his will on his opponent before the action was mercifully halted at 2:22 of round four.
Ceja picks up his second consecutive win since falling short in a vacant bantamweight title bid versus Jamie McDonnell on the road in England last May. The 21-year old is being steered towards a second title shot, eying the winner of the forthcoming March 8 showdown between unbeaten 122 lb. titlist Leo Santa Cruz and former 115 lb. king Cristian Mijares.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox