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Better Late Than Never, The Rise of Mauricio Herrera

By Thomas Gerbasi

Mauricio Herrera says that when it comes to fighting, he’s “not picky.” In other words, if you call him up for a fight, you really don’t need to tell him a name, just a date and a place. Suffice to say, he’s not a diva. He’s laid back, easygoing, and not one to make waves.

So when his amateur career ended with a reported 33-1-1 record, the 23-year-old from Riverside, California listened to his then-trainer when he was told that he had probably reached the end of the road in his boxing career. Herrera may not have liked that verdict, but he accepted it.

For a while.

Soon though, the lure of the sport was becoming too strong, and he and his younger brother Alberto began putting the gloves on and working out in their parents’ garage.

“We always had a sparring partner, so we kept in shape,” he laughed. “A lot of kids around the neighborhood were also welcome if they wanted to spar.”

The dream? Not of glory or riches, but to see if he had what it took to compete in the pro ranks.

“In the back of my head I always had the dream that I wanted to fight pro and I just didn’t know how or when, and it was very frustrating,” Herrera remembers. “After my last trainer, I left him and stopped fighting amateur, and I continued training with my younger brother Albert in my parents’ garage for a couple years. We trained ourselves and prepared ourselves, never giving up and thinking one day something’s gonna happen. We didn’t know how or when or who’s gonna take us, but we said let’s keep going and keep training ourselves.”

Eventually, Herrera would run into local trainer and manager Willie Silva. The aspiring pro didn’t beat around the bush.

“I want to turn pro and I want to give this a try,” he said at the time.

“I couldn’t let all those years go to waste.”

Silva took on the project of Herrera, no longer a 23-year-old kid, but now a 27-year-old man who hadn’t fought in a live fight for four years. The trainer was going to find out what he had immediately, tossing the eventual 140-pounder into the ring at junior middleweight against fellow debutant Angel Osuna in August of 2007. 

“I didn’t know how good I was gonna be, and I pulled it out,” said Herrera, who decisioned Osuna that night in Corono, California. “It wasn’t my weight class and it was a tough fight, and I said ‘man, this is way different. It’s not the same as the amateurs.’ But I pulled it out and I thought ‘you know what? I won that fight, let me try another fight.’”

He tried another and another, and by November of 2008, he was 7-0 and matched up with then-prospect Pavel Miranda, who sported a 16-2 record. Herrera won via eighth round TKO and got signed by Thompson Boxing Promotions.

“From there it just shot up,” said Herrera, who, like stablemate Josesito Lopez, wasn’t going to make it up the ranks based on connections or by fighting a steady stream of easy marks. Instead, he was going to be given every chance to succeed or fail based on his talent and heart against all-comers.

“They offer me fights, I love to fight, and I’m not picky,” he said. “In my earlier career, the fights they gave me were tough fights and I said yes to all of them. I never really thought about taking it the easy way. I always took what they gave me. There were a lot of prospects, and they were tough. Some of those guys had no losses or one loss, and those guys don’t want to lose. They’re the tough fights, but I just got used to it and I didn’t know no other way, so that’s how it went.”

The usual prospect road is filled with fights against guys with 6-12, 5-9, 22-52, or 15-16 records. A glance at Herrera’s 20 bout pro slate reveals the following: with the exception of his first three fights, where he faced two debutants and 0-1 Elisio Garcia, everyone he faced had a winning record. That run includes bouts with 10-0-1 Daniel Cervantes (W6), Miranda, 9-1-2 Cleotis Pendarvis (W8), former world champion Mike Anchondo (L8), and veteran Efren Hinojosa (TKO6).

But the rest of the boxing world didn’t really get tuned in to Herrera until he upset highly-touted and unbeaten Ruslan Provodnikov over 12 rounds in January of 2011. Facing a heavy-handed foe with his left eye nearly shut, Herrera showed what he brought to the table in the 140-pound weight class – an all-around game, a busy style, and heart for days. Not a bad formula for success, and since then he’s done all right for himself, defeating Cristian Favela in a keep busy bout, outpointing 17-1-1 prospect Mike Dallas, and then engaging in another high-level action fight with Mike Alvarado that saw him walk through the fire against another power punching foe before losing a 10 round decision.

At 32, and with an HBO Boxing After Dark bout coming up this Saturday against unbeaten Karim Mayfield, Mauricio Herrera has arrived. Not bad considering that he had to fight like he was double-parked over the first five years of his career.

“I had no choice,” he said. “I was up there in age and I would always tell my manager Willie ‘don’t give me no easy fights; give me the hard fights. I want to get up there and I don’t want to waste too much time.’ I knew that boxing’s not forever, so give me the tough fights now while I’m still fresh and strong. Now I’m in a good place and I don’t really have to rush it so much now. I think I can take my time right where I’m at now, but I needed to in the beginning.”

Now, he can finally start to see a light at the end of an unlikely tunnel. He’s already impressed in nationally televised shows and on Pay-Per-View, and this weekend he’s in position to move even further should he take out the talented Mayfield in the type of fight the HBO B.A.D. series was built for. Herrera the fan remembers those days, when fights like Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Kennedy McKinney captivated the fight world. Now Herrera the fighter will get to deliver his own spin on the B.A.D. experience.

“I remember the Barrera-McKinney fight and that was one of the best fights I had seen that I could remember on HBO Boxing After Dark, and not in many years did I ever think that I was gonna be a part of that,” he said. “It’s coming up pretty quick for me since I had my first pro fight to where I’m at now and it went so fast. I used to watch it, and now it’s my shot and my time. Hopefully I can do it justice, make the fans happy, and give them a good action fight.”

And unlike his first forays into the spotlight, Herrera feels like an old pro at this point when it comes to being on the sport’s biggest stages. It’s an edge in experience that he plans on using early, often, and especially late, against Mayfield.

“For this HBO fight I feel a lot more calm and more focused, and I don’t feel too pressured like the last fight with Alvarado on HBO Pay-Per-View,” he said. “I fought a couple times on ESPN and ShoBox, so I think for this one it’s still a big deal, but I feel I’m able to control my nerves a little more and I feel more relaxed for this fight. I’ve been there before, I’ve been in there more times than Mayfield, and I know what it takes. If you watch my fights, even up until the last round, I’ll give it everything. I’ll stand there and you can not push me back. It’s something that’s inside me that says ‘I’m gonna win this, I don’t care if you’re the hardest puncher or the fastest, I’ll trade with you, I’ll get in there,’ and somehow things start to go in slow motion for me when I’m really focused. And I think that comes down to experience and staying calm in the trenches. I’m able to see clearly.”

On days like that, it’s almost like being back in his parents’ garage sparring with his brother. It’s just two guys throwing hands. Only this time, it’s for keeps, and Herrera plans on showing Mayfield the ropes.

“I don’t think he knows what he’s getting into, especially in the late rounds, and I think he’s going to get a wakeup call,” said Herrera. “Mayfield’s a good fighter, but I think I’m gonna take it, I’m gonna beat him, and I think he’s gonna be a better fighter after this.”

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