By Jake Donovan
Yoan Pablo Hernandez is the recognized lineal cruiserweight champion, but it doesn't necessarily make him the slam dunk consensus pick as the division's very best fighter. The Cuba-born southpaw, now based out Germany where he has spent his entire pro career, has been plagued by injuries, disputed in-ring results and personal problems as he nears his three-year anniversary as champion.
Still, a struggling title reign certainly beats having a view from the outside looking in. Hernandez (28-1, 14KOs) returns to the ring for the first time in 2014, hoping for a fresh start beginning with his fourth title defense, which comes this weekend versus former champ Firat Arslan in Erfurt, Germany.
"I have trained careful with my focus being completely on the task ahead this Saturday night," Hernandez insisted during Wednesday's pre-fight press conference. "I did not have this kind of focus for my last (few) fights, as I had to battle many problems outside of the ring."
Hernandez hasn't fought since knocking out Alexander Alekseev in ten rounds last November. That title defense came 14 months after his previous ring appearance, a disputed points win over Troy Ross.
A damaged left hand and post-surgery recovery kept the 29-year old out of the ring following the win over Ross, feeling confident following last year's knockout win - his first stoppage since Feb. '11 - and ready to take on all comers.
However, a planned return in March was thwarted when Hernandez was forced to contend with a lingering case of gastritis. A planned title defense versus Pawel Kolodziej was twice postponed and eventually scrapped altogether as a result, as Hernandez sat on the sidelines in search of an open fight date.
While fully confident inside the ring, the frustration of contending with injuries and ailments was nearly enough for Hernandez to give up on the sport. Instead, he turned to his team, finding motivation from their undying support.
"I almost give up but my wife and my coach motivated me not to let myself go," Hernandez admits. "Now, I am stronger than ever. August 16 will be my proving point."
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