By Jake Donovan
Adrian Hernandez prepares to enter the sixth fight of his second tour as junior flyweight champion – or as many bouts as his opponent, 20-year old Naoya Inoue has fought in his young pro career.
The reigning two-time titlist is 7-1 overall in championship bouts and generally regarded as the best 108 lb. fighter in the world at present moment heading into his next fight, which takes place April 6 in Tokyo, Japan.
So why the insistence this will be his last fight as reigning champion?
Perhaps it’s the belief that Inoue (5-0, 4KO) is just that good. There also exists the memories of Hernandez’ last road trip, a 10th round knockout loss to Kompayak Porpramook to end his first title reign. It’s possible that a combination of both has industry experts believing the 29-year old will once again return home empty handed.
Now comes the part of wondering whether or not he’s paying any attention to the surrounding talk.
“I’ve been counted out before. Look where I am now,” Hernandez (29-2-1, 18KO) points out.
Inoue becomes the latest in a trend of fighters racing towards a major title after just a handful of pro fights. The precocious Japanese prodigy has been groomed for stardom from the moment he turned pro, which will have been only 18 months ago come fight night.
Four days prior to Inoue returning pro, Hernandez regained his title in emphatic fashion.
Less than a year removed from his knockout loss to Porpramook in Thailand, Hernandez gained sweet revenge at home in Mexico. A one-sided 6th round knockout removed the thrill that came with his back-and-forth war with the Thai in their first fight, one of the best of 2011 and one of the most memorable in the history of the 108 lb. division.
That the knockout win came against a top fighter made the one-sided nature of their bout forgivable. His ensuing title reign hasn’t received as much sympathy, as the 29-year old has come under scrutiny for the list of inferior title challengers that have been lined up.
All Hernandez can do is fight the guys his handlers put in front of him. This time around, his team is putting him in a dangerous fight and in hostile territory – though not without help.
Jeff Fenech, who captured titles in three divisions during his Hall of Fame career, began training Hernandez earlier this year. The journey began roughly one month prior to Hernandez’ most recent defense, a 3rd round knockout of Janiel Rivera in February. The fight quickly became more about the champion’s local drawing power than any means of competitive action, a theme that has become all too apparent throughout his current title reign.
There exists another wrinkle heading into what many view as his first true challenge since regaining his title. A win by Inoue will make him a champion in just his 6th pro fight. Fenech won his first world title in his 7th pro fight, though just six months into his incredible career.
The journey began with a 9th round knockout of Japanese southpaw Satoshi Shingaki nearly 30 years ago. Hernandez was only three months old at the time, but still gains a world of knowledge from the accomplishments and teachings of his chief cornerman.
Hernandez and Fenech gelled from the moment they began working together prior to the defending titlist’s last fight. The two-month turnaround between fights meant an immediate return to the gym.
Full training camp in present form - which has consisted of nearly seven weeks of preparation in Mexico City – wraps up on Saturday before heading to Los Angeles for three more days of preparation before traveling abroad to Japan to get acclimated to the fight environment well in advance of the April 6 show.
In addition to his title, Hernandez brings overseas a six-fight win streak and – thanks to the past several weeks of preparation – a clear understanding of what will be up against in his next fight.
“We’ve studied videos (of Inoue),” Hernandez revealed following Friday’s workout, which consisted of pad work and sparring. “He’s fast and is a strong body puncher. It will undoubtedly be a war in the ring on April 6.”
The last time Hernandez found himself in that situation, it also took place halfway around the world and resulted in a beltless journey home.
Experts look for history to repeat itself. Hernandez looks to once again prove the experts wrong.
“Everything I was able to do (in the rematch with) Porpramook, I should have done the first time we met,” Hernandez has always insisted. “The way I dominated him the second time around is the fighter I am. That’s the fighter you will see on April 6.”
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