By Francisco Salazar
Mauricio Herrera goes by the nickname, “El Maestro,” which is Spanish for “teacher.”
His lesson plan on Saturday night is pretty simple: Outbox Jose Benavidez for 12 rounds (or less) to come out victorious.
Will he give himself high marks while doing that? Most likely, especially if he wants to secure the big fights for 2015.
Herrera will face the unbeaten Benavidez at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on Saturday night. The bout will be part of an HBO “World Championship Boxing” telecast, which will be headlined by the 12 round welterweight bout between Timothy Bradley and Diego Chaves.
Herrera is coming off a 12 round majority decision win over Johan Perez on July 12 in Las Vegas, Nev. The win was coming off the heels of a disputed 12 round majority decision loss to Danny Garcia, a fight where a majority of media thought Herrera did enough to win.
Herrera (21-4, 7 KOs) enters the bout in an unfamiliar position of being the favorite on Saturday night. While he is not underestimating Benavidez, Herrera is wondering if the young unbeaten fighter can mentally stay in the fight if he runs into trouble.
“Every fight is important,” Herrera told BoxingScene over the phone earlier this week. “After the Garcia fight, I acknowledge that these fights are going to be the most important of my career. That’s why I have to be at the top of my game.”
“I know he’s an experienced foe because he had a lot of amateur fights. He has some pop and he’s sparred some of the best fighters in gyms in L.A. But this is new to him. Being on HBO. This is going to be a mental challenge for him. When he gets hit often, what is he going to do? I’m confident in myself and I’ve faced the smart fighters and the brawlers. I never back down.”
No one can question Herrera's heart or tenacity. From fighting with an broken orbital bone below his left eye, courtesy of Ruslan Provodnikov, to moving on from a controversial split decision loss to Mike Anchondo, Herrera does not let up.
Herrera has faced a murderer’s row of fighters in the last three years or so. He has solid wins over Provodnikov and Mike Dallas, but lost decisions to Mike Alvarado and Karim Mayfield.
Even at 34 years of age, Herrera does not believe in fighting showcase fights. He wants to face the best fighters each time out, regardless of it is in a neutral venue or in his opponent's backyard.
Fighting the best brings out the best in him, according to Herrera. While he has fought some of the best in the division with mixed results, he believes he can still get better.
"I keep giving the best fights possible. I train to win and I want to fight the best. I believe that it brings the best out of me. I want to face the best Benavidez on Saturday night. The more dangerous they are, the best I am."
While the bigger paychecks he is receiving from Golden Boy Promotions is great, he is humble for where it all started. Herrera would fight in ballrooms and an open lot of a warehouse in the early stages of his career, not far from his hometown of Riverside.
While Thompson Boxing gave him the exposure early on in his career, Herrera believes he is enjoying the limelight more within the last year with Golden Boy.
It still does not take away from what he did early on to get to where he is at today.
"Times go by fast, but I remember those times fighting at the Doubletree (Hotel) in Ontario (California) and in Corona. I appreciate those times and I'm blessed. To go from the Doubletree to HBO is great. I'm really happy now."
While teachers apply their craft to give the best lesson plans to their students, Herrera believes getting better results in rewarding fight fans and by receiving more lucrative deals.
So does that mean Herrera is an over-achiever, eager for extra credit?
"I'm in the gym every day. Boxing really humbles me. I'll just continue pushing."
Francisco A. Salazar has written for BoxingScene.com since 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Salazar also covers boxing for the Ventura County (CA) Star newspaper, The Ring, and Knockout Nation. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing