By Thomas Gerbasi
Soccer never had a chance once Jon Fernandez walked into the local boxing gym.
“I was playing football when I was 14,” he said. “My uncle took me to the boxing gym and I got amazed by the sport.”
Now he’s the one doing the amazing. Just 22 years old, the junior lightweight from Bilbao, Spain is 14-0 with 12 KOs and garnering raves from practically everyone who sees him between the ropes.
A week from tonight, on Feb. 7, Fernandez will make his fourth United States appearance and first in New York City when he takes on Fatiou Fassinou on DiBella Entertainment’s Broadway Boxing show at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill. And despite already having two wins televised on Showtime’s ShoBox series, this bout has the feel of a showcase in the greatest city in the world, and Fernandez knows it.
“Yes, it’s a big deal for me because it’s the first time that I will fight in New York City, and I’m really motivated for the fight,” he said.
Traveling from Spain to NYC and starting to get the type of attention that will only grow in the coming years could rattle someone, especially if that someone is barely old enough to drink and looks the part as well. But Fernandez appears to be a different kind of prizefighter.
“It’s not a lot of pressure on me being very young; there are a lot of champions that are young too,” he said. “One of my best characteristics is that I’m really mature for my age.”
His translator, who just happens to be his wife, Nekane, agrees. And as his strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist as well, Nekane – a former boxer herself – doesn’t just see the home side of her husband, but the business side as well.
“For me personally, it’s really hard because I have my work 24 hours a day with him,” she said when asked what it’s like working with her husband. And when asked the same question about working with his wife, Fernandez laughs.
“Me too. I have the policewoman at home.”
It all works, though, and as the two approach their first wedding anniversary in April, it’s clear that big things are on the way for one of the game’s top prospects, one who doesn’t just work with DiBella, but with a man with one of the sharpest eyes for talent in the game, Sampson Lewkowicz. Oh yeah, his co-promoter is someone you may have heard of too, former world champion Sergio Martinez.
“We are glad to have Sergio with us,” said Fernandez. “He was the contact to meet Lou DiBella, and when I started boxing, I watched a lot of videos of Sergio, and now it’s a pleasure to work with him.”
So what is it about “Jonfer” that is producing such a buzz around the boxing world? It may simply come down to the talent he has in the ring. Picture a young Alexis Arguello, right down to the mustache, and you’ll have a good read on what Fernandez has shown in the ring thus far. His punches are straight, there’s variety in his offensive attack, and it looks like he’s always thinking in combinations, of the next punch to throw as the previous one lands. Add in power and video game like accuracy, and he’s not just a fighter with championship potential, but one that’s fun to watch.
As for the Arguello comparisons, he is a fan of the Nicaraguan legend, but he’s heard himself compared to other stars while choosing to be his own man in the ring.
“Someone told me I’m like Leo Santa Cruz and ‘Finito’ Lopez, but I think I have my own style of boxing,” he said.
More people will undoubtedly see that style in 2018, but as good as he’s looked, will he keep evolving in a country not exactly known as a boxing hotbed full of opportunities to get world-class sparring? Again, he shows his maturity level, knowing that eventually, he may have to leave home to take his career to the next stage.
“I think when the fights become bigger, we could go to the United States to get better sparring,” he said. “We hope that happens.”
He also hopes, like any 22-year-old, that the good stuff starts happening sooner rather than later. That’s his youth talking, but when the other side kicks back in, he knows that if he wants everything he’s been chasing since his uncle took him to the gym eight years ago, he has to take care of business in NYC next week.
“We are focused on the next fight, but we hope that this year we get the opportunity to get a world championship or a great fight.”
At this rate, Jon Fernandez might end up with both items on that wish list.