August 15, 2003

Carlos Hernandez: 58 Days To Redemption

By Fiona Manning

In a quiet corner of the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, Carlos “Famoso” Hernandez hits the speedbag with quiet determination. He smiles, but the look in the IBF 130 pound champion’s eye reminds you of the look in Bruce the shark’s eye - just before he ate all those people on the beach in “Jaws.”

Famoso, in training for his first title defense October 4 at the Staples Center opposite former title holder Steve Forbes (who lost the crown under disgrace), El Salvador’s first-ever world champion feels the weight of his tiny country’s expectations on his shoulders with each punch.

The champ likes the pressure however. The harder it is, the better it is.

“We have 58 days to go until the fight,” said Hernandez, whose record stands at 39-3-1, 24 KOs. “58 days and we are right on target.”

On the day of La Prensa’s visit with Team Hernandez, a film crew was in the gym taping the man in action for an immigration commercial to air on Salvadoran TV.

Famoso takes all the disruptions in stride. In fact, in an effort to really stir those pressure-cooker feelings, he has relocated to the tiny, grimy, packed Wild Card from the tame, calm, serene, pristine clean, practically empty La Brea Academy.

His partners in crime: his wife Veronica Hernandez and Argentine legend, 82-year old boxing superstar, Amilcar Brusa.

“I like the competitive feeling here,” said Famoso, between rounds on the bag. His watchful trainer meticulously jotted spidery notes in a battered notebook.

Nothing escapes Brusa’s eye. He has kept records of Famoso’s weight from every fight he’s had since their first fight together two years ago: his world title shot against Floyd Mayweather junior.

Brusa is happy that Famoso’s weight is the same at this point in training as it was for his last two world championship fights.

After a heady win over David Santos in February to capture the IBF crown, Famoso has had parades, parties, a stadium named after him, cars and money given to him and requests for everything from autographs to personal appearances.

Brusa is happy with the way Famoso looks in the gym. He like that shark’s steely eye.

Famoso pushes himself hard. He likes fighting for a perch on the minuscule gym floor. It’s kind of like what it was like growing up in east LA.

He might be champion, but he still has something to prove.

Up and coming fighters watch him work with Brusa. They are in fact mesmerizing to watch. Brusa could probably hurt a few of the guys in the gym, he is strong and solid, yet tall and elegant.

At 82, he never stops moving. He does not believe in extensive sparring, but demands road work and a commitment to resistance exercises in the gym. He weighs his fighters with intense concentration - think Jaws meets Freddy Kreuger - and woe betide the fighter whose weight is not on target.

Then there’s focus. Brusa knows when his fighter’s senses are on red alert and will do what it takes to make sure the shark senses bait on the horizon.

Hernandez has defied the odds. He went from journeyman to inspired contender, to world champion within a two year period.

“We calculated that he’s had 12 trainers over the years and he finally find the right one,” said Veronica.

Brusa is a tough technician and fascinating to watch. He looks stern and mean but is a pussycat in Italian clothing. He adores Famoso who says constantly, “I love that old man.”

Brusa dreams of taking Famoso to Argentina where he remains a living icon. His other great champion, world middle weight champion Carlos Monzon lived hard and died fast but Brusa sees nothing but greatness in store for the Latino People’s Champion.

“The old man” wasn’t keen on the move to the Wild Card. He’s also not keen on some of the real points that led Famoso to this gym.

Those points: First there was a lack of sparring and he has been working here with 40 pounder Raul Franco and Michelangeo Links.

Others will come but their names are still in the mix.

What Famoso loves about the Wild Card is the 30 second rest bell. At La Brea it was 60 seconds. He will not allow himself the luxury of that extra 30 seconds.

Brusa frets over these 30 seconds. “It is scientifically proven the body needs 60 seconds rest,” he says as Famoso begins work on the mitts.

He is dripping wet and solid muscle. He’s a man of the people and he is fighting for more than his first title defense. He represents everything that is good about immigration. Everything that is good about working your way up and making money - the hard way.

Famoso walks his talk and never loses sight of his dream.

As he punched the mitts, his unborn son kicked and punched his wife. “He’s got a jab on him,” said Vero, shifting her tiny frame in her hard plastic chair.

She and Carlos have dreamed of the world championship for so long the don’t mind the constant phone calls. Every man and their cousin wants to fight him.

“I’ll fight anybody,” he said. “After I get done with Steve Forbes.”

Knowledgeable insiders are taking bets in whether Forbes can even make weight.

Now he has relocated from Las Vegas to his hometown of Portland, Oregon, some say he’ll lose his edge.

Not that Forbes seemed to have it anyway. He came in four pounds over the 130 limit for his title defense against David Santos a year ago in California.

He was given two hours to lose weight but only shed a pound and a half and was stripped of his title on the scales.

Overnight, he gained nearly 20 pounds. His attitude so irked the California State Athletic Commission that new rules, now implemented by the IBF state that any fighter who comes in more than 10 pounds over his contracted weight (after the weigh in) will not be allowed to fight.

Untypical fighter that he is, Famoso sent baby clothes to Santos when his baby daughter was born and wishes other fighters good luck. No smack talking here, folks.

High on his list of possible opponents is a Dream Team: his promoter Bob Arum would like to pit him against Erik Morales.

But first things first: Famoso’s better half Veronica, who is very much a part of his team, was reading a book on Breast feeding in the gym. She was also timing her husband’s rounds with a critical eye.

Due to give birth to the couple’s first baby - a boy who will definitely not be named Carlos Jr - on December 6, Mrs. Famoso has been given some colorful suggestions for baby names. “James Toney Hernandez” is one name frequently mentioned.

Famoso looks amazingly ripped, the results of two months of hard work every Tuesday and Thursday with a team called CATZ, who worked with Oscar de la Hoya in Big Bear before his last few fights.

Working to a highly personalized cardio regimen, he has now scrapped those workouts to focus on boxing.

“58 days,” he kept saying as he shadow boxed, a towel on his head. “58 days.”

Brusa adjusted the towel over his fighter’s head. “I hope this guy Forbes is ready,” he said. “Because we are ready now.”

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