By Fiona Manning
Carlos “Famoso” Hernandez said he cried when the president of El Salvador stepped into the ring with him on Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas. For both men it was a historic occasion because “Famoso” had just won the IBF 130 pound boxing championship to become El Salvador’s first world champion in any sport.
So much expectation was on Hernandez from the citizens of this tiny, beautiful, but often troubled central American country which relied so heavily on this victory, that the nation’s president sat ringside to watch his grueling tug-of-war with rugged “Diamond” Santos, a fight which was stopped in the eighth round due to an accidental head butt.
Santos, who must have known he needed to finish the fight to get much-needed rounds, was clearly distraught when referee Tony Weeks paused the action to let Nevada state’s chief ringside physician Dr. Margaret Goodman examine a cut over his eye. She deemed him too hurt to continue at 2.52 of the round. Santos was so angry, that when Hernandez tried to shake his hand, he shrugged him away. And this was before the scores had been announced.
Hernandez won the bout on scores of 78-73 and 77-84 twice.
“I won this belt for my people,” an emotional Hernandez told La Prensa San Diego, ringside immediately after bout. I kept hearing from the critics that I wasn’t slick enough to handle Santos. He kept covering up so much that it left his head exposed and that’s why he got cut.”
Hernandez raised his belt for the crowd which screemed its approval.
It was a satisfying victory for Hernandez and a tough technical decision loss to Santos who said he wants an immediate rematch.
With the US Secret Service heavily present in protection of the visiting head of State, hundreds of Salvadoran fans waved their nation’s blue and white flags as “Famoso” took to the ring in his black velvet robe.
Boxing legends Alexis Arguello and Roberto Duran are so impressed with Hernandez that they requested to be part of his fight corner.
“They gave me lots of tips privately,” he said. “I had a lot of advice from them and I really appreciated it.”
For Arguello, Famoso embodies everything you would want in a champion and an athlete. “I have always said through sports, all nations can come together,” he said. “We have a new advocate for the sport of boxing and central America. Carlos is a very good man.”
“This was my third world title fight and I was convinced I would win,” said Hernandez. “Having the president there... it did bring me to tears. Then I heard the people chanting “Famoso!” and it lifted me up so high, that there was no way I couldn’t win with all the people there.”
Defeating “Diamond” David Santos to bring home the vacant 130 pound IBF belt, was the result of a lot of hard work and team effort. “David told me after the fight that if he had to lose, he was glad it was to me. We exchanged numbers and we’ll remain in touch. I really like the guy.”
Hernandez said his immediate sights are on a few days’ vacation in El Salvador, then he travels to Miami next weekend for TV interviews, then it’s back to El Salvador and then Mexico with his wife Veronica’s family.
“I want to fight next April, possibly at the Olympic Auditorium and then I will fight my mandatory challenger Steve Forbes in September - I don’t have to fight him until then and I would like to fight him in El Salvador.”
Top Rank CEO Bob Arum also said immediately after the fight he would like the Hernandez-Forbes fight to take place in El Salvador. “Judging by the huge number of Salvadoran fans who came here we have a whole new market,” Arum said.
Hernandez said after Forbes, “I want to fight Jesus Chavez. I want him to win the WBC title then we can fight for a unification.”
Hernandez said David Santos believed all the expectation on the fighter would put pressure on him - but said Famoso, “The pressure was on David. I knew he was upset when they stopped the fight because he felt he was coming on. I knew I won the early rounds and I controlled the fight.
“I don’t blame him being upset when he wouldn’t shake my hand. He wanted to win and he was frustrated. He has that defense that is so hard to penetrate. I take my hat off to him, he’s a good boxer and a great guy.”
“Famoso” wants the Chavez fight because he feels that is the best fight in his division. “This will be a battle of Latino champions,” he said. “Look at the crowd that was here. But I want this fight too because he has a great style for me. I am anticipating a great but difficult fight.”
This was an incredible week for Famoso who is the subject of a documentary entitled “More Than Famous.” Directed by Graham Rich, Famoso learned this week that the documentary has been picked up by HBO - screening date pending.
Following the fight, the busloads of fans who made the trek to the fight threw a party for Famoso and Mrs Famoso at the Howard John-son hotel by the McCurran Airport in Las Vegas. Immediately following that, the couple invited a small group of friends to a private party and to meet their country’s president.
“The Secret Service told us to keep the numbers down,” said Veronica. “But that was okay, by then Carlos was exhausted.”
On Sunday, Hernandez found himself in an unexpected fight: he and wife drove home, like many travelers, battling 50-mile-an-hour desert sand storms.
Still, nothing could spoil his good mood. He even drove home wearing his world title belt.
“I fought my country,” he said. “I fought for all the Salvadorans. I fought for the six million living in Los Angeles and the two million living there illegally.
“I want to be an example of a champion, who made it with team effort. I want to be a good man, more than anything I want to be a good man. Tonight, I am just absorbing the fact that oh my god, I am the world champion!”