May 16, 2003

Carlos Hernandez: Boxing’s Most Wanted Man

By Fiona Manning

Tuesday’s Los Angeles press conference for IBF 130 pound champion Carlos “Famoso” Hernandez revealed two significant things: 1. He is still the same guy, despite his burst of fame and fortune and 2. He has become the most wanted man in boxing with every fighter from 126 to 140 pounds suddenly wanting to fight him.

Though “Famoso,” who is 38-3-1, 23 KOs, was there to promote his May 31 showdown with former 130 pound Mexican champion Gustavo Corral (12-4-3, 7 KOs) in the main event of Top Rank’s Arrowhead Anaheim Pond show (to be televised locally on K-Cal-9), it was his potential bout with Erik Morales which created the biggest buzz.

“If Barrera vs Morales cannot be made, guaranteed in two to three weeks, Hernandez vs Morales will go into instant negotiation,” said publicist Bill Caplan. “That ladies and gentlemen, is a superfight.”

He’s not kidding: Two exciting, crowd-pleasing, great champions at the peak of their game?

Granted, Hernandez first needs to get past Corral, his first fight since becoming champion.

Not many give Corral a chance against Famoso however who looked very strong and fit when the two men met the press.

Famoso is flying high. Suddenly engendering the kind of media respect usually reserved for Oscar de la Hoya, Famoso is proud of his achievements as the first world champion for the country of El Salvador.

He is also proud of the fact that everybody apparently wants a crack at his crown.

In August, the champ is scheduled to face his mandatory challenger Steve “How Many Pounds?” Forbes – and then – he predicts it will be Erik Morales in what should be a barn-burner.

Morales is among the many screaming for Famoso. Since both men are among Top Rank’s well, top-ranked fighters, it’s a fight that can easily be made.

This isn’t bad for a guy who two short years ago, was considered washed up, shot and otherwise done in the sport of boxing. His metamorphosis at the hands of his remarkable trainer, 82-year old Argentine legend Amilcar Brusa says as much about the fighter as the trainer.

Few experts believed Famous could evolve from his face-first, brawling style. But evolve he did. He is not only a champion today, a fact which Brusa, the maker of 13 world champions including Carlos Monzon, predicted from the day the met, but it is a turnaround which has defied the odds in a sport which quickly robs fighters of their youth.

“I believe Erik Morales is taking us very lightly and he is going to be very embarrassed when he fights Famoso,” Brusa told La Prensa San Diego.

“I think Carlos is so strong right now, he can beat anybody. I think this is a good fight though, I like this fight.”

Trainer Eric Brown who works the Hernandez fight corner with Brusa and is prepping Ben Tackie for his big 140 pound showdown with Sharmba Mitchell, believes that Morales “Cuts up so easy, I don’t think it goes too many rounds with Famous, baby.”

What about Forbes? “A lot of experts felt Carlos was going to have trouble with David Santos [whom Famous defeated to become champion] but look how easily he handled Santos.

“As for Forbes, even 20 pounds heavier than Santos, he had trouble with him. I am predicting he’ll have tons of trouble with Famous, too, baby.”

Nobody present argued with the notion that Forbes has a lot to contend with by just making weight to meet Hernandez. The fighter and his team are almost predicting he won’t.

Famous and his gorgeous, better half Veronica (two and a half months pregnant with Mini Famous) came to meet and greet the media which turned out in droves at the Salvadorian restaurant La Cafetal in the heart of Hollywood’s Little El Salvador district.

A happy, convivial atmosphere prevailed. It didn’t take much coaxing when Caplan asked those present to applaud the champ.

“I know the media is not supposed to clap,” Caplan told the packed crowd. “But since this is the first press conference Carlos has done since he became champion, I would like you all to put your hands together for him.”

El Cafetal thundered with applause and neighbors came out to see what was going on.

Among the cheering fans was Famoso’s close buddy, Galaxy soccer superstar Mauricio Cienfuegas who slipped in virtually unnoticed by the mainstream news media who clearly had no idea who he was.

Until this particular reporter greeted him and other Latino news organizations made a big fuss of him, Cienfuegas remained anonymous.

“Who is he?” asked a reporter from K-Cal 9 who looked bemused by the sea of faces clearly unfamiliar to him. “I usually cover business affairs,” he said.

Yes, it was a big day for Little El Salvador.

Nestled between Koreatown and Little Filipino Town, the Salvadorians have reclaimed what was once fearsome gang territory east of Western. The barbed wire, the savage pit bulls and the rubbish, endless rubbish, have been replaced on local houses.

The lawns are mowed, the dogs are friendlier and the residents are mostly down-at-heel hard working folks, who clearly like to enjoy their evenings out.

While the rest of Hollywood shuts down around 10 pm, a sign inside La Cafatel says in Spanish: “The Kitchen Closes At 3.30am.” Another sign says: “No bills over $20.” This one is in English, which indicated they mean business.

A buffet style meal was squaffed by the press: delicious pupusa (a cheese, corn, meat delicacy) and slightly greasy tamales and big, squishy, deeply friend banana fritters are accompanied by tea, coffee and sodas.

Famous arrived, hugging everyone in sight. It says a lot about him that old gym buddies including the awesome light-heavyweight Jesus “Chucho” Ruiz, whose career was mercilessly derailed by Julio Gonzalez, come to join the fun.

While the adoring kitchen staff brought their famous and most ardent patron steamed fish from the kitchen, the rest of the crowd tucked into what to many were foreign delicacies.

“What the hell am I eating?” a reporter asked Chucho Ruiz. “Is this a root?”

Ruiz nodded. “Turnip,” he said. “Good for you.”

Famoso took the mike and spoke highly of his intended foe, Corral – after thanking the restaurant for the pupusa (which Brusa made sure never touched his dieting lips).

“We sparred two rounds once,” he said. “And they were hard rounds.”

If that seems odd, then rest assured, two rounds, four rounds are not unusual for El Famoso. His trainer Brusa does not believe in extensive sparring. He prefers other methods of training for resistance and speed.

Brusa believes that Famoso is so strong right now, he’s a handful for anybody.

“We want to get Forbes to El Salvador for my title defense,” said Famous. “Give him traditional Salvadorian food, get him sick, fight him sick…”

Brusa, who did not touched a morsel of the heavy food himself during the presser said, “I am happy that he has done everything I have asked of him.”

Sipping a glass of white man, the grand old man of boxing said after his first title defense, he intends to take Famoso to Argentina.

“I want to show him off,” he said. “The people in my country will love him.”

Brusa, who runs his gym like a military boot camp believes California houses the best fighters on the planet and he is glad he picked up roots and moved here.

“Famous deserves everything that is happening right now. Every time I pick up LA Opinion, every fighter in the world is calling him out.

“I say, let them call him out and get a taste of his power. This is a man who wants to be champion not for one fight, but for a long time.”

Famous agrees completely. “No matter who I fight, I will still be champion,” he said as passersby stopped him for his autograph. “Happiness for me is right here, right now. It doesn’t get better than this.”

He urged his own countrymen to flock to Pond on May 31. “Don’t stay home and watch it on TV,” he said.

”Please come to Anaheim and show my promoter Bob Arum that the people of El Salvador are represented. Let them know you matter as much as the Mexican fans.”

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