By Fiona Manning
International Boxing Federation 130 pound champ Carlos “Famoso” Hernandez has the weight of Central America’s hopes on his shoulders when he steps into the ring at Staples Center in Los Angeles on October 4.
And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
El Salvador’s favorite export since mountain-grown coffee, has been embraced not only by legions of fans from his own countries (the US and El Salvador) but the countries of Nicaragua and Panama eagerly anticipate “Famoso” to retain his title and cement his place in history when he faces his toughest challenge to date: former IBF titlist Steve Forbes.
This isn’t the first time Famoso has fought for a world title on his home turf. In 1997 he challenged the great Genaro “Chicanito” Hernandez for the WBC title.
You can be sure Chicanito will be on hand to see his friend defend his championship and once again make the annals of boxing lore: He did it the first time in February by becoming the first-ever Salvadorean to become world champion in any sport.
Famoso intends to hang onto his belt and therefore create a new chapter in history: to be the first man from El Salvador to successfully defend his world championship.
“Forbes can’t win it because it’s not his anymore,” said Famoso today. “This belt belongs to me and it belongs to the people of El Salvador.”
Famoso, who was born and bred in East LA, is proud of both his American upbringing and his strong Salvadorean roots. The champion, whose record stands at 33 wins, 3 losses, 1 draw with 24 KOs, celebrates 13 years as a pro fighter this year.
“I still love it,” he said. “I still have the same passion for it and I feel like I keep getting better and better.”
With his first baby [a boy] due in December to him and his wife Veronica, the champ feels fate has finally smiled on him.
“I will be victorious,” he told La Prensa in his final days of sparring for the fight. Enduring blistering rounds with the formidable “Irish” Ben Dunn and Armenian firecracker Karen Hartounyan, Famoso clowned around in the final seconds of his sparring but even those closest to him have never seen him so focused, so business-like.
“I am very happy, very proud,” said his trainer, the esteemed 82 year old Argentine legend, Amilcar Brusa.
Brusa, who took the extraordinary Carlos Monzon to the world middleweight championship said even Monzon was not as dedicated to the work ethic as “Famoso.”
“He’s something special,” said Brusa who endures streams of well-wishers and a Salvadorean film crew which has been omnipresent, simply because “Famoso” never loses sight of his goal.
“Forbes doesn’t have a prayer,” said Pepper Roach, who along with brother Freddie Roach, runs the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood where Famoso and Brusa have hunkered down to work.
Brusa let Famoso call the shots by ankling from the quiet La Brea Boxing Academy to the loud bustle of the Wild Card.
For three months, the pair have made themselves an endearing fixture at the gym. Young and old stop to watch Famoso spar, a feeling of crackling electricity in the air.
Famoso has every fighter in the gym on his side, such is his personality and sheer will-power.
Carlos “Famoso” Hernandez serves as a living reminder of what it is possible to achieve against all odds and against all conventional wisdom. At a career point when most fighters would be fading slowly into the sunset, Famoso is at his prime.
A book and a movie will soon be forthcoming, but he takes all of it in stride. He has a fight to win first and allows himself no shortcuts.
“I have a lot of respect for Forbes,” he said. “I know he wants to win too so I can’t take him for granted. He has a lot to prove because he lost his title under bad circumstances.”
Forbes was stripped of the IBF title last September for failing to make the 130 pound limit. There is no word on how he is doing with his training since relocating to Portland, Oregon but Famoso and company are not counting on Forbes coming in flabby again.
October 4 is a difficult day for fight fans because James Toney (a friend of Her-nandez) fights Evander Holyfield in Las Vegas.
Hernandez, headlining his own show at Staples Center on a Pay-Per-View card, shares the bill with WBC champ Erik “El Terrible” Morales, another huge draw for the Latino community.
If Bob Arum, the promoter of both Hernandez and Morales has his way, theirs will be the next super-match.
It’s a fight Famoso welcomes, not just for the money and prestige, but as an official acknowledgment that he has arrived.
“Of Mr. Arum wants to make that fight happen, then I would love to fight Morales,” said Famoso who acknowledges this would indeed be a hot-ticket show.
His upcoming fight is selling briskly but his main concern is giving the fans what they want: Latin Fury (as the show is billed).
To that end, Arum is indeed giving the ticket-buying fans their props.
By staging the show in Los Angeles, he is giving local fans access to not only Morales (who fights former champion Guty Espadas) and Hernandez, but Jorge Arce who rounds out the “big guns” for the night.
Lightweight prospects Cristian Bejarano of Chihuahua, Mexico and Zahami Gracia of Anaheim were today added to the card.
Bejarano, 9-0, 5 KOs, a five-time Mexican national amateur champion, will appear in a six-round lightweight bout. Gracia, a popular lightweight from Anaheim, is 6-0 with 6 KOs, appears in a four-round bout. Opponents will be announced for both.
Gracia will open the fight card at the Staples Center, getting into the ring at 6:45 p.m. PT. Bejarano will be next, boxing around 7:15 p.m.
Erik Morales arrives in Los Angeles on Friday evening and will be at the Staples Center Saturday to shake out in a ring raised in Lot 3 beginning at 2p.m. in a public work out. He will be joined by Famoso and ‘Tun Tun’ Cardenas.
“I don’t feel any pressure, any stress. I’ve worked very hard,” said Famoso. “Everything that is happening is what I have been preparing for my whole life. Ever since I was a little kid sitting in school, I knew I wanted to be champion of the world.
“At that time, I had no idea what sport I wanted to be champion of and quickly discovered it was boxing. I want to be the best fighter I can be and the best champion I can be. I can’t do anything less than to give the best of me.”