Holly Holm/Melissa Hernandez: Intrigue in New Mexico

boxingBy Bernie McCoy - It's June, three years ago, and I'm sitting on a bench in a sweltering Gleasons Gym talking to a female boxer who has all of three bouts on her professional record; who has never gone more than four rounds; and who is in the late stages of training for a bout with a world class fighter who has a 33-9 record. The boxer tells me she's looking forward to the trip to Oregon and she's not going all that way out there to lose. Several weeks later, Melissa Hernandez comes back to Gleasons, carrying with her the amazed plaudits of the boxing community, following a ten round draw with Kelsey Jeffries. There follows, in subsequent bouts, a split of two fights with Layla McCarter, a win over Missy Fiorentino and a ten round draw with Chevelle Hallback, a fighter whose name belongs in any sentence in which the term "punching power" is prominently featured. And so, in the final months of 2009, we arrive on the verge of intrigue in New Mexico: Holly Holm/Melissa Hernandez

Many of the techniques of the sport of boxing, both basic and complex, can be taught. The best of boxers learn these elements quickly, almost preternaturally. This learning process is what is almost always the determinant of how quickly and how far a fighter scales the heights of this, the most brutal and difficult of sports. But no matter how fast and how well a boxer learns and masters those skills, vitally necessary for success, the best of trainers, in the sport, will attest to the fact that there are two things no one can impart to any fighter: you can't teach heart and you can't teach tall..

Melissa Hernandez is listed at 5' 3." That could be generous. On the other hand, in her fourteen professional bouts, Hernandez has shown, almost from the first round of the first bout of her professional career, a heart, roughly the size of her native Puerto Rico. Thus, as Melissa Hernandez embarks on serious training for her December 4 WIBA title bout with Holly Holm, announced last week, I make it a split decision in the area of un-teachable, but unquestionably necessary essentials she'll need if she hopes to achieve what would rank as a huge upset in the annals of Women's boxing.

Is Holly Holm/Melissa Hernandez a great match-up? No. Few bouts, requiring either fighter to compete at an unfamiliar weight or endure a disparate size difference, can be considered a great bout (think Laila Ali/Christy Martin; Martin's biggest obstacle in that bout was a five and a half inch height disadvantage.) Instead, a strong case can be made that "the fight" for Holly Holm, at this point, in her career, with her position as the best pound/pound boxer in her sport, firmly established, is with Anne Sophie Mathis. That's a great match-up. Holm's promoter, the estimable Lenny Fresquez, addressed questions about that fight earlier this year, on this page, with Sue Fox. Fresquez stated that negotiations stalled over, (surprise, surprise) "too much money" requested by the Mathis camp. Fresquez is, by a large margin, the best at promoting, in the US, the sport of Women's boxing and there is scant doubt that he went all out to make Holm/Mathis. It's not the first bout in the sport of boxing that will require extended negotiations to put it together. When, and if, Holm/Mathis is made, it will be the best bout, of any year, in the sport.

Instead, on December 4 in Albuquerque, NM, the sport of Women's boxing gets Melissa Hernandez, 5' 3'', stepping up, literally and figuratively, to fight Holly Holm, 5' 8". It's not Holm/Mathis, but here's what it is: Holly Holm and Melissa Hernandez is an intriguing fight. And given the current, near flat line condition of the sport of Women's boxing in this country, intriguing may be, right now, all that the fans of the sport can hope for. And, to be candid, it's not, really, that much of a trade down. For starters, Holm/Hernandez matches two of the most skillful boxers in the sport. Holly Holm has, quite simply, beaten every good fighter in her weight class, with the aforementioned Anne Sophie Mathis exception, starting four years ago with a win over Christy Martin. Experience is another area in which any objective judgment comes up: advantage Holly Holm. Holm has been competing, professionally, for over seven years, with 29 bouts and 209 rounds boxed, resulting in a glowing 25-1-3 record. Hernandez's comparable numbers are four years,14 bouts, 88 rounds, an 11-1-2 tally. Size, experience, wins over quality fighters, and did anyone mention: Holly Holm is a southpaw. Great match-up? Not quite. Intriguing fight? Absolutely.

Holly Holm will be a big favorite on December 4. Along with size and experience, Holm, once again, has a "home court" advantage. That "home court" has never won a bout for Holly Holm in the past and it won't in December, but it's one more hurdle for Melissa Hernandez to overcome. But know this, Melissa Hernandez is accustomed to hurdles; she's accustomed to size and experience disadvantages and she's overcome them in the past, just not the magnitude of the disadvantages she'll be looking at across the ring on December 4: Holly Holm-size disadvantages. But Melissa Hernandez, does nothing halfhearted: whether she's talking about herself, about her sport, training, fighting, she's "all in," all the time. She went "all in" three years ago in Oregon and shocked the boxing world, going ten rounds to a draw with a very good fighter, a very experienced fighter. Can she do the same this time in New Mexico? Who knows. That possibility and that question are major parts of the appeal of this bout.

After that June interview in Gleasons, three years ago, I wrote a piece about the upcoming Hernandez/Jeffries bout and put a "head" on the story: "Melissa Hernandez: 'Looking Up' ".That's exactly what Melissa Hernandez will be doing in Albuquerque on December 4; it's what she has been doing for much of her career, looking up the ranks of female fighters for bouts, tough bouts, anywhere, anytime. That quality, in itself, makes her among the selectively unique fighters in this sport. This time she's looked right up to the top and is facing the toughest bout and the toughest fighter in her career. It's an intriguing fight.

Article posted on 27.10.2009

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