Last Saturday night at Kansas Star Arena in nearby Mulvane, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Nico Hernandez planted a seed in hopes of growing Wichita into a fight town, as world champions Terence Crawford and Deontay Wilder have already accomplished in the respective hometowns, Omaha (NE) and Birmingham (AL).
More than 3,100 fans purchased tickets Hernandez’ successfully professional debut, stopping Pat Gutierrez in the fourth round. To put that attendance figure in its proper perspective, Wichita has a population of less than 400,000 and in this hoop-crazed state, the appropriately named “KO Night Boxing: History Begins” went head-to-head with the popular Kansas Jayhawks quintet playing on national television in the Elite Eight of the NCAA college basketball championship, as well as The Wichita Force playing at home in indoor football.
The 21-year-old Hernandez is practically a sports franchise in Wichita, second only to the Wichita State University (WSU) men’s basketball team. The city turned out in force at a parade honoring Hernandez upon his return home from the Olympics and WSU awarded him an open-ended four-year college scholarship.
“KO Night Boxing: History Begins” Encore Presentation this Saturday night
The encore presentation of last Saturday’s “KO Night Boxing: History Begins,” featuring the pro debut of 2016 Olympic Bronze medalist Nico Hernandez, will air this Saturday (April 1), starting at 8:30 p.m. ET, on CBS Sports Network.
“The show was a huge success and Nico, as a pro fighter, produced a more complete body of work than we had expected,” Hernandez’ promoter John Andersen (KO Night Boxing) said. “I was very impressed. His amateur background converted to an even better pro style. It really showed his potential and that’s one of the primary reasons we signed him. We really believed in Nico. He is the only fighter we have signed, right now; Nico is our stable! We see things from a different angle than big-time promoters. We understood that he’s a hometown hero, so we had him headline at home his pro debut on national television (CBS Sports Network). We produce our shows on television and we enjoy telling stories like Nico’s. We’d like to come right back to Wichita with Nico fighting in June.”
Lifelong Kansas Sean Wheelock, a non-paid member of the Kansas Athletic Commission that oversees boxing, in addition to calling last Saturday’s fights as a member of the KO Night Boxing announcing team on CBS Sports Network, has a unique perspective on the significance of last Saturday evening’s in terms of local boxing history.
“It was huge for Kansas boxing,” Wheelock explained, “the biggest show in this state since the Tommy Morrison Era (early-to-mid 1990’s). Morrison was an adopted son, though. Nico was born here and he has a deep investment in the Wichita community. Drawing 3000-plus for his pro debut, in a non-boxing market, was phenomenal and he has the potential to do what Crawford has done in Omaha and Wilder in Birmingham. Boxing has strong roots in Kansas and across the Midwest, but MMA has taken over and lately, most boxing in Kansas has been on hybrid shows with MMA and kickboxing.
“Fans were loudly chanting, ‘Nico’ and ‘316’ (Wichita’s area code) before, during and after his fight. I’ve never heard fans chanting for a city like they did, ‘Wichita’, for an individual athlete. And they were also chanting ‘USA’. As a native Kansas, I’m proud that this state has become more ethnically and culturally diverse with more Hispanics living in Wichita. Nico is engaged in the Hispanic community and he is a fantastic kid, too. Because of his personality and fighting style, he can draw locally from Wichita, throughout all of Kansas, and nationally among Hispanics and Americans across the country because of his accomplishment in the Olympics.”
Hernandez is also fighting in one of the hottest divisions in boxing — 115-pound junior bantamweight/super flyweight — showcasing name fighters such as Naoya Inoue, Roman Gonzalez, Carlos Cuadras, Juan Francisco Estrada and recent addition Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Conspicuously absent, however, are top 20 ranked American fighters in this weight class, excluding 36-year-old Brian Viloria, the four-time, two-division (junior flyweight and flyweight) world champion. The opportunity is right there for Hernandez to quickly establish himself as the preeminent American boxer in this weight class.
“There’s no reason for Nico to fight outside of Wichita for a couple of years as he develops,” Andersen noted. “I feel that he can win a regional title next year. Our goal is to have him in a world title fight position within three years. Our goal is to get him 13 to 15 fights and then promote a super fight in Wichita. He started out in a six-round fight. I think he’ll only have a couple more and then move up to eight-round bouts.
“Nico doesn’t waste a lot of punches, so the number of scheduled rounds won’t be a problem for him. Another fighter would have punched himself out in two rounds, fighting at home in front of a crowed like he had supporting him, but Nico showed tremendous poise, settling down and putting his punches together very well. He didn’t chase Gutierrez, he effectively cut off the ring, and his powerful body attack was something he didn’t do as an amateur. We wanted to see how he reacted to resistance and he passed that test with flying colors.”
Andersen noted that his company has promoted several successful shows, noting the big difference is last weekend’s show featured a world-class fighter in Hernandez. “Making the Olympics was a big deal for Nico,” Andersen added, “whether he medaled or not. Nico is to us what Manny Pacquiao is to Top Rank, ‘Canelo’ Alvarez to Golden Boy. We’re lucky to start out with a fighter like Nico. Fighting in Wichita was risk for everybody but it’s already paying dividends.
“We know who and what we are as a promotional company. Nico is our top priority, our only fighter right now, and now we have a great opportunity to build off last weekend’s success. We give Nico all the attention he deserves and he’s going to take advantage of this situation. And we also discovered that there’s some other talented boxers in this market. Whit Hayden did a wonderful job making very competitive fights. That’s his history, he never has blowouts. Whit is one of the most knowledgeable people I know in boxing. He’s the perfect matchmaker to guide Nico’s career, along with Nico’s father (head trainer) Lewis Hernandez, who we work closely with in many ways, in and out of the ring.”