Nico Hernandez Makes Pro Debut in March
Nico Hernandez, who claimed a light flyweight bronze medal for the United States at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August, is set for his professional debut.
The 21-year-old Hernandez, of Wichita, Kansas, will turn pro only about a half-hour from home when he will square off with Patrick Gutierrez on March 25 (CBS Sports Net, 9 p.m. ET) in a scheduled six-round flyweight bout that will headline a Knockout Night Boxing-promoted card at the Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane, Kansas.
Hernandez’s debut, as well as his signing with promoter Knockout Night Boxing, was announced at a news conference at the Star Casino on Thursday.
"I reached the highest level I could in my amateur career and it was time for me to turn pro," Hernandez said. "I’ve always wanted to make my pro debut in my hometown, Wichita. My plan is to do it like (unified junior welterweight champion) Terence Crawford has done in Omaha. I’m hoping it works out as well for me. I signed with Knockout Night Boxing because they’re really going to work with me and I like what they want to do."
Crawford has become a popular draw in Omaha and Hernandez hopes to turn his home area into a boxing hotbed also.
"I also want to thank my opponent for stepping up. I’m training hard and don’t take anything for granted," Hernandez said. "I hope to put on a great show."
Hernandez originally was going to make his pro debut on Dec. 10 in Omaha on a Crawford undercard in a one-off deal with promoter Top Rank, which was considering signing him, but they did not finalize their deal for the bout. Now Hernandez has one with Knockout Night Boxing.
"Our mission at Knockout Night Boxing is to help put Kansas on the boxing map," promoter John Andersen said. "What better way to do that than announcing our signing of Olympic bronze medalist Nico Hernandez to the Knockout Night Boxing Team? I feel having Nico fighting in his hometown, in the main event on CBS Sports Network, is exactly what an Olympian like Nico deserves for what he’s accomplished, not only for himself, but for the state of Kansas. It is such an honor for us to showcase him in the main event, on national television, for the boxing world to see."
Gutierrez (0-2), of Las Vegas, will be the decided underdog but vowed to give it his best effort.
"He represented our country so well and I’m honored to be fighting him in five weeks," Gutierrez said. "It’s a big fight, make or break for me. If I can pull it off, it’ll be a jump start for my career. I plan to put on a good show. I’m coming to fight and I’ll be putting in a lot of hard work."
At the Rio Games, Hernandez ended the medal drought for Team USA’s male boxers, who had not won an Olympic medal since heavyweight Deontay Wilder claimed a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Games. Hernandez won a three-round decision against Ecuador’s Carlos Eduardo Quipo Palaxti in the quarterfinals to clinch a bronze.
Not considered a medal favorite when the Rio Games began, Hernandez’s Cinderella run ended with a decision loss to eventual gold medalist Hasanboy Dusmatov, of Uzbekistan, in the semifinals. Two bronze medals are awarded in boxing.
Hernandez, who began boxing at age 9, returned home to Wichita as a hero. He was feted at a parade, and Wichita State University bestowed him with a full four-year scholarship.
Hernandez, who is trained and managed by his father Lewis Hernandez, went 3-1 during the Olympics and became the first American light flyweight to win a medal since Michael Carbajal — who went on to have a Hall of Fame professional career — claimed silver in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Hernandez says he plans to work toward a degree while boxing professionally.