Go to a Wichita North cross country meet in the fall, and you will see one of the best runners in the state. A state qualifying season in his freshman year, and a finish in the top thirty last year as a sophomore are not bad to put on a high school athletic resume.
But for Nico Hernandez, cross country is just a part of training for the real sport; boxing.
As good as Hernandez is at distance running, pugilism has now taken him to international prominence. After winning the Junior National Championship, Hernandez earned a spot on Team USA at 101 pounds and is representing America at the Veles Cup in Kurgan, Russia.
“It’s a real big deal to me,” said Nico’s father and trainer Lewis Hernandez. “It’s a good accomplishment for somebody here out of Wichita. You don’t really see anybody, except for a few guys like (Victor) Ortiz and (Brandon) Rios, from Kansas who have made it, but kind of never accomplished what Nico has done out here, out of Kansas.”
Making the US Junior Olympic team and representing the United States makes Nico the best fighter in the country. But on the world-wide scene he is just as dangerous, ranked No. 2 in the world.
The Veles Cup is a round-robin tournament, not unlike a wrestling dual tournament. Countries assemble their best talent at each weight, and square off against each other. Points are acquired with a win and the country with the most points gets a team win. The country with the best record gets the championship.
So far, Nico has asserted his world dominance, beating Ryan Green from Ireland 19-10 on Tuesday, stopping his bout against Semen Tomilov from the Russian local team with a 15-point 17-2 advantage on Thursday, and handling a German opponent on Friday, extending his Cup record to 3-0, with one fight against the Russian National team on Saturday remaining.
Nico has a small mountain of both Silver Gloves National Champion belts and Ringside World Championship belts. But the transition to Olympic boxing brings a different scoring system into play.
Olympic boxing utilizes a computerized scoring system manned by five different judges. When a fighter lands a clean blow with the full force of the body, a judge pushes a button for the corresponding fighter. If at least three of the five judges push the same fighter’s button within a second of each other, the fighter is awarded a point. The fighter with the most points at the end of the bout wins the decision.
The Olympic-style scoring puts an emphasis on landing with clean punches, where Silver and Golden Gloves scoring can reward aggression and volume punching.
Nico’s style has translated well to the computerized scoring. His ability to stay on the outside, jump in when the opportunity presents itself, and look for flashy counters on his way back out have served him well on the scoreboard. And the experience in the system may serve invaluable in the next four years.
“It prepares you for the Olympics,” said Lewis Hernandez. “Nico’s dream, he tells me he wants to win the gold medal in the 2016 Olympics. That’s his dream. That’s what he wants to do. This gives him a good international tournament, I mean international because it’s the style of fight that he will be having to fight. So if he can do good here as a youngster, it only prepares him because he knows what he has to look for now.”
While the chance to make the US Olympic team to compete for a gold medal will have to wait four years, the opportunity as a Junior Olympian has not been a bad experience so far.
“He told me this was one of the happiest times of his life because he said he’s never had the opportunity to be a representative for the USA,” said Lewis. “He just said it was a big, big deal for him because he wanted to win for the USA. It wasn’t so much for Northside Boxing Gym, but it is to be a representative from the USA.”
Click here for results and video from the Veles Cup.
Check back next week for a full wrap up with Nico after he returns from Russia.