By Fiona Manning
Carlos “Famoso” Hernandez is a certified champion in the hearts of Salvadorians everywhere - with or without a world title to his credit.
He is now just a little bit more “famoso” since he traveled to El Salvador last week for the Central America Games, where the fighter was invited to light and carry the Olympic-style torch.
“It was an honor,” saiid Famoso, who on February 1, 2003 aims to cement his people’s faith in him by defeating “Diamond” David Santos when the two meet at Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino for the IBF vacant 130 pound title.
“I am so focused, so ready, I am so pumped!” Hernandez said when La Prensa San Diego visited him in his third day back at base camp, the La Brea Boxing Academy in the heart of old Hollywood. This stretch of Los Angeles is known as the Miracle Mile for good reason.
81-year old uber trainer Amilcar Brusa puts his handful of fighters through rigorous training for each and every fight. He alternately hugs Hernandez, then pushes him to the limit and beyond in the next breath. Hernandez however is a willing participant in the boxing equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition.
Argentine-born Brusa, who took the legendary Carlos Monzon to the world middleweight championship, has always maintained Hernandez, whose record stands at 37-3-1, 23 KOs, would be his next world champion.
“He has all the qualities a fighter needs to become champion,” Brusa said. “He works very, very hard. He is willing to learn new things and above all, he is willing to listen. I always tell Carlos that a fighter who does what he wants is doomed to failure.”
Hernandez feels the weight of responsibility of public expectation - especially in the Latin countries. It makes him even more determined to work harder.
“El Salvador has never had a world champion in any sport,” he said. “I am going to the first world champion the country has ever had. I receive so much love and support from Salvadorians everywhere. Now if only El Salvador was a state in the US, we would sell out Mandalay Bay!”
Hernandez and his wife, Veronica Hernandez are very excited about the second world title shot the fighter has had in 12 months. He lost a very hard-fought won fight decision last year to Floyd Mayweather, jr.
It was the first fight for which he and Brusa worked together and the partnership keeps getting better and better.
“We are like fine wine,” said Brusa.
Veronica concurs. “I felt all the cards were stacked against Carlos in the Mayweather fight,” she said.
Hernandez’s more gorgeous half is very involved in her husband’s career. Think Teresa and Johnny Tapia meets Vogue.
“The cards are on our side this time, this a much more even fight,” said Veronica. “We are only in phase one of the training and Carlos is already in tremendous shape.”
Veronica has meticulously worked out the training regime for her husband. She and Brusa have it all worked out to a science, including diet, supplements and the type of training Hernandez will do in each phase of the schedule.
“Yeah, I want Fernando Vargas’ nutritionist,” Hernandez joked [referring to the man who gave Vargas Steroids. Vargas was subsequently suspended and fined by the Nevada State Athletic Commission].
Veronica even configured the pilgrimage she and her husband made to El Salvador for five days for the Central America Games.
“It is the Olympic Games for Central America,” said Veronica. “31 countries are still competing, including Puerto Rico. Cuba was going to participate, but pulled out at the last minute. We’re quite disappointed actually. We were hoping to discover a couple of Cuban fighters and bring them back here!”
Veronica heeded her hus-band’s deep desire to attend the Games. ”Salvadorians are the second biggest Hispanic minority in the US after Mexicans, so Carlos wanted to participate as much as possible. He wanted to do this,” she said.
Brusa, the sport’s toughest technician didn’t worry about this brief camp detour because he knew Veronica would make sure Famous followed “The Plan” even on the trip. He trusts and admires Veronica so much he has asked her many times to be a part of the corner, but Veronica prefers to remain outside the ring.
“We are a team,” she said. “Except he’s in the ring and I work the outside of it. Everything we do must work as a whole and it does.”
It’s well-known in boxing circles that promoter Bob Arum prefers his Mexican fighters to the rest of his tribe. “He feels they are the ones who sell tickets,” said Veronica. “I think things have been especially hard for Carlos in boxing because he isn’t Mexican.
“I wish people could know that we get Mexican fans coming up to us all the time who tell Carlos they love him, even though he is not Mexican. They tell him they love him because they love to watch him fight.”
Veronica laments they have not had the opportunity to fight in California since they signed with Top Rank.
“We would love to show Top Rank that he can sell tickets here. Well, our fight is in Las Vegas but I have a feeling people will go there to see this fight. Hopefully the Salvadorian community here will go. There are 800,000 of them in California alone. We have the support of a whole country. Some of them will go for sure!”
The president of El Salvador who is an avid Hernandez fan calls frequently. He and the vice president are already talking about bringing Hernandez to El Salvador for his first title defense at a stadium which holds 60,000 people.
“Oh my God,” said Hernandez. “I better do more squats!”
“I can’t even think about this,” said Veronica. “We have a fight to think about. One glance at her husband and he knows. Time for mitts.
Team Hernandez remains very respectful of opponent Santos. No trash talk here, folks.
“I watched his fights with Luis Lizarraga and Steve Forbes,” said Brusa, locking his stash of candy in a cupboard (he’s serious about every morsel of food that goes into his fighters’ mouths).
“Santos is a very good boxer. Santos has few flaws. He has a very good style, and an interesting shell-like defense. However, I can say without a doubt of being wrong that Famoso is better.”
Hernandez himself felt Steve Forbes beat Santos convincingly and feels bad that he is getting the opportunity to fight for the title because Forbes lost his title due to his failure to make weight three months ago.
“As a fighter, I know how tough it is, the struggle to make weight. In all the confusion of who was going to be mandatory challenger to the vacant title, who was going to be number two, I am happy to fight Santos.
“I am just very happy to have a chance for the title shot. I will happily give Forbes a chance to fight me for it when I win it. That’s a promise.”