Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s technical brilliance has gotten him through several matchups in which the opponent’s toughness was lauded before being reduced to limited to no issue.
Such was the case when Mayweather won his first world title, on Oct. 3, 1998, against East Los Angeles’ Genaro “Chicanito” Hernandez, the then-defending World Boxing Council super-featherweight champion who had won a string of tough brawls at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood.
Hernandez’s only loss before Mayweather, then a 20-year-old who had become the first U.S. 1996 Olympic product to land a title shot, was to Oscar De La Hoya in a bout for L.A. bragging rights.
After that defeat, Hernandez responded with six consecutive wins, including a 1997 split decision over Azumah Nelson in Texas that clinched Hernandez as an ultimate sportsman.
Nelson hit Hernandez in the throat after the bell, leaving Hernandez knocked out and gasping for air. When he came to he had a decision: If he wanted, he could stop fighting, Nelson would be disqualified and Hernandez would record the victory.
No, Hernandez decided after the seventh round, the fight would continue.
Mayweather knew the story, aware of the older champion’s pride and toughness.
For the Mayweather bout, televised by HBO from the Las Vegas Hilton, Hernandez, then 32, was paid $600,000 while Mayweather -- get this -- earned a purse of $150,000.
Quite a difference from Mayweather’s looming May 2 bout against Manny Pacquiao, which Mayweather said earlier this month will pay him “nine figures for 36 minutes of work.”
"He's going to lose," Hernandez told The Times of Mayweather before their bout. "He's a young guy with no experience.
"I think I can fight for four or five more years. If I can do less and retire rich, that's what I'll do.”
That was not to be for Hernandez, who was picked apart by Mayweather. Judge Bob Logist awarded Mayweather each of the first eight rounds and the other two judges had it scored, 79-73, in the youngster’s favor.
“It took me a couple rounds to feel him out," said Mayweather, a bronze medalist in the Atlanta Olympics. "But after the second round, I started using my jab, and then I took control of the fight."
The difference in skill was so wide that Hernandez didn’t answer the bell for the ninth round, Mayweather collecting the first belt in five divisions up to 154 pounds that he has gained on his way to a 47-0 record.
Just two months later, Mayweather scored a second-round technical knockout of Angel Manfredy, then considered the best young fighter in the division, and a run of eight super-featherweight title defenses was underway.
Hernandez saw it coming, saying after his loss to Mayweather, “Father Time caught up with us. He's a true champion, and he'll be a champion for a long time. He was just too quick for me."
Hernandez never fought again after the Mayweather loss.
And Mayweather never forgot “Chicanito.”
Hernandez entered broadcasting and was a constant at big fights even while taking on the fight of his life, cancer. He made several visits to a cancer center in Texas, the treatments paid by Bob Arum, who promoted the 1998 fight.
In February 2011, at 44, Hernandez told Times columnist Bill Dwyre, “I feel like an old man that somebody needs to take care of. For a while, I lost 50 pounds. I limp. I've got tumors on both shoulders, one on each thigh, one on my neck and three on my back. I haven't been able to produce any saliva for the last two years. I'm hanging in there.”
Four months later, Hernandez died, and his funeral at Resurrection Church in East L.A. overflowed with mourners, as tough boxers wiped away tears.
Mayweather paid for the funeral.