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Genaro Hernandez left indelible memories

It doesn’t always work this way, but I gave myself an assignment Monday to stop and reflect on the early loss of a gifted man and boxer, Genaro Hernandez, and on the road of life.

Twenty years ago, I assigned myself to attend my first professional fight, a Hernandez-headlined card at the Forum against a fighter named Pedro Arroyo.

Honestly, I wasn’t there to watch Hernandez. The card also included my favorite boxer of the 1980s, Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns, and an invitation had been mailed to me at the now-defunct Anaheim Bulletin by the Forum’s boxing publicist, John Beyrooty.

Beyrooty didn’t even ask if I’d be writing, instead encouraging me to come to the pre-fight news conference to meet Hearns and later to enjoy the fights ringside, promising that Los Angeles’ Hernandez — also 24 at the time — was a future world champion.

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Eight thousand people were there, Hearns scored a second-round knockout, singer Bobby Brown chatted with me in the press room about his hit album, and Hernandez, nicknamed “Chicanito,” put on a brilliant display of toughness, fast hands and discipline.

Hernandez won the super-featherweight world title in his next fight, and his friend, Robert Ramos, recalled Monday how that event inspired “the whole neighborhood on 23rd Street, that this happened to a husband, brother and dad” on their block.

Monday was Chicanito’s funeral at Resurrection Church in East Los Angeles.

He died June 7 at 45 at his Mission Viejo home after a near three-year battle against a rare cancer of the head and neck. He’s survived by his wife and two children.

The church was standing-room only, including Beyrooty and unbeaten Southern California title contenders Shawn Estrada of East L.A. and Vanes Martisrosyan of Glendale. Tough boxing men wiped away tears after Hernandez’s 11-year-old son, Steven, announced, “My dad thanks you for coming.”

A revealing indicator of the fighter’s broad appeal is that a promoter who had little to do with his career, Bob Arum, paid for the boxer’s dozen visits to a prestigious cancer center in Houston, and that his final opponent, Floyd Mayweather Jr., paid for Monday’s services.

Arum and Mayweather Jr. are at each other’s throats on so many issues, including whether they’ll make the epic Manny Pacquiao fight happen, but they can agree on Hernandez.

After landing The Times’ boxing beat in 2006, I’ve had the pleasure many times to sit on press row alongside Hernandez, who often called fights on television for Arum’s company, Top Rank.

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We would chat about the fighters, whom he routinely had kind words for, and he even once asked for help on some fight facts. I’m honored to join Hernandez in the California Boxing Hall of Fame later this month.

“We talked about this day and he said not to cry, be yourselves,” Hernandez’s brother, Joe, told the crowd Monday. “Thank you, Genaro, for the good times. You’re a true champion as a person, boxer and gentleman. Rest in peace, Champ, we love you.”

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire


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