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Mauricio-Herrera

Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera has battled some of the best junior welterweights in the world and beaten most of them.

So why can’t he get a little more attention?

“It’s funny but after my last fight some fans recognized me on the street and asked for my autograph and photo,” said Herrera, who resembles Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi. “That had never happened to me before.”

A stirring performance against WBA and WBC junior welterweight champion Danny “Swift” Garcia changed all of that this past March.

“A lot of Puerto Ricans came up to me after the fight and told me I won,” said Herrera. “That made me feel good.”

Herrera (20-4, 7 Kos) hopes to continue those feel good performances when facing Venezuela’s Johan Perez (19-1-1, 13 Kos) at the MGM Grand on Saturday, July 12. The Las Vegas fight card will be televised on Showtime PPV.

Time after time, the junior welterweight from Riverside, California has shown a fearlessness that belies his unintimidating looks. From the very first time he stepped in the boxing ring as a professional, Herrera faced quality opposition.

“My first fight was at junior middleweight against a much bigger guy, Angel Osuna,” said Herrera, adding that Osuna recently suffered a career ending injury in the boxing ring when he was knocked out of the ropes by Hugo Centeno and fell hard on the edge. It resulted in a subdural hematoma but luckily Osuna survived. “I didn’t care if they were bigger or had good records. I just wanted to fight the best.”

Herrera realized when he started at age 27, he couldn’t afford to gradually climb up the professional ladder. But despite beating quality opposition and dangerous fighters that others avoided, Herrera fell beneath the radar.

It seemed that nobody was paying attention to Herrera, who fought under Thompson Boxing Promotions the same group that discovered Tim “Desert Storm” Bradley and Josesito “Riverside Rocky” Lopez.

Apparently someone else was watching.

Golden Boy Promotions had been watching with keen interest “El Maestro,” especially after the come-from-behind win over Ruslan Provodnikov that some ranked as the Fight of the Year in 2011. Then, in 2012, Herrera had another breathtaking performance against undefeated Mike Alvarado in Las Vegas. The clincher was his brilliant display of boxing with the champion Danny “Swift” Garcia in Bayamon, Puerto Rico this past March 15.

When Herrera’s contract with Thompson Boxing ended, he was immediately approached by Golden Boy Promotions. He signed and now is set to perform on the big stage.

“It feels good and exciting, it’s a big card,” said Herrera, age 34. “I can’t really ask for anything more.”

Herrera trains in a desolate hillside gym in Mira Loma that can only be accessed by driving on dirt roads. Visitors are scarce, especially during the summer when temperatures surpass 100 degrees inside the boxing facility. One day, three unexpected visitors arrived.

“Oscar (De La Hoya) came down last week with Robert Diaz and Eric Gomez to watch me train. I didn’t know they were going to come,” said Herrera. “Everything is coming together.”

Herrera asked the Golden Boy trio that he fight the best junior welterweights in the world. Though offers have come from many welterweights, the Riverside boxer with a style that can best be called similar to James “Lights Out” Toney prefers to make his mark at 140-pounds before tackling the 147-pounders. And when that happens, he can think of a few fellow Riverside County prizefighters that would stir up the neighborhood.

Years ago Herrera sparred both Josesito Lopez and Tim Bradley. All three knew that they might meet again someday in the future.

“Bradley said we couldn’t spar anymore because he could foresee us fighting against each other one day,” Herrera said, remembering that day. “Tim is looking for a fight and now that Top Rank is working with Golden Boy again it’s a fight that can be made.”

The other big match would be Herrera and Josesito Lopez.

“Put me and Josesito and me in the ring and see what happens. We’ll make it our retirement fight,” says Herrera.

But first Herrera must get by the talented Johan Perez, who has victories over Steve Forbes and Yoshihiro Kamagai.

“He’s a good fighter and very tall,” Herrera says of Perez. “I just have to get past Perez for everything to happen.”

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