Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera meets Hank Lundy in a junior welterweight showdown on Saturday night.
In recent years, Herrera has leaped from relatively anonymous stature to becoming one of the most feared 140-pounders today.
Herrera (21-5, 7 Kos) fights Lundy (25-4-1, 12 Kos) at the famous L.A. Sports Arena in the main event, and it will be the final boxing match ever held at the historic venue.
HBO Latino will televise the Golden Boy Promotions event that signifies the 57-year-old end of a glorious boxing arena.
So why is every highly ranked junior welterweight so afraid of Herrera?
“As far as I’m concerned Mauricio Herrera is the true junior welterweight champion,” said HBO’s Max Kellerman loudly after Herrera was robbed of another decision this past December in Las Vegas. “He just doesn’t have the belt.”
For the past seven years Herrera was a well-kept secret known mainly by boxing fans in the Riverside County area of Southern California. Because he started boxing professionally at the late age of 27, he was thrust into the vipers den.
How many prizefighters begin pro careers at 27?
On August 2007, he stepped in the ring against Indio’s Angel Osuna, a tough, rugged middleweight with height, power and a tremendous chin. It was also Osuna’s debut and nobody realized at the time that Herrera was really a junior welterweight. (Osuna, sadly, suffered a brain bleed almost two years ago during a fight he was winning with Hugo Centeno. He was hospitalized over a month and no longer boxes.) The fight ended in Herrera’s first win as a pro. It never got easier.
Despite the ring shock of learning on the job against solid talent, it was in 2009 that Herrera got his first good test, facing L.A. southpaw Cleotis “Mookie” Pendarvis, a speedy and clever fighter also trying to crack the contender ceiling. That night Herrera took a short while to figure out Pendarvis. But once he got going he kept the pressure on and was able to keep Pendarvis on defense. It was a classic showdown between two very skillful boxers. Herrera won by majority decision.
Next was former world champion Mighty Mike Anchondo, a schoolyard legend from La Puente. He was a great amateur and also one of the early signees with Golden Boy Promotions. He grabbed a WBO super featherweight title in July 2004 but lost against Argentina’s Jorge Barrios in 2005. In 2009, at the Chumash Casino, Anchondo was looking for another world title shot in the junior welterweight division. Though many felt Herrera won, two of the judges did not and Herrera suffered his first loss.
The Riverside fighter told his promoter at the time he wanted another high profile fight. Meanwhile he was fed Efren Hinojosa and Hector Alatorre, two credible opponents with very solid experience. He defeated both. Now he was ready for television again.
Russia’s Ruslan Provodnikov was on every contender’s “avoid list” after he knocked out former world champion Javier Jauregui and Emanuel Augustus in back-to-back fights. Jauregui was embarrassed by the much stronger Provodnikov and was in survival mode after the third round. Augustus, arguably one of the finest boxers in his prime, was stopped in the ninth round. Nobody wanted anything to do with Provodnikov, except Herrera.
The year 2011 was barely a week old when Herrera and Provodnikov met at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas. It was a cold night and a good crowd was inside, many venturing from the Riverside area to see the Friday Night Fights with ESPN.
When the bell rang, a battle erupted with both barely feeling out each other. Herrera emerged with a large welt on the side of his head and he was bleeding. It didn’t look like the Riverside junior welterweight was going to be able to fight much longer. It was barely one round and it looked bleak for Herrera.
Provodnikov was strong and confident as he looked at Herrera coming forward in the second round. They fired again but this time Herrera’s punches were landing first and Provodnikov couldn’t seem to find the target for the finishing touch. He never did. Round after round Provodnikov tried to take Herrera from his senses. Instead, he began showing signs of withstanding blows as his face began to swell too from the many strikes. After 12 brutal, bloody and close rounds, all three judges gave the fight to Herrera. It was a remarkable turnaround and would wake up the rest of the country that saw it on television.
World title fights
Though blessed with remarkable reflexes, intelligence and tenacity, Herrera never had explosive power. Whenever he walks into a fight it’s always the other fighter that has a record of impressive knockouts on his ledger. Judges seem to look at the record and give fighters with more knockouts more credibility.
When Herrera was matched against Mike Alvarado, one judge gave the Riverside fighter only one round out of 10. When Herrera fought Karim Mayfield he was given only two rounds by one judge. Against Danny Garcia in a fight for the world title, the world felt Herrera won but he was denied. Even fans in Puerto Rico where the fight was held felt Herrera was robbed of the decision.
“I had lots of Puerto Ricans come up to me and tell me I won the fight,” said Herrera, adding that he was surprised and pleased by the response from fans in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. But he felt he should have walked out of the arena with the WBC title wrapped around his waist.
Last December, Herrera met undefeated Jose Benavidez for the interim WBA super lightweight title in Las Vegas. After 12 rounds that saw Benavidez against the ropes peeking through his gloves, all three judges scored it for Benavidez. Dozens of boxing writers were on hand and only one saw it for Benavidez. His own promotion company felt he lost. His own father thought he had lost. But three judges at the fight somehow felt Herrera did not do enough, though he was the one carrying the fight and landing most of the blows.
Despite living a mere 60 miles from Los Angeles the Riverside fighter has never fought in the City of Angels. Herrera fought mainly in the Inland Empire, where a resurgence in boxing has taken place in the last 20 years.
History knows Los Angeles as a hotspot for boxing for more than a century. Fighters like Sam Langdon, Jimmy McClarnin, Joe Louis, Baby Arizmendi, Sugar Ray Robinson, Art Aragon, Ike Williams, Mando Ramos, Muhammad Ali and Oscar De La Hoya blazed their way into the record books of boxing history. One of L.A.’s famed boxing venues for the past 60 years has been the L.A. Sports Arena. Now it’s closing its doors after this final fight card by Golden Boy Promotions.
Facing Herrera will be Philadelphia’s “Hammerin” Lundy, a long-time contender and like Herrera, a boxer who doesn’t have a lot of pop but does have a lot of skill. He’s defeated several fringe contenders and lost a few too. But except for the knockout loss to John Molina Jr., one could argue the other losses can be disputed.
“We could both be undefeated,” said Herrera, during their opening press conference last month in Los Angeles.
Lundy expects to win in front of Herrera’s home crowd and promises to be a handful.
“This is going to be an a– whipping,” said Lundy. “I can’t say too much because I don’t want to scare you.”
Herrera barely blinked when he heard those words. But he knows one more win and he can get Lucas Matthysse or maybe even Timothy Bradley.
Lundy gave Herrera his props for his previous fights.
“That fight against Danny Garcia, you won that fight. And that’s coming from a guy from Philadelphia,” said Lundy to Herrera.
This will be the last fight ever held at the L.A. Sports Arena. Ironically, boxing was the first sporting event ever held there. Boxing will close it down for good. The venue is being targeted for demolition and will be replaced by a soccer stadium. It’s blocks away from where the U.S. women’s soccer team recently celebrated its World Cup victory in front of more than 10,000 fans earlier this week.
The historical factor is not lost on Herrera.
“We’re going to close it down,” said Herrera.
A fiesta is planned on Saturday and begins at 1 p.m. Music, a beer garden, autograph booths with many current and former boxing champions, including Paul Gonzalez, will be on hand. The doors open for the boxing card at 4 p.m. It should be a memorable event.