Bringing hope to fellow Salvadorans was key to Hernandez's success
When Carlos Hernandez steps into the ring, the crime rate in El Salvador drops. Coincidence? Hardly. William Dettloff looks at one fighter's fistic plight to cure his people's woes.
Originally Published: October 2, 2008By William Dettloff | Special to ESPN.com
AP Photo/Jane KalinowskyWho says nice guys finish last? Former world champion Carlos Hernandez does his part to be a positive role model.Watching it happen in front of you, you could have been excused for thinking Carlos Hernandez had been born and raised in El Salvador, the tiny Central American country teeming incongruously with hopeful, world-worn souls and displaced Los Angeles gangsters. He wept through the postfight interviews after beating David Santos for the IBF super featherweight title in Las Vegas way back in 2003, and thanked all his fans back in El Salvador, which was where his heart was, it was easy to see. Hernandez wasn't born in El Salvador; he was born in California. His parents didn't even meet while in El Salvador; they met after immigrating to the United States and settling in California. But throughout Hernandez's battle with Santos, then Salvadoran President Francisco Flores cheered from ringside alongside several dozen flag-waving Salvadorans bused in from Los Angeles. There is a 10,000-seat arena named after Hernandez in San Salvador, the nation's capital, and though he dislikes the term "celebrity" as a way to describe his status there -- "celebrity is like, Brad Pitt," he says -- the word fits. "When I'm there it seems like I'm related to everyone," Hernandez told ESPN.com, and chuckled. "Everyone's like, 'I'm your cousin,' or, 'I'm your uncle.' And they're not."
That's what Hernandez gets for being the first, and thus far the only world boxing champion of Salvadoran descent. It doesn't matter that it wasn't an undisputed title or that he managed just a single defense (against Steve Forbes) before losing the belt to Mexican champion Erik Morales in Las Vegas in 2004. It doesn't matter either that in his other very big fights, against Genaro Hernandez in 1997, Floyd Mayweather in 2001 and Jesus Chavez in 2005, Hernandez came up short. In a recent comeback win over Hector Alatorre after two years off, Hernandez, who is 37 years old now, didn't impress. No matter. He remains royalty in the land of his ancestors. El Salvador has seen its share of tragedies -- from a brutal civil war that lasted throughout the 1980s, to frequent earthquakes and landslides, to a murder rate that is among the world's highest. It is against this backdrop that Hernandez, modest of skill and temperament but with a real prizefighter's heart, emerges as a hero. "[When I won the title] I cried during the interviews because it was very emotional; I did it for those people [in El Salvador]," Hernandez said. "They are poor people and have no heroes. To bring them hope and happiness was very special for me and my family."
AP Photo/Amy Beth BennettHernandez has traded blows with some of the best fighters of his generation, including Erik Morales, left.
[When I won the title] I cried during the interviews because it was very emotional; I did it for those people [in El Salvador]. They are poor people and have no heroes. To bring them hope and happiness was very special for me and my family.
-- Carlos Hernandez, on the significance of being the first world champion of Salvadoran heritage
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