Floyd Mayweather has been the most famous name in boxing for the entirety of the new millennium, even after his retirement from professional competition.
We often hear about his triumphs over Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alvarez, Oscar De La Hoya, and Ricky Hatton. But it’s not every day that the average boxing fan reminisces on his first major victory against Genaro Hernandez.
Maywearther and Hernandez squared up on Oct. 3, 1998, at the Las Vegas Hilton for the WBC 130 lb title. Hernandez came in as the champion, owning a 38-1-1 record, and had only lost to Oscar De La Hoya up until that point, back in 1995 for the WBO lightweight title. He had the edge in experience and championship pedigree.
This did not deter Mayweather’s confidence, as the 21-year-old pugilist waltzed into the ring with an undefeated 17-0 record for his first taste of world title glory.
In retrospect, the fight looked like just another day at the office for “Pretty Boy” Floyd, as he was then called. Much of what transitioned him into “Money” Mayweather was on display.
As for Hernandez, he put up a noble effort, but was thoroughly outclassed through and through. Let’s examine the bout and what it took for Mayweather to start a lasting legacy.
Mayweather took the inside early and as usual, got his jab going. Defensively, he showcased an instinctive retreat, leaning back to evade early punches. Hernandez came out bouncy on his feet and mobile. Both fighters were on the hunt to counter. While Hernandez landed a nice right to the body, Mayweather was more tactical and took round one.
The second round saw Mayweather switch things up and go into his patented shoulder roll. He also changed his focus from strict jabs to hooks upstairs while making Hernandez miss. Hernandez was able to get another clean hook off to Mayweather’s ribs, but Pretty Boy was feeling confident as he let his lead hand drop, looking for openings.
The next round saw Mayweather bask in that confidence, letting his hands go in atypical fashion for him. A three-punch combo forced Hernandez to close himself up. Sensing that he would be in a 3-0 hole if he didn’t do something quickly, Hernandez upped his punch count too and got his first real shot off upstairs. But Floyd was able to tag him with another right and do enough to sweep the feel-out rounds.
Round four was the only round I gave to Hernandez, as he went all-out, unleashing a range of combinations in his arsenal.
As we would continue to see later in his career, the only thing that could give Mayweather any type of problems was a relentless attack. Later in Floyd’s career, we saw De La Hoya go crazy on Mayweather. We also saw Marcos Maidana use every bit of the battery in his back to smother Mayweather in both of their contests; chiefly their first encounter which some saw him winning despite the official decision.
In this fight, Hernandez did exactly that in round four and was able to open up Pretty Boy Floyd upstairs by first tagging his body. Unfortunately for him, that would be his only moment under the sun in this one.
From round five and on, Mayweather put on a clinic. He got Hernandez up on the ropes and scored the punch of the night with a precise uppercut. He returned the prior favor by scoring points to the abdomen before peppering Hernandez upstairs.
What was once a mobile and light-footed Hernandez became a flatfooted and stationary fighter who was slowly watching his championship reign slip away.
The fight came to an end as a briefly successful defense from Hernandez — who put both of his gloves to his face forming a barrier with his forearms — was effectively countered by Floyd.
As round eight came to a close, Hernandez’s corner called the fight, and an emotional Mayweather let it all out as reality set in that he was now a world champion.
Hernandez would retire after losing to Mayweather. The 32-year-old finished with a record of 38-2-1, having held the WBC super featherweight title with three successful title defenses between 1997 and 1998 and before that, the WBA super featherweight title which he had earned all the way back in 1991.
Hernandez would die of cancer in 2011, and Mayweather, who had for years consistently noted his respect for the man who gave him his first championship shot, paid for his funeral expenses.
As for Mayweather, he would enjoy a successful undefeated run all the way into his retirement in 2016. He racked up 50 professional victories to zero defeats and draws, became the cash cow of the sport for a decade, a household name as the sport’s premier pay-per-view attraction.
Mayweather changed the sport in more ways than one. His business acumen opened the door for fighters today to be more savvy with their contract negotiations. Further, his defensive style of fighting limited the damage he took in the ring and so far, has allowed him to transition into life after boxing without much visible wear-and-tear.
Currently, Mayweather has continued making a killing off of exhibition fights against popular names in the entertainment sphere, while also mentoring young fighters, opening up boxing gyms around the country, and adding to his bank account in a multitude of lucrative endeavors.