4. October 3, 1998 – KO 8 Genaro Hernandez, Las Vegas Hilton, Las Vegas
Through his first 17 fights, Mayweather looked every inch the blue-chip prospect. He dominated virtually every second of every round and the way he scored his 10 knockouts had many declaring him the most developed member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic crop.
But when Mayweather signed to fight Hernandez those same experts wondered whether “The Pretty Boy” had bitten off more than he could chew. That’s because the 32-year-old Hernandez (38-1-1, 17 KOs) was a respected veteran who had supreme height, reach, ring craft and a 12-0-1 record in 130-pound title fights. His 130 rounds in title fights nearly doubled Mayweather’s 64 rounds as a pro, but Floyd Mayweather Sr. saw enough chinks in Hernandez’s armor that he advised his son to take the fight. As fight time grew nearer, the “smart money” saw the same things and transformed an even-money fight into an 8-to-5 proposition in Mayweather’s favor.
Hernandez tried to counteract Mayweather’s gifts by using roughhouse tactics, like using the elbow to shove Mayweather toward the ropes. But Mayweather gave as good as he got in that respect, using his own elbow to gain real estate in the trenches and at one point falling atop him when they tumbled to the canvas. Mayweather’s hand speed and already-developed tactical genius slowly trumped Hernandez’s body punching and unorthodox punching angles. It wasn’t long before Mayweather owned a commanding lead on all scorecards.
Realizing his title was slipping away, Hernandez launched an all-out assault in the seventh. He plowed headlong behind body hooks and uppercuts that occasionally pierced Mayweather’s guard. Again, Mayweather was equal to the challenge as he kept his poise and countered brilliantly. While Hernandez enjoyed his best statistical round (28 of 71), Mayweather was even more exceptional as he went 46 of 73 overall – 63 percent accuracy.
Between rounds, Hernandez’s chief second and older brother Rudy said the eighth would be his last – win or lose. When the knockout didn’t come, Rudy was true to his word and stopped the fight between rounds. Mayweather’s performance against Hernandez revived memories of other precocious fighters that schooled veteran champs, like Wilfred Benitez against Antonio Cervantes and Carlos Palomino and Willie Pep against Chalky Wright. From the look of things, Mayweather looked entirely comfortable joining their ranks, but in the fighter’s mind he wanted to exceed them all.