A fresh start brought fresh results for Modesto boxer Rodney Hernandez.
The 29-year-old, who hadn’t won a fight in two years, pulled off an upset two weeks ago, winning a split decision over LaRon Mitchell in a Northern American Boxing Federation junior heavyweight title fight in Sacramento.
Hernandez, who trains at Modesto’s Salvation Army Red Shield Center, won on two cards — 77-75 and 78-74 — and lost on the other, 77-75. The “junior” division was created by the NABF specifically for up-and-coming boxers, regardless of age. Its fights can be limited to eight rounds.
Mitchell, a 38-year-old Los Banos native now living in San Francisco, entered the eight-round bout unbeaten at 16-0. Hernandez trained for months and had to prepare to fight not just another boxer, but a personal friend in Mitchell.
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A month before the fight, the two sparred together.
“I focus on the person I’m going to fight ... what are his weaknesses and his strengths?” he said. “I don’t get scared. I don’t get nervous. I just love fighting and I love this sport.”
Hernandez’s manager, Tara Mehring, believes Hernandez might have turned a corner, advancing from brawler to boxer. He was a far different opponent Mitchell saw from when the two sparred.
“He stayed inside the whole time and kept putting pressure on LaRon, (who) couldn’t use his leverage,” Mehring said about the June 30 fight. “He didn’t expect that because prior to this fight, Rodney didn’t know how to box.”
Hernandez’s approach allowed him to overcome Mitchell’s seven-inch reach advantage, Mehring said.
Fighting professionally since 2011 and carrying an 11-7-2 record, Hernandez credits Red Shield for his recent success. As he walks the halls and through the basketball courts at the west Modesto gym, he is greeted with the smiling faces from both adults and children.
Prior to his arrival there, he said past coaches wanted him to be “all thug.”
“Once I learned to be a good person, more and more doors opened for me,” he said.
Said Mehring: “He needed to be with a team that believes in him, that can build him up, and can move him in the right direction.”
Hernandez said that his coaches — Andres Mariscal, Anthony Mariscal and Juan Barrera — didn’t just teach him technique but “they taught me to be polite and how to be like a gentleman.”
Of his victory over Mitchell, he said, “it’s because of Red Shield and my manager that I got this belt. If it wasn’t for them, then I would’ve still been stubborn.”
Being able to bring the belt home to Modesto meant a lot for the gym, he said.
“It means I can inspire people. Motivate people.” Hernandez said. “People that don’t have anything can have that confidence that ‘Hey, there’s a champion that’s out of this area – that means I can be a champion, too.’ And that’s pretty cool to hear.”
Weighing future fights, Mehring said she puts her fighter’s goals before the money.
“There are offers coming in but I won’t entertain them if they can’t help us move him in the direction that we want to go in,” Mehring said. “We have to fast-forward and focus on building up his career, on getting him to the next level because that’s our goal.”