By Derek Bonnett: Persistence can carry a fighter a long way. That, and a pretty damn good supply of underrated talent. For junior welterweight Mauricio Herrera, opportunity and just results in the boxing world have never come easy. Herrera, known as "El Maestro", or "The Teacher", inside of the ring has earned the equivalence of a teaching degree after many lessons while enrolled in the clichéd School of Hard Knocks. However, the pupils Herrera has schooled have, at times, gone on to greater fame or projected success, but now, at age 34, the Riverside, California native is in position to make a serious move toward claiming a full world title. All he had to do was outlast his enemies.
Herrera established himself as a viable junior welterweight prospect by going 15-1 (7) over his first sixteen contests. The lone blemish, a controversial split decision loss to Mike Anchondo back in 2009. A couple of fights later, Herrera found himself across the ring from a then only moderately known Ruslan Provodnikov, who packed big power into a 17-0 (11) record. After twelve rounds on ESPN airwaves, Herrera earned a hard fought unanimous decision, which even Provodnikov later conceded to have lost. The win set Herrera up for another pairing against a fellow prospect in Mike Dallas Jr. This time Herrera settled for a majority win in a victory that seemed more definitive than the scoring margins on two cards. Now, at 18-1 (7), Herrera had established himself as a certified maestro and positioned himself at the head of his class of junior welterweight prospects. Yet, it was Provodnikov who challenged Timothy Bradley and later won a piece of the junior welterweight crown. Dallas Jr. went on to fight for the interim WBC title.
Herrera’s future still looked bright; then came the challenges of Mike Alvarado and Karim Mayfield.
Alvarado was already a more experienced contender than Herrera and the disparity in punching power proved a prevalent key to victory. Alvarado won the bout clearly, but not without a fight. Herrera seemed ready to wilt several times throughout, but that was only to the eye that didn’t know any better. Herrera did enough to make it close on one card, but after ten rounds Alvarado walked away a unanimous decision winner. Without missing a beat, Herrera accepted the challenge of Mayfield immediately following. Trading the power factor for speed, Mayfield won a similarly competitive decision as the Alvarado fight.
In a brief period of time Herrera went from bonafide contender to an 18-3 (7) fighter, who looked to be headed for steppingstone status. Back to back losses have devastated the careers of myriad fighters and sent them on opposing roads before they could ever reach their dreams of capturing a world championship. Herrera, somehow, persevered. To what does the 140-pound WBA interim-champion attribute his resurgence?
"Hard work and staying positive," Herrera explained. "Just the will to be great, win every fight, and overcome any obstacle in my way. I had more confidence from the support of my family, friends, and my fans. The biggest obstacle to overcome is the frustration, the let down you feel inside and all while trying to stay focused on the inside. Sometimes your heart is what takes over in those times."
This energy Herrera fed off of was just enough, as alluded to previously, to supply him with the fortitude to still be standing once several of his former opponents met their own hardships. Provodnikov would gain huge fame off of a Fight of the Year narrow decision loss to Timothy Bradley, but it still led him to a successful title win over Alvarado. Provodnikov reached big-time HBO heights only to crash back down via upset loss to the far less heralded Chris Algieri, who implemented a similar game plan as Herrera had laid out years before. Similarly, Alvarado failed in a Fight of the Year candidate in losing by TKO to Brandon Rios only to rebound with a decision win over Bam Bam to gain revenge. His reign ended, of course, at the fists of Provodnikov. He was further damaged by a twelve round beating at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez. Mayfield only recently came unraveled after losing back to back decisions to prospects in Thomas Dulorme and Emmanuel Taylor. Time will tell if Mayfield has the same mettle within him as Herrera to turn back the odds in the face of consecutive defeats.
It wasn’t mere attrition though which put Herrera back into the parameters of the junior welterweight picture.
In March of this year, Herrera was selected as a "homecoming" opponent for Danny Garcia, who was looking to benefit from his Puerto Rican heritage and step into the limelight as the premiere Boricua fighter of the times. Herrera had rebounded with a pair of wins, most notably a ten round domination of the always dangerous Ji-Hoon Kim. Herrera, a fringe contender at best, forgot to read his script. Instead of making Garcia look even more dominant in the wake of his decisive decision victory over Lucas Martin Matthysse, Herrera looked like a prime Manuel Medina upsetting the odds in one of his five featherweight title claiming efforts. His jab and awkward rhythm controlled the distance and pace of a fight Garcia would likely desire to have erased from memory. It was by no means a beating, but it was a schooling and El Maestro should have claimed both the WBC and WBA 140-pound titles. Instead, one of the most questionable decisions of the year was rendered and Herrera lost a majority decision.
Herrera did not lament the loss too long or let it consume him.
"I learned more about my body and how to train it," Herrera said in regard to his fighting top opponents repeatedly. "One lesson was to not over think about my opponent, to be myself, and have fun. The fight with Danny Garcia best represents me as a fighter. I’m here to make a name for myself. I want the fans to feel proud and entertained by the fighter I am in and out of the ring."
Herrera is certainly making a name for himself and his fan-base has grown exponentially since the Garcia defeat. Because of his growing popularity and attitude, some of those opportunities will come more quickly. Especially in light of his recent defeat of Johan Perez in July to become the WBA interim-champion. The interim belt essentially equates to number one contender status in the division in the eyes of the WBA.
So, what’s next? Garcia? Provodnikov? A welterweight venture? A grudge fight?
"I feel some great fights can now be made and it puts me much closer to a world title fight," stated Herrera. "[Before], I felt that a Provodnikov rematch didn’t make sense since we were both still unknown. Now, we both are in the spotlight and I would be open to a rematch. I would love to capture a world title at 140 [,but] I feel I can go up to 147. There are so many names; I want them all! I’ve never known any of them personally enough to have a grudge with them. This is the reason why I stay relaxed and focused all the time. Someone like Thurman would be a great fight."
At thirty-four, Herrera is far from youthful, but age has become less and less of a definitive factor inside of the boxing ring over the years. After centuries of professional fisticuffs, styles still make fights and Herrera’s just might be the right one to attain junior welterweight supremacy or, at least, continued success. Even in a division where he lacks serious firepower when compared to some of his current contemporaries, Herrera is poised to dole out a few more lessons.
"I am El Maestro because I like to be a technical fighter in the ring," Herrera asserted. "I always had that style, although fighters like Chavez, Toney, Napoles, Benitez, Hopkins, amongst many others, are fighters I adopted my style from. Being a great boxer with a solid chin, I feel, is a power puncher’s kryptonite."
Teach on, Herrera. Teach on.
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August 1, 2014