Run, Rabbit, Run
Hernandez flees fight site; Cisneros steps in, loses near-shutout to Holm
Ringside report by Chris Cozzone
Chris Cozzone and Gerardo Martinez
Photos by Chris Cozzone /FightWireImages.com
“Off to hunt the rabbit . . . it’s war, bitches.”
-- Melissa Hernandez on Facebook, approx. 7 p.m., Friday night
It was 6:30 p.m. – a half-hour before first bell – when Melissa “Huracan” Hernandez blew into Isleta Casino & Resort in Albuquerque, where a tiny 18-foot ring awaited her showdown with Holly Holm.
“How do you like the 18-foot ring?” this reporter asked Hernandez, who was testing out the canvas before heading backstage to prepare for what was easily the biggest fight – and payday - of her career.
“I love it,” said Hernandez, grinning. “It’ll keep the ‘Rabbit’ from running out of the ring. I won’t have to chase her.”
Hernandez was wrong, for, by the time the main event was slated to go on, it was, neither, a small ring, a big payday, nor the glory of proclaiming oneself the No. 1 pound-for-pound best in women’s boxing, that could keep one rabbit from bolting.
In this case, however, the rabbit turned out not to be Holm, but Hernandez.
All week, Hernandez had been taunting Holm, calling her “The Rabbit” and, at Thursday’s weigh-in, presented her foe with a string of carrots. After a week of one-sided smack, Hernandez had talked a good talk, forecasting “Huracan Season” on Friday night, and announcing herself not only the pound-for-pound best of her sport, but, no less, the personification of woman’s boxing.
Unfortunately, for a packed house of 2,800 disappointed fans and countless others on a $8.95 webcast, the only hurricane that hit the Southwest Friday night was the one that knocked back Isleta’s doors when, at approximately 8:30 p.m., the so-called “Rabbit Killer” bolted from the arena faster than . . . well, faster than a jack rabbit, to disappear down the ol’ rabbit hole.
Hand-wraps and a rabbit’s foot
It was during the eight-round co-main event that the drama began backstage.
Unable to locate Hernandez or any member of her team (they were watching Esquibel-Warner), Holm’s corner proceeded to wrap their fighter’s hands without a representative of Team Hernandez present. When Hernandez’s team found out, they immediately demanded a re-wrapping.
According to several eyewitnesses, ranging from Isleta’s athletic commission officials to Promoter Lenny Fresquez and his staff, to representatives of Holm, Team Hernandez was refused at first, until Hernandez threatened to pull out.
At that point, they conceded – but Hernandez stormed off, regardless. For a half hour – while the co-main concluded and an intermission had been staged to keep the crowd from getting antsy – commissioners and promotional staff tried unsuccessfully to locate Hernandez.
Unsure whether she would return – thinking this was just another ploy for drama – a desperate, literal last-minute opponent search was conducted. Meanwhile, Hernandez was reached by phone by promoter Fresquez in her hotel room, at the other end of the casino.
“I told her to come back and we would re-wrap Holm’s hands,” said Fresquez. “She told me, ‘This is nothing a little money wouldn’t fix.’”
Refusing to be a victim of extortion, Fresquez told her to, ‘Forget it,’ for, by that time, a substitute had been secured.
Pulling a rabbit out of his hat, or, pardon this inexcusable number of bunny puns, Fresquez had a lucky rabbit’s foot in the form of Victoria Cisneros.
Unwon in nine bouts – since 2004 – Cisneros, 3-8-2, 0 kayos, was a mismatch on paper, but, sliding past a handful of rules ranging from pre-fight physicals, a pregnancy test and an official weighing in, the desperate match was made and the unlikely challenger went from spectator to main eventer, borrowing shoes, shorts and a mouthpiece to fight the top female fighter in the world.
Also looking the other way were representatives of, both, the WIBA and NABF, who were around to sanction the originally scheduled Holm-Hernandez mill. Despite Cisneros’ record and the last-minute assembly, both organizations saw fit to collect their sanctioning fees and mark the fight as one of championship caliber, rather than downgrade it to non-title or reduce it in rounds.
On the positive side, Cisneros had been in the gym, however, for on Tuesday, a fight in Philadelphia scheduled for this same night, had fallen through. On the other hand, Cisneros had undergone a two-hour workout that afternoon at the Jack Candelaria Community Center.
Regardless, the fight wasn’t on, but, at least, a fight was.
Holm takes on Cisneros
The fight card went from “Bad Blood” to “Bad News,” when the ring announcer told the waiting crowd that “The bunny has left the building.” A mere smattering of boos from a crowd who might not yet have caught on that Hernandez was going to be a no-show, escalated when Cisneros made her ring entrance. Those boos diminished, however, when Cisneros was announced as an Albuquerque fighter.
By the end of the night, though, Cisneros, in staging not only the fight of her career, but, hands down, the most courageous performance seen this decade in New Mexico, would be rewarded with cheers as loud as anything received by Holm.
Despite the last-minute arrangements, the mismatch in records and skill, and the distasteful drama displayed by Hernandez, the resulting fight was, miraculously, entertaining. Sure, Cisneros was fighting a giant – in regard to rank and skill – but where she lacked in punch pop and talent, she made up for in heart.
What previous opponents had been unable to do – never mind the belts, the rankings, the records – Cisneros accomplished. She might not have won a single round, but in giving Holm a bloody nose and forcing the champion to fight a mauling, brawling mill, without an ounce of quit or give in her, should give the unlikely stand-in a permanent spot as a crowd favorite on future local fight cards in New Mexico.
Holm outboxed from the outside, moving around while Cisneros, slipping and countering, pushed forward, full of aggression. Holm turned the tables in the second, going after Cisneros and landing with increasing frequency, but Cisneros, driven by pure heart, refused to back down, though outgunned in nearly every aspect of the game.
Round three saw furious action, both fighters trading in the pocket, Holm landing cleaner and harder, while Cisneros, nearly dominant in the first minute, was staggered in the final moments. Holm obliged Cisneros in the fourth, mauling and brawling with Cisneros, her bigger punches racking up another round with increased punishment on the overmatched late sub.
Cisneros was in trouble in the fifth, when Holm kept to plan by peppering her opponent from a longer range. Near the end of the round, Cisneros was staggered again. Despite the barrage of punches coming from Holm, Cisneros, however, in the sixth, not only weathered the champion’s relentless attacks, but managed to fire back.
“Let me finish! Let me finish!” Cisneros yelled at her cornermen in between rounds.
In the seventh, Cisneros turned up the volume and landed more shots than in previous rounds, but it still might not have been enough to win a single round yet. Holm’s shots continued to be the cleaner and harder.
Using the ring and her superior footwork, Holm kept to the outside in the eighth. Midway through, Cisneros, tired of chasing, stood her ground, waiting for Holm to come to her. That she did – and Holm’s hooks and straight lefts continued to rack up points and rounds in the bank.
In the ninth, Cisneros had succeeded in winning over the crowd. Despite a knobby bump on her forehead from a clash of heads, never mind being outclassed and outpunched, she dug in deep and threw herself at her foe, forcing Holm not only to brawl but giving the champion her first bloody nose in 28 bouts.
In the final round, the two traded non-stop, whipping the crowd into a frenzy, Holm’s shots continually the harder, the cleaner, the more frequent. When the bell rang, the two embraced and it was a tearful Cisneros who held her hands up for recognition to a cheering crowd.
Two judges – Sanchez and Harmon – awarded Cisneros a single round, while the third, Saiz, saw it a shutout: 99-91 twice and 100-90, unanimously for Holm.
Despite the punishment, Holm heaped an equal amount of praise on her opponent following the fight.
“After all of her [Hernandez] conduct, everything that has been staged all week,” Holm told the audience, “the real champion here is Victoria. I honestly couldn’t tell you that I would’ve been able to do what she did tonight.
“I didn’t know what was going on, when they told me Melissa had gone. I thought it was a joke, but it wasn’t. But I’m so thankful for Victoria. This is such an awesome thing she did here tonight. It turned out to be a better fight and a great night for boxing.
“I knew she was game, but I had to switch my game plan on the spot. From sparring Victoria, I also knew she was in shape.”
With the win, Holm moves her record to 26-1-2, 7 KOs.
“I did what I had to do,” said Cisneros after the fight. “They offered it to me and I didn’t even think, ‘I’ll do it,’ I said. This is boxing – this is what we do.
“I showed up to watch the fight and I was ‘dressed to impress,’ but I didn’t need my stuff. I love boxing and I love to fight. I knew Holly is a wonderful fighter, but it never entered my mind not to take the fight. My family didn’t even know I was fighting – and we live a half-mile away.”
Cisneros is now 3-9-2.
Hernandez was not heard from, other than on Facebook, when, at 10:45 p.m., she wrote:
“I didn't pull out of the Holm fight. Team Holm didn't wanna rewrap when asked at 8 pm. At 9 pm I walk out the area due to the commission and Team Holm saying they wouldn't rewrap. When I was already in my hotel room [a short walk to the opposite side of the casino] then they said they'd wrap. After being told no time after time no. Sorry fans I'm not to be toyed with.”
At 2 a.m., Hernandez’s publicist issued an official statement, claiming the fight was not on the level, citing hand-wrap issues, disagreement on gloves and choice of officials.
“I am not slandering anybody, but the press was all about her,” stated Hernandez. “We discussed two out of state judges and referee and that didn’t happen plus we had agreed on Everlast, Winning or Reyes gloves and they presented me with TKO gloves. They finally caved into that for something they already agreed upon. And oh, by the way, I was moving up THREE weight classes and she didn’t make weight but we swept that under the rug.”
[Note: Holm officially weighed in at 139.8, and the contract was 140 pounds, a catchweight for Holm’s welterweight (147) belt.]
“I think the most ironic thing is that they were able to find an opponent in ten minutes. Pretty ironic that they had somebody on stand-by when most fighters won’t fight on less than a day’s notice, if that. The replacement went ten rounds with her, so the fans know what I would have done to her. I am not downing Holly but let’s do this on fair terms and the world will find out who the baddest girl in the sport is.”
Unfortunately, for women’s boxing, it is unlikely that there exists a promoter in the country who would dare to risk an attempt to stage Holm-Hernandez – let alone one would even gamble on using Hernandez against any fighter.
Hernandez, who was, of course, unpaid, faces indefinite suspension from Isleta’s athletic commission.
Warner upstages Esquibel for NABF belt
In the eight-round co-main event, a rematch from 2005, former two-time title challenger Jodie Esquibel (5-5-1, 2 KOs), of Albuquerque, dropped a split verdict to New Yorker Suszannah Warner (9-8-1, 2 KOs), for the NABF minimumweight title.
Esquibel won the early rounds by outboxing Warner, but midway through, momentum swung the opposite way.
In the first, Warner chased after Esquibel in a close round, Esquibel busier and bouncing on the outside. Able to get within Warner’s longer reach, Esquibel took the round by outpointing her foe, zipping in and out of range.
Round three was a better round for Warner, who was able to close the gap on more than one occasion, to maul Esquibel. In the fourth, closer still, it was Warner’s pressure and straight rights against Esquibel’s attempts to catch her foe coming in. By now, Esquibel’s nose was starting to bleed; Warner’s pressure making its mark.
The fight changed in the fifth, when Warner came out swinging. Backing up Esquibel, Warner’s straighter punches raised a welt under Esquibel’s right eye. Tying up more often than throwing, Warner edged the round.
Warner went to the body in the sixth, then turned her attention upstairs where she landed an increasing number of rights and hooks to Esquibel’s face. It was Warner’s first dominant round – but not her last.
In the final two rounds, Esquibel was kept on the defense while Warner mounted a relentless attack. Unable to counter effectively, Esquibel sought to trade with Warner but control of the fight was, by now, long gone.
The judges were split: 78-74, one each way, and 77-75, giving the win to Warner.
In a six-round super bantamweight bout, knockout artist David Proa (6-1, 6 KOs), of Albuquerque, hailed as the next Danny Romero, suffered a shocking loss when he quit after two rounds, to Roberto Guillen (5-4-3, 1 KO), of Glendale, Ariz.
In his previous bouts, only one had made it out of round one (1:12 into round two), but on this occasion, finding himself unable to kayo another victim, Proa found himself folding.
Guillen kept the fight to the outside, keeping Proa off balance, frustrated and unable to land his sleep producer. Following Guillen around the ring, winging Hail Mary shots, Guillen was outpointed.
Same thing occurred in the second. Counterpunching effectively, Guillen caught Proa coming in on several occasions.
Before a new game plan could be hatched, Proa tossed up the sponge in between rounds.
“I feel so bad, but I got tired from losing too much weight,” Proa said afterward. “I’ll rematch him and knock him out, trust me. I tried but had nothing.”
Proa said he’d lost 30 pounds in two weeks to make weight for this bout.
Crespin, Sanchez draw
In a rousing four-round featherweight bout, Amanda “Boom Boom” Crespin (0-1-1), of Las Vegas and Jessica “Diamond” Sanchez (1-1-2), of Albuquerque, fought to a draw.
Crespin started and finished strong, but was clearly gassed in the middle rounds when Sanchez poured on the punishment.
Looking nothing like her gun-shy debut in the summer, Crespin put a beating on Sanchez in round one, landing several barrages of clean combinations on the defenseless Sanchez.
In the second, Crespin, puffy in appearance, wilted dramatically – and Sanchez came alive, taking the fight to the former amateur star. Long, straight right hands and a jab landed on Crespin. Shots to the belly were added in the third.
In the final stanza, Sanchez held back while Crespin found the energy to stage a comeback, landing the best shot of the night – a crisp Crespin left hook that staggered her opponent.
After four, all three judges, and NewMexicoBoxing, had it the same, 38-38.
Brooks stops Bruffy-Holmes
In the opening bout, Albuquerque lightheavyweight Michael Brooks (2-0, 2 KOs) over came a scary minute-and-a-half to stop a winded Christian Bruffy-Holmes (0-1) in round two.
Bruffy-Holmes came out like a whirlwind, jabbing and landing big rights on Brooks. But midway through the round, he’d emptied his gas tank and Brooks, after weathering some big shots, turned the tables, making a close round.
In the second, Bruffy-Holmes was defeated before leaving his stool. Clearly gassed, it didn’t take much from Brooks to finish him off. A right hand – barely a brush stroke – floored him after the first minute. Soon later, another shot put him down again. This time, Referee Rocky Burke waved off the fight, official time 1:45.