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  Final Goodbye To “Chicanito”
Champion Genaro Hernandez Laid To Rest

By Michele Chong - courtesy of myboxingfans
Photos: Michele Chong & Steve Harpst
They came one by one in a steady stream until each and every pew of the Resurrection Church in East L.A. was filled.

Paying tribute to a champion, they came from both near and far. Close as in literally down the street from Boyle Heights; far away as in flying in from the country of Japan.

Some wore their finest Sunday suits while others came straight from the gym still in their sweatsuits.

Some faces were instantly recognizable as famous fighters whose hands have been held high in victory; others were faces of loving family members, friends and associates of decades old.

But it didn’t matter what you wore or who you were. We were all there this past Monday to honor one man, to bid a final goodbye to two-time world champ Genaro Hernandez, known to most as “Chicanito” (38-2-1, 17 KOs).

“One last hurrah” as his brother and close ally Rudy Hernandez had promised him. In my special report with a look at some exclusive photos, you can see what a great last hurrah this truly was for the former super featherweight.

On June 7, Genaro, 45, lost his brave battle against a rare form of cancer after valiantly fighting back against the deadly disease for almost three years. He died in his home in Mission Viejo surrounded by his family.

While we watched this aggressive cancer ravage his body until ultimately rendering his legs useless, I clearly saw “Chicanito’s” championship heart and iron will remain. His memorial service on Monday afternoon was a testament to how much he was loved and admired by those in boxing circles with a crowd of approximately over 1,000 attending the Catholic mass. Members in the Boyle Heights church told me the wooden pews seat about 850 people and there were additional attendees standing near back of the church, foyer and even spilling out into the parking lot. One thousand memorial cards with a beaming “Chicanito” were also handed out during the funeral procession.  

While it was as solemn and sad as you could imagine, the service was also inspiring and uplighting as it was called a “Mass of Resurrection: Celebration of Life” at the Roman Catholic parish in Los Angeles.

While the patrons continued to pour into the church, outside I found two young warriors holding down the fort, 11-year-old Steven and his cousin, Michael, age 12. The boys were pitching in–doing their part along with the whole family–as cars quickly filled the parking lot and surrounding neighborhood with their uncles also greeting the guests. Steven is Genaro’s son and Michael is Rudy’s son–the next generation of the Hernandez clan. “We’re on ‘car duty’!” the kids told me as I checked out their unique outfits for the day of black cornermen’s jackets embroidered with Top Rank and “In Memory” messages. Staying strong, the champ’s son said with a nod, “All of us are wearing these; there are a whole bunch of us.”  

He was right; many pallbearers were outfitted in the same uniform as the Hernandez kids.

In the church lobby, colorful photo collages and posters of the WBC and WBA super featherweight titlist lined the walls. The family also made special pins with a gold cancer awareness symbol and a picture of the Southern California boxer.

Then as the service began, we all turned to face the back of the church. At the entrance awaited the last walkout for the champ. With Steven bravely leading the team of pallbearers, he led his father’s casket to the front of the church as Genaro’s daughter Amanda, 19, his wife of 21 years, Liliana, and other family members slowly walked behind them. While the inside of the church was dark, at the moment the champ was brought in bright sunshine flooded through the windows, seemingly heralding his final entrance. Young Steven led this procession with his relatives including Genaro’s father, brothers and cousin and boxing trainer Javier Capetillo. Strong and poised beyond his years, the boy made his fallen father proud.

After the blessings and the Communion was given, Genaro’s brother Joe and other close friends addressed the crowd with heartfelt eulogies. There was also a slideshow with numerous photos of the smiling pugilist.

And as “Chicanito’s” wishes were, they also reminded everyone in the church to “Be Yourselves!” Yes, there was plenty of grief and tears, but it was also a memorable and moving time shared by all. Notable thanks of appreciation were also given to Bob Arum and the Top Rank family (for covering Genaro’s many trips to MD Anderson in Houston), promoter Akihiko Honda and Teiken Promotions (for all their support and assistance), José Sulaimán, Mauricio Sulaimán, the World Boxing Council (WBC) (for hosting a benefit dinner and more), boxer “Sugar” Shane Mosley (for paying for doctor and nurse care in Genaro’s few remaining days), and controversial fighter (and Hernandez’s last opponent) Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (for his generosity in paying for the funeral).

When the benedictions in both Spanish and English were complete, those in the church were invited to come up to the open casket to say goodbye to the popular boxer, who retired from the ring in 1998. Flanked by beautiful floral arrangements, Hernandez was an eternal warrior at peace wearing red boxing gloves, a Teiken Promotions satin robe and his WBC green and gold belt.

Starting from the last row in the back, each paid their respects to the strong-willed Mexican warrior and his surviving family members, including father Joe Rudy, brothers Joe, Rudy, Victor, sisters Carmen and Maria.

If Rudy Hernandez hoped to give his hermano “one last hurrah” and mentioning he wanted Genaro’s two kids to see how much their father was loved and respected, then it was a wish fulfilled.

Besides beloved family and friends, I watched a veritable “Who’s Who” of boxing walk up the church aisles. With so many packed into the church, it took almost two hours for those to pay their final respects. But nobody complained. The service was full of dignity and grace, just as the champ had been. From his champions and fellow fighters, from boxing managers and officials, from veterans of the game to fresh amateurs on the rise, I recognized so many from this huge “pound for pound” turnout.

I saw tons of former and current prizefighters including WBC Super Bantam Champ Wayne McCullough, who was there with wife Cheryl and their daughter, dancer/singer/actor Wynona Leigh (“Wy Mac”); I also saw WBC Light Middleweight Champ Vanes Martirosyan, WBO and NABF Super Featherweight titlist Urbano Antillon, IBF Lightweight Miguel Vazquez, WBC Welterweight titlist Carlos Palomino, WBC Female Welter Champ Mia St. John, NABA Super Featherweight Champ Kevin “Flushing Flash” Kelley, NABA Light Middleweight Shibata Flores, WBC and USA Light Welter titlist John Montes, NABF and USBA Bantam Oscar “The Boxer” Muniz, USA State titlist Joey “The Pasadena Kid” Olivera, plus 2008 Olympian Shawn Estrada, amateur star Xavier Montelongo Jr., young boxers Frankie Gomez and Walter Sarnoi, MMA fighter Manny “Bam Bam” Lara, among many other fighters in attendance.

The boxing community as a whole came out in strong support for one of their own.

I also saw, greeted or visited with others including Japanese promoter Akihiko Honda, Akemi Irie and Nobu Ikushima from Teiken, Top Rank matchmaker Bruce Trampler, the famed Forum Boxing family, publicists extraordinaires Bill Caplan and John Beyrooty, KT Promotions’ Tom Loeffler (Klitschko brothers), Espinoza Boxing Club’s manager Frank Espinoza and Frankie Espinoza Jr., boxing managers Francisco “Pancho” Espinosa, Sergio Diaz, Jackie Kallen, boxing trainers Robert Garcia, Dub Huntley, Abel Sanchez, Ben Lira, Kevin Morgan, Jorge Estrada Jr., trainer and sculptor Steve Harpst, cornermen Joe Chavez, Tony Rivera and Gil “Candyman” Nieves, boxing commentator Rich Marotta, WBC Supervisor Craig Hubble, WBC “Judge of the Year” Max De Luca, WBC Supervisor Rudy Tellez, WBC Legends of Boxing Museum’s Jaime Ochoa, USA Boxing and AIBA official Krysti Rosario, World Boxing Federation’s Alan Santana, All Star Boxing’s Ed Holmes and Pete Hironaka, Childrens Hospital Los Angeles’ Albert Garcia, amidst several of my fellow boxing writers, photographers and so many more who filled the church that I didn’t have the chance to see.

There was such a big crowd from all walks of life, but we had one shared goal of honoring “Chicanito” in saying our final farewell.

After leaving the casket, we offered condolences to the family.

Seeing his brother, Rudy, whose strength and solid backbone was remarkable during the tragedy, I told the trainer and cutman, “You did so good, Rudy!” I meant in general to the day’s proceedings. But upon hearing that statement, Rudy paused, looked at me with a bit of surprise and asked, “Did I tell you that?”

“What?” I replied.

“The last thing he said to me was, ‘We did good, huh?’ and I told my brother, ‘Yeah…We did good!’”

Liliana Hernandez also gave a moving tribute to her husband, as her close friend Angel Honda read the thoughts she had carefully written out. I told his wife that I thought her speech was perfect and Lily replied, “It was all from the heart.” The family, always classy, always humble, painted a portrait of the man the knew so well, the man who refused to give up or give in to cancer.

During his fierce battle against cancer, Genaro never did give up. Many have told me how much he has inspired them, thus leaving a legacy for all. He and his family never gave up faith; they never gave up, period.

While we witnessed him taking a tough stance against the disease, those in the sport speak of how they will remember the champ.

“He was loved by all,” female boxing icon Mia St. John shared. “I remember meeting him for the first time nearly 15 years ago. Later we would become friends and he would teach me the greatest lesson I ever learned in boxing–that no fight was ever worth my life! Our family and our health must always come first.”

After the mass was over, I caught up with a veteran boxer who knew Genaro for years, and grew up knowing him. “He’s in my prayers; it’s really heartbreaking,” an emotional Urbano Antillon had told me. “I wish the best for them in staying strong for the family and the kids,” the Maywood fighter added. “We’re here for them.”

Outside of the church, guests stayed to chat and visit with each other, happy to run into long-last friends but sad that it was under such tragic circumstances of losing one of boxing’s best.

“It’s always hard to lose on of your own,” boxing pioneer and manager Jackie Kallen said as she gave me a hug. “This is so hard,” Kallen, known as “The First Lady of Boxing” said, “to lose someone so special from our boxing fraternity.”

Another one who’s life was touched by the SoCal champ is Manny “Bam Bam” Lara. The up-and-coming MMA fighter trained in Lake Forest with Hernandez, first at LA Boxing, later at the Reign Training Center and then finally in the garage of Genaro’s house! While polishing up his boxing skills, Lara says he loved working with “Chicanito.” “Not only was he a great champion but he was such a great mentor and even better person,” remembers Lara. “He meant a lot to me and many others. His guidance and love for us (fighters that he coached) was priceless,” Manny says. “I trained with him for two years and he never once complained about the cancer.”  

Now the fighter known as “Bam Bam” is planning on dedicating his own career to his mentor. “I will be using ‘El Chicanito’ for my next fight–and maybe keeping it for my whole career as I am dedicating my career to him,” the young puncher says. “I asked him the Friday before he passed if it was okay and he said that he will always have my back–so I want to make sure his name lives on!” Lara will be fighting on August 18, at the OC Fairgrounds, close to where Genaro resided.

Besides Lara’s tribute on the canvas, two Southland promoters will also be honoring Hernandez. Ken Thompson and Thompson Boxing Promotions will be holding a raffle this Saturday, June 18 for a Mercedes-Benz, with all proceeds benefitting the family. The promoter and former World Boxing Hall of Fame President will also hold a “Ten Count” for the champ during his June 24 show in Ontario. The next night, on June 25, promoter Roy Englebrecht will host a boxing/MMA show in Pico Rivera, under his Roy Englebrecht Promotions. During the evening, the first-ever “Salute to Great Champions” will be bestowed upon “Chicanito,” with his family accepting the award in his honor.

His family knows the boxing community won’t forget him. “My brother left knowing that boxing has great people,” Rudy stated. “Thank you all for being there for him.”

For me personally, Genaro always stood out as one of my favorite subjects to interview because he was so open, down to earth and funny. During our chats, he would tell me a couple of “off the record” stories and one day I said to him he should write a book about his life.

“Michele, if you ever want to, I would love to tell you my whole life story. People would be amazed,” the champ replied at the time. “I believe I could be an inspiration to kids in poverty!” Hernandez, who grew up in the school of hard knocks continued.

“If I could have my life written out, people would be really interested in knowing what I did as a kid–and the things I had to do to become a World Champion!”

With his passing, Genaro Hernandez had so many chapters left unwritten. Such as it is in life, we never did find the time to put all his thoughts on paper.

And for “Chicanito,” I’m glad that his remaining time was better well spent on what were the true priorities in his life–seeking medical treatment, spending time with his beloved family and working ringside as a commentator at fights.

This Hall of Fame fighter was a husband, a father, a son, an uncle, a nephew, a cousin, a coach, friend and co-worker to many.

Beyond that, he was a CHAMPION to all.

Psalm 73:26

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.


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