Alexander “the Great” Hernandez

Alexander “the Great” Hernandez
Photo courtesy of UFC

He is humble, very much so, and thus my high regard for Alex Hernandez. In over seven decades I have seen much, and understand better than most the truth of the maxim that “pride goes before a fall.” In any athletic endeavor, and in the fight game especially, success can be a spoiler of character, particularly when the fighter begins to believe his press. When this illusory thing we call fame goes to his head a crash inevitably follows.

Not so with Alex Hernandez. One morning nearly two years ago at Ohana’s central location in San Antonio, I asked him if he would allow me the privilege of rolling with him. This was a 71 year old man nearly fifty years his senior making the request, and Alex, humble young man and cage champion that he is, agreed! Certainly there was no contest in it for him, but he agreed. In that moment he ensured my respect for him as one a cut above in character. I look forward to meeting his father, for this young man has been taught well. Religious leaning or not, you may bank on the veracity of the scripture which proclaims, “Be thou humble and I the Lord God will lead thee by the hand.” It has been so for Alex.

Alex was 23 at the time, but I was much impressed by his well thought out manner of projecting his future. “I’m on the way up,” He confided, “but in the process I’m not going to allow myself to be drawn into a fight I’m not ready for, as some fighters do.” That was two years ago. His climb has been carefully measured and fruitful.

I first became aware of Alex in March of 2013 when he began fighting in Jeff Bonugli’s mixed martial art event in the Rio Grande Valley, where he fought for and defended the Hero FC lightweight championship belt in several successive events. Bonugli, whose ambition it was to feed fighters into the UFC, doted on Alex’s fighting prowess, and called my attention to him early on. There was always difficulty in finding Alex worthy opponents. In those early days, when one particular fighter, although of some talent, opted out of a fight with him at the last moment, I thought it was just as well. He was not in the same league. Few were.

What is the risk in taking up a fight with only a week to get ready? The risk factor is extremely high, in this case exacerbated by the fact that Alex was going from the minor leagues into the big league. What fighter is physically able to get to peak condition in a week? Plus there is the mental aspect, the psyche up for the pending bout, and this has got to be troubling. Realistically speaking, for most fighters in this situation, a win is not in the cards, and a loss is all but inevitable in going up against a fighter who has had months to gear up for a fight. Beneil Dariush, with twelve bouts in the UFC, of which eight were in the win column and one a draw, was probably expecting a fairly easy night against a rookie awed by his experience. And he would surely have been banking on fighting an opponent who had less than a week to train.

Alexander “the Great” HernandezIn that frame of mind, it was Dariush, the seasoned UFC veteran, and not Alex Hernandez who entered the cage unprepared. It was Hernandez, the rookie, and not Dariush who set the tempo for the fight, in a pure exhibition of shock and awe. Dariush obviously had not taken the time to study and watch Alex’s fight films. Among other things, he would have known that Alex was on a seven fight winning streak. That fact alone would have spoken volumes to him of his opponent’s level of confidence. He might even have deduced that Alex Hernandez is one of those rare individuals who strives to keep himself at a fighting edge at all times.

One chuckles at the words of the announcer, concerning Alex’s aggressive start in the fight by faking a touch of the gloves and instead firing a front kick to Dariush’s chest, “The problem with a quick start like that…Whoa! Whoa!” just as Alex fired the perfect punch, catching his opponent with a lightning left to the jaw, knocking his opponent out cold, as the marquee above lit up to, “MOVE OF THE FIGHT” and a guaranteed $50,000 dollar bonus for “Performance of the Night.” Next the viewer was treated to the astonished face of Ohana’s Professor Jason Yerrington as he climbed into the ring, and trainer John O’Rourke jumping up and down in the background.

There is yet another side to the new UFC fighter. It has been said that one of the greatest sins of men upon the earth is that of ingratitude. None of that for Alexander Hernandez, who continuously gives credit to Ohana Academy and those who over the years have contributed to his career as a fighter. As an individual, he is a certainly credit to the parents who raised him. As a martial artist he is a credit to Professor Jason Yerrington and Ohana Jiu Jitsu of San Antonio, and to those who have graced his path in the mixed martial arts. Those of other camps, such as former UFC contender Pete Spratt and such as Richard Janie Odoms count him as one of their own, for he is a San Antonio fighter and a Texan.

Congratulations, Alexander “the Great” Hernandez.

Fuentes defends title

I like a good stand up fight when I can get it. David Fuentes, a 3rd Dan Goju Ryu stylist fighting out of Jeff Bonugli’s Green Ghost Academy, certainly provided plenty of stand up action the night of 26 September 2015, in the defense of his bantamweight title against Paco Castillo during Hero FC VI  in El Paso, Texas.  Castillo is reputed to be one of the El Paso area’s favorite fighters, because of the action he brings into the cage, and he certainly came looking for war. It began during the weigh ins, when he directed some smack talk towards Fuentes.  Fuentes, who had just emerged from the sauna where he’d been for a last minute weight loss, could only smile as he leaned toward Castillo, bumping heads with him. Some were calling it a head butt, when in fact it was only a famished and weakened Fuentes having trouble holding his head up.

Once in the cage, Castillo attempted to take the fight to Fuentes, choosing to do stand up battle. This was to Fuente’s liking, as he does a good job at stand up. Although Castillo came on strong, Fuentes easily blocked or slipped the punches, while quickly countering in devastating fashion. One recalls Fuente’s battle with Jose Ceja, wherein Ceja was able to execute some pretty fair boxing skills in Fuentes direction prior to Fuentes ending the fight. This was not the case with Castillo, who in his haste to do battle, at times appeared to be windmilling, with punches which were telegraphed, and neither direct nor on target. In a “smoker” with fighters of lesser skill, Castillo is sure to provide an exciting battle.  This is not so against a fighter of Fuente’s ability, who despite the fact that a kick to his calf had produced a painful cramp, was able to hit Castillo at will.

For me this was a case of deja vu.  Some twenty five years ago, kick boxer Ismael Robles came to San Antonio to fight.  I worked Robles’ corner, and was the only person in that packed house supporting him. Then too, I could see that Robles was carrying his opponent, who came on firing both barrels. He was plenty game, but his efforts were fruitless, and at a time of his choosing, Robles knocked him out.

Like Ishmael Robles’ opponent, Paco Castillo was also plenty game, with the same results.  After watching the first round, I predicted the fight would be over early in the second round. I was correct. A powerful Fuentes uppercut to Castillo’s chin ended the fight in just 24 seconds into the second round.

Would Castillo have been better off taking the fight to the mat? That is doubtful. David Fuentes, a jiu jitsu purple belt, has a good ground game. At any rate, the stand up game we were treated to was David Fuentes at his best.

Getting It On

I had seen him a few weeks past, at a rank exam Jeff Bonugli was conducting at his Green Ghost Academy. David Fuentes was in fine fettle then, as he sparred, one after the other, the entire group  of fighters examining, to include Ray Banda (4-0-0) currently in place to fight Alexander Hernandez (5-1-0) for the 155 pound championship at Best of the Best V in April. Dee Jay evinced no trouble establishing his superiority over those examining. On the evening of January 17, just prior to his fight, I met him with a typical abrazo. I said nothing to him other than “you’ll do well,” but I was concerned because he looked somewhat under the weather. I attributed it to too rapid a weight loss in the days just prior to the fight. It was only after the fight that he explained that he had come down with a cold two days prior to the fight, and had gotten two shots for it. He had given up a day of training, and did not feel at his best leading up to the fight. His opponent, Ray “the Judge” Rodriguez, (5-3-0) on the other hand, came into the cage ready to get it on, and quickly went to work. For the first two rounds, my impression was that Dee Jay was simply working to contain him. I myself wanted more of a stand up game, because Dee Jay is exciting to watch standing up, but it was not to be. Most of the five rounds were spent on the mat. Rodriguez was able to go the distance with the Champ, but if you as the challenger are going to unthrone the man, you have to go more than the distance. What the judges saw was a Dee Jay Fuentes who, although not putting a whipping on Rodriguez, was in complete control of his opponent for the majority of the fight. In what turned out to be a unanimous decision for the champion, one judge went so far as to give the fight to Fuentes, 50-45.  A bit far fetched. The first two rounds looked to be in Rodriguez’ favor, but even then, at no time did Fuentes seem concerned. That again is what the judges saw. Rodriguez was in the fight, just not enough into it. He could not get past what the judges were seeing from ringside, that is, a seemingly unperturbed Dee Jay Fuentes, doing what champions do, controlling the fight. Afterwards, Rodriguez announced his retirement, citing a need to work to support his family. Ray Rodriguez can go out with his head high. Taking on the champion, he was game for five rounds, the entirety of the fight.

Prior to his fight, Middleweight Champ Brandon Farran had voiced his respect for his challenger, Hayward Charles, giving him credit for his high number of submission wins, (ten out of eleven wins by submission.)  Being knocked out by Charles was not likely, he felt. As was expected, given his very aggressive fighting style,  Farran, went into the fight throwing some heavy bombs. Early on, he had stipulated that he wanted an opponent who would give him a run for his money, and he found it in Hayward Charles. He walked into what looked like a hard right hook, and at 1:05, of the first round, having thus set him up, Charles effected a submission by arm triangle choke. The irony is that Farran had intimated that with a fighter like Charles, this very thing was a possibility. But like the outstanding gentleman he is, he was quick to congratulate Charles on his win.  And then, from Hayward Charles came one of the humblest speeches you’ll ever hear from a fighter, something to the effect of “I don’t like to hurt my opponent if I can help it, so I submit him as quickly as I can, doing as little damage as possible.”  I have to admit that I had wanted to see Brandon Farran pull this off, because of his exciting style of fighting, and because I am partial to stand up fights, but after hearing Hayward Charles’ explanation, I figured the win couldn’t have gone to a nicer guy. In a humorous vein, Brandon Farran probably saw it the same way. Two real class gentlemen.

I have previously covered the fight between Jamaal Emmers and Rey Trujillo. See “Facing the Junk Yard Dog, the Aftermath,”  at Texasfighting.org. In that article, as well as another article on the same website, “Experience Matters,” I believe I caught the gist of Rey Trujillo’s feelings regarding the matchup: ““He is a great fighter with great potential and has a bright future, but he was a minnow swimming with a large mouth bass.” That uh, pretty well sums it up.

 

 

Experience Matters

One of the more exciting fights on the undercard, the night at Hero FC’s Best of the Best IV the evening of 17 January 2015, featured an up and coming fighter out of Ohana Academy in San Antonio. A Jason Yerrington protégé,  Alexander Hernandez,  took on and defeated Jacob Capelli.  Hernandez suffered a cut over the left eye in the second round, and it was feared that the doctor would stop the fight. However, the doctor, recognizing that Alex was clearly dominating the fight, allowed it to continue, and as expected, Alex was declared the winner by unanimous decision.

We will be watching Alex as he moves up, for thus far, he has been very solid, and a credit to his mentor, Jason Yerrington, with his one loss being a close and disappointing decision going to Jamaal Emmers.   A championship belt in the near future is a distinct possibility, given Jeff Bonugli’s announcement of a $50,000 contract to be awarded in the 155 pound division.  Hernandez will be challenging Ray Banda for the contract, but whether Banda or Hernandez win the contract, they do so with the understanding that the road ahead of them will be getting progressively more difficult. Holding on to a title belt will become a great educational tool, and a test of their very best skills.

Fighters around the state are beginning to see that contract money is being paid out, month after month, to enable belt holders to train. The same skills Jeff Bonugli used to propel Gillespie Ford into the number one auto dealership in San Antonio a decade and a half ago are being applied here, and Hero FC’s Best of the Best MMA event is here to stay, with the additional backing of Charlie Clark and his Nissan dealership.

Regardless of who emerges as the winner, we can expect that the new 155 pound division will be challenged by more experienced fighters.  Consider the more experienced Brandon Farran, with nineteen pro fights under his belt, stripping the less experienced Ryan Spann of the 185 pound title in 21 seconds of the first round in Best of the Best III.  Spann had only five pro fights to his credit.  Much the same occurred in the match between Jammal  Emmers and Rey Trujillo. Emmers, another tough and upcoming fighter, entered the match sporting a 7-1-0 record, versus Trujillo’s 18-13-0.  Trujillo’s thirty one pro bouts unapologetically trumped the eight bouts Emmers had under his belt.  Although Emmers had devastated most of his previous opponents, in this event Trujillo countered his every move, almost easily. It was a credit to Emmers that he lasted into the second round. Thirteen of Trujillo’s seventeen wins were by KO, and the other four by unanimous decision.  Until meeting up with Jamaal Emmers, Trujillo had never won by submission.  That changed In 1:48 of the second round in this match, with Trujillo racking up his first submission win by triangle choke over Emmers.

Figure this to be a sign of things to come.  Consider the following:  the 135 pound belt is currently owned by David Fuentes, with twenty one fights under his belt.  The 145 pound belt is now held by Reynaldo Trujillo, who counts thirty two fights to his credit. As of this last event, the 185 pound belt went to Hayward Charles, a veteran of eighteen fights, who took it from Farran this past Saturday night. The point is, you have to respect experience. It matters. Experienced fighters who in the past were loathe to trust Jeff Bonugli at his word, are now coming to the table.

Whichever of the two emerges in the fight for Best of the Best V’s  155 pound title, be it Alex Hernandez, currently 5-1-0, or Ray Banda, at the moment 4-0-0, he can count on being challenged by more experienced fighters, hungry for  a  paying contract. Best of the Best gets better with each event. The large crowd in attendance was drawn there by the promise of great fighting, and they were not disappointed.

Facing the Junkyard Dog, the Aftermath

It was as I predicted. The Friday prior to Hero FC’s Best of theBest IV, I reasoned that Jamaal Emmers would have his plate full the following night. Sure, we had seen a couple of brutal body slams dealt out to opponents, courtesy of Jamaal, but this night would be different. It would different, for this night, in comparison to his meetings with past opponents, he would find himself  pitted against a junk yard dog; that is, if experience were any factor.  As others will soon find out, a newly crowned champion pitting his puny 7-1-0 record against a challenger’s substantial 17-14-0 record, is an awesome hurdle to overcome, and fraught with danger. They are coming, these scarred and embattled fighters, for the word is out amongst them: Hero FC pays its dues.

Yes, experience is a factor, and the junk yard dog of whom I speak, even Rey Trujillo, has arrived to demonstrate personally the how and why of the matter. My earlier post affirmed that those of Trujillo’s ilk, fighting their hearts out for mere beans over thirty one fights, are looking for a better way, and that is what Jeff Bonugli and Hero FC are offering, in a monthly stipend for training, as well as the winner’s purse. Rey Trujillo had come to claim his prize.

But first, there was the matter of schooling the kid. It was a harsh lesson, this process of education. Jamaal’s potential for brutal body slams were not to be discounted, for they worked most effectively against novitiates such as himself. Only this was no newcomer to the game, but instead a seasoned warrior who easily countered what to him were elementary techniques. He not only stymied each technique, but reversed it. To simply demonstrate, Emmers lifts Trujillo up, in preparation for the body slam, and is slammed instead.

That isn’t working, so let’s do stand up. That is dangerous territory, as Jamaal soon finds out, for thirteen of Rey Trujillo’s seventeen wins have come by way of knockout, and the other four by decision. But wait! Not one of those wins has come by submission. Not one!

If you’re Jamaal, you figure Trujillo is going to want to stay topside. After all, he must have heard that Jamaal is a good wrestler. Been wrestling since the ninth grade. But after a bruising first round, where he gets shellacked, barely escaping becoming KO number fourteen, he figures that the better way to go is grappling.  Is there not comfort in knowing that in thirty one matches, Rey Trujillo has never submitted an opponent, not ever? Yes, grappling is the way to go.

And so it happened, that in the first half of the second round, for the first time in all his thirty one matches, under the watchful eye of center ref Jake Montalvo, Rey Trujillo claimed his first win by submission, as if trumpeting contempt through the most unexpected means. Thus came vindication of the earlier prediction that Jamaal Emmers was going up against a veritable junk yard dog in Rey Trujillo. And, as before mentioned, that junk yard dog was hungry indeed.