In Sports

Middleweight Art Hernandez fought 10 times in Milwaukee during his career.

Saying farewell to a boxing legend

There hadn't been professional boxing in Milwaukee for three years -- the longest drought in the onetime ring stronghold going back to the 1880s-- when a chunky, soft-spoken Omaha middleweight brought the game back to life in 1966. Art Hernandez beat Doug MacLeod at the then-Milwaukee Auditorium on January 13, and over the next six years Hernandez fought here 10 more times, became a top-ranked 160-pound contender and one of Milwaukee's favorite adopted sons.

"This is my lucky city," said Hernandez before he won his sixth straight main event here, a 10-round decision over Rudy Rodriquez at the Auditorium on May 27, 1968. In an interview 10 years ago, Hernandez recalled, "The people of Milwaukee were great and treated me with the utmost respect."

Hernandez died on August 26 in Omaha. He was 69.

Born in Minatare, Nebraska on January 17, 1941, Hernandez and his two-year-older brother, Ferd, learned how to box as toddlers from their father Perfecto, a former fighter. Ferd also went on to become a middleweight contender.

The Hernandez brothers both won preliminary fights on a card at the Milwaukee Arena on March 7, 1963. Then Ferd relocated to Las Vegas, and though Art fought a draw with former middleweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson in Omaha in 1964, his career stalled as boxing there went in the doldrums.

His fights in Milwaukee revived the sport here and Hernandez's career. His biggest local win was a 10-round decision over third-ranked middleweight Gomeo Brennan at the Auditorium on September 21, 1967. But Hernandez's most memorable Milwaukee fight was against local Hispanic middleweight Vidal Flores at the Eagles Club on February 3, 1969.

"He was a countryman," said Hernandez in an interview 10 years ago. "I never liked to go against a fellow countryman." But that wasn't all of it.

Flores was 34, and the fight was only his 18th as a pro and his first 10-rounder. Hernandez, 27, was a veteran of 46 bouts against the best middleweights in the world.

They fought at a bristling pace, and going into the final round it was even. Hernandez won the 10th round and the decision after he knocked Flores' mouthpiece out with a right uppercut in the final minute and then split open the local fighter's mouth with another hard right.

"He made me fight my hardest to win a decision," recalled Hernandez in 2000. "He could really take a punch. In fact, the uppercut I hit him with split my glove. After the fight, my dad hung up that pair of gloves and when they dried out, two of Vidal's teeth fell out of that split glove. That gives you an idea of how hard a hit he could take."

Ten stitches closed the cut on Flores' lip, and up to his own death in 2007, Flores would look at the scar in the mirror every morning at shaving time and say, "Hello, Art!"

While Hernandez won the North American Boxing Federation middleweight title, he never fought for a world title. Another fight that never happened was the one proposed when Nebraska observed its centennial as a state in 1967, and somebody thought it would be a fun to commemorate the occasion by matching Nebraska's two middleweight contenders named Hernandez.

Art and Ferd agreed to fight, but a higher power intervened, Art later recalled.

"Mom said no."

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Talkbacks

Jon Anne Willow | Sept. 5, 2010 at 4:20 p.m. (report)

Thanks to OMC and Pete Ehrmann for this story. My mom used to go out with Art when I was a little girl and I remember him as sweet, funny, caring and considerate. The end of his career in 1973 almost crushed him, though he did finally get it together after a few years of kicking around. It was good to see him remembered for his shining moment - as one of the most exciting boxers of his time.

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