Earlier this week, Melissa Hernandez was victorious in her pro debut at the New York Hilton Hotel. Her opponent, Mao Mao Zhang, now 1-1, had a hard time adapting to Hernandez’s more complex ring movement and powerful combinations.
The event was a beautiful black tie charity fundraiser for Gerry Cooney’s F.I.S.T. (Fighter’s Initiative for Support and Training) and it was an exciting place to make a pro debut as crystal chandeliers glittered and beautiful women walked around the room in elegant gowns. The likes of boxing greats such as Joe Frazier, Jake LaMotta, Carlos Ortiz, Emile Griffith, and Iran Barkley wandered through the crowd as memorabilia was auctioned off for thousands of dollars.
A crowd pleaser, Hernandez danced down to the ring in attention grabbing attire, music pumping and her corner following waving the Puerto Rican flag. When the bell rang, Hernandez came out hyped up and strong, already trying to throw heavy hooks and blows at Zhang, a talented fighter originally from Shanghai, China, who came out strong in a busy first round, responding to Hernandez’ energy. Hernandez had established herself as the aggressor and a talented mover by the end of the round, while Zhang proved that it was not going to be an easy night.
Hernandez opened up at the beginning of round two, throwing punch flurries and combinations, Zhang always responding but maybe a second too slow. Zhang caught Hernandez with a few solid right hands, but the hardheaded Hernandez never flinched at the powerful shots. Hernandez responded quickly to make up for it and caught Zhang at the end of the round against the ropes, sealing the round and tiring out Zhang for the rest of the fight.
Round three was intense and fought close as Hernandez threw body hooks and Zhang responded. Both boxers fought hard until about the end of the round, but Hernandez fought harder, not letting up until Mao turned slightly defensive. Mao was tired in her corner while Hernandez stood during the break, still fresh for the final round.
Hernandez won the last round, fighting and punching hard while the tough but tired Zhang hammered back, never giving up. Hernandez landed the more meaningful punches, obviously hoping for the knockout. She was disappointed at the sound of the bell marking the end of the fight and the decision went to the scorecards.
Hernandez won by majority decision, two judges scored the fight 40-36 and the other had it 38-38. Hernandez, ecstatic when announced the winner, says her opponent was tough and a heavy hitter. “I wanted to prove something with my pro debut,” said the Bronx native. “I wanted to fight someone good.” Hernandez’s pro debut was a hard won fight rather than an easy knockout.
“I was never tired,” said Hernandez. “I fought four rounds but I’m already ready for the six rounders.” Hernandez is a two time Golden Gloves Champion and left her impression on New York boxing fans after exciting amateur wins in Madison Square Garden during the Golden Gloves finals in 2004 and 2005. Hernandez also won the National PAL’s in Virginia Beach in 2004. Hernandez’s reputation in the amateur circuit was that of an exciting, entertaining “crazy” fighter and it looks like she will maintain that reputation as a pro. She trains at Webster PAL in the Bronx and says her future plans include a fight every month for the next year.
In about six fights, Hernandez says she plans to challenge Maureen Shea for the New York state title. “She’s my competition, what I’m up against,” said the confident Hernandez. Shea is a popular featherweight from Throgs Neck, and would be an interesting opponent for Hernandez in the future. Both fighters are aggressive boxer punchers but have different technical styles. Hernandez’s style is reminiscent of her training partner and manager Belinda “Brown Sugar” Laracuente. She is crafty and cuts angles around the ring while the Mexican/Irish Shea is more of a puncher, overwhelming opponents with power. Both fighters are very early in their pro careers but after more experience and perfecting their styles, this fight can be a great display of the talent that women’s professional boxing has to offer in the New York Area.