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FIGHTING THEIR WAY TO TOP WITH BLOOD, SWEAT AND LOVE.

Byline: Robert Morales Staff Writer

Carlos and Veronica Hernandez remember the hard times, when they had no money with which to buy food or purchase gasoline for their borrowed Volkswagen.

Their plight was the result of a managerial contract gone sour. It's behind them now, however. Carlos Hernandez picked himself up and became International Boxing Federation junior lightweight champion.

Saturday, he will attempt to partially unify the division when he takes on World Boxing Council champion Erik Morales (46-1, 34 KOs) of Tijuana at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Hernandez (40-3-1, 24 KOs), of West Covina via Los Angeles, will make $650,000, easily his largest payday.

That's a far cry from the way it was from 1998 to early 2001, when Hernandez couldn't even afford to feed his new wife.

``I love Carl's Jr. and I always wanted a 99-cent Famous Star, and we didn't have money for that,'' said Veronica Hernandez, who married Carlos in 1997. ``We were driving Carlos' old Volkswagen and sometimes we couldn't drive it because we didn't have money for gas. We would eat Cup of Noodles every day.

``It was very, very tough. He would fight for $400 and still they would deduct the 33 percent for the managers because we still owed them for the contract. But now that I remember those times, they were very good for our relationship because it got stronger.''

According to Carlos Hernandez, things were even worse than his wife remembers.

``No, I was fighting for $240, and that was my dad's beat-up old Volkswagen. I didn't even have my own,'' he recalled.

The Hernandezes now have plenty. Veronica recently became Carlos' manager and negotiated the contract for Saturday's fight with promoter Bob Arum. Two years ago they purchased a home in West Covina, and seven months ago Veronica gave birth to a son, Christian.

The couple met in Mexico in December 1994.

``It was like a blind date,'' said Veronica, who was born and raised in Mexico. ``My friend told me, `You're going to go out with a boxer.' I said, `No way. I don't like boxing or boxers. They're dirty and rude and have no manners.' ''

The plan was for Veronica and her friend to go out with Carlos and his friend to the Chavez-Lopez fight. Veronica didn't like boxing much, but she wasn't about to miss watching Chavez fight for free.

``So I went with Carlos,'' Veronica said. ``He changed the stereotype I had for boxers. He was polite, well-dressed, well-spoken, soft-spoken. And I just loved him.''

At the time, Hernandez was 21-0 and had been making a name for himself fighting out of the Forum in Inglewood. He had a promotional contract with Forum Boxing Inc., and was being managed by Jackie McCoy. But McCoy got sick and died in January 1997. That's when Hernandez's career took a series of wrong turns.

``I jumped from manager to manager, and that was a mistake,'' Hernandez, 33, said.

But thanks to Robert Mittleman, who became Hernandez's adviser, Hernandez signed a contract with Arum and Top Rank Inc. in early 2001. His first fight for Arum was in February of that year, and Hernandez defeated Sandro Marcos via second-round TKO.

Arum put Hernandez in with another one of his fighters, then-WBC champion Floyd Mayweather Jr., in May 2001 but Hernandez again lost in his quest for a world championship. Finally, after winning four more fights, Hernandez fought and defeated David Santos to win the IBF championship on Feb. 1, 2003.

``Mittleman came into our office and made a pitch for Carlos Hernandez being a great kid, a great attraction,'' Arum said. ``I remembered Carlos from the time he was a sparring partner for Oscar (De La Hoya in 1994).

``I remembered he used to give Oscar hell. So I said, `Yeah, he's a hell of a fighter. Why not sign him?' We did, and he really came through.''

Robert Morales, (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2213

robert.morales(at)sgvn.com
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 30, 2004
Words:664
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