Chris “Kid Kayo” Fernandez had the unique, and perhaps only, experience in the history of boxing of learning that he was fighting for a world championship at the weigh-in.
It was last May, and Fernandez, a veteran “journeyman” welterweight with skills that belied his record of 19 wins, 15 losses and one draw, had traveled to fight World Boxing Union welterweight champion Michael “No Joke” Stewart, a former “Contender” TV star with a record of 48 wins, 7 losses and 3 draws.
The joke turned out to be on Stewart, and Fernandez, 36, scored a one-sided decision over Stewart, taking the championship in his opponent’s hometown of Dover, Del.
The upset victory, along with the WBU belt, was the culmination of years of hard work and long travels for Fernandez, who becomes the third Utah boxer to win a world title. The others are Gene Fullmer and Danny “Little Red” Lopez.
Both Fernandez, and his trainer, Eddie “Flash” Newman, wanted his first defense to be in Utah. And so it will: On Saturday night, Fernandez defends his WBU title against Allen Litzau, of St. Paul, Minn.
The card is at The South Towne Expo Center in Sandy. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the bouts start at 8. Other fighters on the card include Cesar Olmedo, Willie Walton, Christian Nava, and Ogden cruiserweight Freddie Hernandez, who will fight David Madrid.
Fernandez, interviewed at Newman’s Flash Academy gym in Salt Lake City, where he trains, says he has done his homework on Litzau, getting an idea of his fight style from watching videos of the St. Paul fighter.
“(Litzau) likes to stay in the box, and he’s easy to hit,” says Fernandez, who hopes to exploit that by landing many right hand punches.
To get ready for the fight, the champ does strength training three times a week, as well about 20 to 25 rounds of hitting the punching bags, doing mitts with his trainer, and sparring with other fighters, including Olmeda and Madrid. Running is also a daily part of the preparation.
“I’ll be peaking at the right time,” he said.
Defending the title in Salt Lake City was very important to Fernandez and Newman.
“I wanted Chris to defend his title here in Utah. He’s a native of Utah. He’s one of the kids who made it,” says Newman.
“That was my goal, to have the first defense here. It may never happen again,” said Fernandez, who he has family in Washington traveling to see the bout.
Although it may be a stale cliche, Fernandez’s victory over Stewart and the subsequent world title were Rocky-like. It’s a remarkable opportunity that he hopes to make the most of, not just this Saturday but beyond, with more tussles with contenders.
“Allen Litzau will come to fight. The kid is slick,” said Newman, who has turned down offers for Fernandez to travel to other fighters’ hometowns to defend the WBU belt.
If Saturday’s fight card is successful, Newman hopes it will have a positive ripple effect across the state, which usually has only a few pro cards a year. “If this works out, maybe we can grow boxing. ... Local fighters need fights” in Utah, he said.
Fernandez, a former amateur star who has been a pro for 15 years, has this advice for younger boxers in Utah: Focus on getting fights.
Many young fighters, “they see the dollars signs. It’s going to take you years of fighting for peanuts to start making money. Learn your craft. The only way to do that is by fighting,” Fernandez said.
For information about the fight card, call 801- 949-8317. Tickets can be purchased via SmithTix. General admission seats are $25.