When he agreed to fight Stewart last May, he didn't even know it was for the title. Champions are allowed to take fights but not defend their belts. They are, however, required to defend their titles at certain times, and WBU officials decided Stewart had to defend his title in his bout against Fernandez.
He had a second chance at that dream.
Fernandez went to his room and contemplated what was on the line.
"I came prepared to win and if they wanted to give me a trophy for it that was fine," he said. "I wasn't that nervous. I was following my dream. If I didn't get to be a world champion, I could live with that. I had given this everything I had."
At the end of eight rounds, he was the winner. The reality didn't sink in until officials mailed him his own 10-pound gold-plated belt.
His trainer, Eddie "Flash" Newman said most champions defend their titles in their hometowns. But a number of promoters wanted Newman and Fernandez to fight in another city.
"We wanted the fight here because a lot of people here have been behind him," said Newman. "It will give the younger generations the idea that by living here, they can make it also. When he won it, the whole state of Utah won it. For someone from this state to win a title means a lot."
Utah hasn't hosted a title fight since Danny "Little Red" Lopez from Ft. Duchesne successfully defended his featherweight championship in 1978 at the Salt Palace. Lopez, who now lives in California, and West Jordan's Gene Fullmer are the only other two native Utahns to earn world championships in boxing.
Fullmer's nephew, Larry Fullmer, son of the late boxing great Don Fullmer, will referee Fernandez's fight against Allen Litzau on Saturday, which will be held at the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy. (Tickets are available at SmithTix.com)
There are opportunities to meet Fernandez on Tuesday at a Meet the Fighter Night at Flash Academy in Holladay and on Friday at Lumpy's when the fighters will weigh in. There are eight other fights on the card that night, including several local fighters.
Newman said Fernandez that despite being 37, the boxer's best days remain ahead.
"He's a hard-nosed fighter," Newman said. " He trains hard, he's slick, he's wise, and he has athleticism. More important than anything else, he don't come with a full cup. So I can constantly give him knowledge. He's got plenty of heart. No matter what opposition I put him in, no matter how tough those guys are, he can rise to the occasion because he's a fighter."
And Fernandez never needed a belt to tell him that.
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