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Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
Utah professional boxer Chris Fernandez says his confidence is as high as it's ever been.

Salt Lake City's Chris Fernandez will tell you he's an adaptable prizefighter. If his opponent wants to brawl, he's game. If the guy in the opposite corner is a classic boxer, Fernandez insists he can deal with that style as well.

Indeed, pro boxing has taught Fernandez a lesson or two in adaptation and change.

Following a successful amateur career that included appearances in seven national tournaments and victories over future professional champs like DeMarcus "Chop Chop" Corley, Fernandez expected an easy segue to pro boxing success.

"I thought I'd be a world champion at 24," he said.

But the fight game has a tendency to waylay such plans. Fernandez won his pro debut almost a decade ago when he was 21. But over time things soured. He struggled balancing jobs with training. Money was a problem. "And I couldn't get the fights I needed."

Sometimes he took a bout on three days' notice and stepped into the ring feeling ill-prepared. Other times he fought outside Utah, filling the perilous "opponent" slot and losing to local guys fighting in front of hometown crowds and judges.

"It broke my spirit, I lost my passion," Fernandez said, explaining his premature retirement.

For several years, prizefighting and Fernandez were strangers. He stayed away from boxing circles. He didn't even watch fights.

But Fernandez said he and the sweet science were meant to make nice and reconcile. After all, his father and grandfather had both been boxers. And Fernandez himself was assuming the pugilist's pose — "hands up to my chin" — when he was just 2 years old.

"Once you're a fighter, you're always a fighter," he said.

So Fernandez came back, determined to earn a good living and the boxing community's respect. After returning to the ring in 2006, the Salt Lake City resident claimed nine straight victories, including many by knockouts, according to Boxrec.com. Then came a professional setback that would test his maturity in the second act of his boxing career.

Last month, Fernandez traveled to Philadelphia to face Tyric Robinson in the main event of a pro fight card at the famed Blue Horizon. For the first time since his comeback, Fernandez left the ring with a loss.

"It was a tough fight, it could have gone either way," said Fernandez of the eight-round decision favoring Robinson.

But optimism can be as valuable to a prizefighter as a granite chin. Despite the defeat, Fernandez is certain his first fight in the storied boxing city of Philadelphia will flush out new opportunities.

"That loss opened up a lot doors," Fernandez said. He's received feelers for future bouts and established contacts with East Coast promoters.

It helps that Fernandez isn't going at it alone. The boxer is handled by a management team led by Greg Hughes, a Republican state lawmaker and local businessman.

A welterweight who is comfortable fighting at either 140 or 147 pounds, Fernandez said he's doing many things different in his "second" pro career. For one, he is dedicated entirely to the sport. It's his full-time job. Support from Hughes and the rest of his management team allows him to concentrate all his time on training and preparing for fights.

"I feel like I'm in my prime right now," said Fernandez, who bounced back from his November loss with a Dec. 15 stoppage of Donnell Logan.

With success comes new challenges. It may prove difficult attracting top-flight opponents to Utah. So Fernandez may have to continue to look for dollars in boxing cities like Philadelphia. Would-be opponents may also be hesitant to jeopardize their own path to a big title fight paycheck.

A husband and father of three, Fernandez still believes a Utah prizefighter can work his way to the top of the international rankings and live and train in the Beehive State. But he's shown he'll take his skills on the road if it helps him get better. Last June, Fernandez traveled to Las Vegas to train at the Top Rank Gym with Roger Mayweather and other noted trainers. They liked what Kid Kayo brought to the ring.

"They said I was five or six fights from a world title," Fernandez said.

Fernandez has a bout next month in Washington. He's certain 2008 will be the year boxing fans nationwide learn his name.

"I want to fight big names. Fight contenders. Hopefully I can fight for a title of some kind."

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