This year marks 25 years since Floyd Mayweather won his first world title – and then showed a completely different side to himself with the compassion he had for the beaten champion.
Genaro Hernandez had been a hero of the young Mayweather, who recalled having a poster of the Mexican-American two-time world champion in his bedroom while growing up. When Hernandez died of cancer at the age of just 45 in 2011, Mayweather quietly paid for all of the family’s funeral expenses.
But even before that, Mayweather had shown remarkable gratitude – not an emotion always associated with boxing’s former pound-for-pound king – towards the man who gave him his first world title shot in October 1998.
Mayweather may have shared bad blood with later rivals Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Manny Pacquiao and more – but the respect he had for Hernandez has endured.
“That’s where it all started for me, he gave me my first opportunity,” Mayweather explained in 2011. “I was ranked either no.8 or no.10 at super-featherweight – and he didn’t have to give me a chance. But he did. Even though it was on regular HBO, Genaro Hernandez gave me a chance to headline – so my pay-per-view career, it all started thanks to him.”
Hernandez actually appeared a dangerous choice for the 21-year-old Mayweather in 1998. The 32-year-old had only lost once in 40 fights – to De La Hoya, when fighting above his natural weight class of 130lb.
In super-featherweight world title fights, Hernandez was a perfect 12-0. Mayweather was 17-0 (13 KOs) as a pro but the 1996 US Olympian had few big names on his record. Many inside boxing believed he could be biting off more than he could chew against an experienced champion.
Hernandez was actually a narrow favourite when the fight was first announced (which might have been the only time Mayweather was a betting underdog during his whole career). But by fight night, the late money on Floyd in Las Vegas meant he was a 5/8 odds-on favourite.
Still the HBO broadcast began with presenter Jim Lampley asking: “Is it too much, too soon for young Mayweather?” With the broadcast team wondering why Mayweather had rushed into this fight rather than wait to get some bigger, better names on his flimsy record.
But Mayweather’s timing was perfect, as it so often was inside and outside of the ring. His blazing speed, reflexes and accuracy proved far too much for the rangy, 5ft 11in Hernandez.
After both fighters hit the canvas in round one (the result of a slip each, the referee ruled), it was almost all one-way traffic. The ageing Hernandez was consistently beaten to the punch as Mayweather put on a masterclass for eight rounds until the champion’s corner pulled their fighter out.
Post-fight, Mayweather collapsed to the canvas and broke down in floods of tears. As Floyd’s emotions overwhelmed him, Hernandez laid on the compliments with a classy post-fight speech.
“He defeated me the way a true champion does… he’s quicker, he’s smart. Everybody wasn’t giving him the respect that I was giving him, he gets all the respect out of me,” said the boxer nicknamed ‘Chicanito’, who added a spot-on prediction: “You’ll be a champion for a long time.”
Mayweather was noticeably touched by Hernandez’s words. The veteran retired soon after his defeat with a fine 38-2-1 record, but was later diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma. The treatment was not covered by his health insurance so promoter Bob Arum generously stepped in to help cover the medical bills.
Hernandez’s cancer went into remission in 2009 but tragically returned in 2010. The boxer died a year later.
On hearing the news, Mayweather quickly got in touch with Genaro’s brother Rudy – who’d been Hernandez’s trainer for the fight against Mayweather – and said he would pay for all of the funeral expenses. The story was first revealed by boxing journalist Kevin Iole, who tweeted: “Classy move by Floyd Mayweather. He is paying ALL costs for [the] funeral of the late great champion Genaro Hernandez.”
The news was later confirmed by Mayweather’s co-manager, Leonard Ellerbe, when he was questioned on the subject. “Floyd had a lot of respect for Genaro Hernandez, and when he heard about what happened… he wanted to do something for the family,” Ellerbe told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “He was definitely saddened to hear what happened and he immediately called me and said: ‘Whatever we can do to help.’
“That’s the kind of person Floyd is. He has done a number of things like that over the years, not just helping other fighters, but helping other people, some of whom he has never even met.”
Ellerbe is not an entirely unbiased observer, of course, but it is true that Mayweather offered to pay the funeral costs for heavyweight legend Joe Frazier when he died later on in 2011. Mayweather also stepped in to cover the $88,500 costs for the funeral of George Floyd, who was murdered by a police officer in 2020.
Mayweather had a 41-0 record when Hernandez died in June 2011 and was the biggest star in the sport. He eventually retired – from professional boxing, if not the lucrative exhibition circuit – in 2017 with a perfect 50-0 record.
Of those fights, 26 were world title bouts. But one world championship contest clearly meant more to Mayweather than all the others: his first in 1998, when the ‘Pretty Boy’ defeated one of his boxing idols growing up – and never lost appreciation for the opportunity Genaro Hernandez had given him.