Olympic bronze medalist Hernandez ready for pro debut

Nico Hernandez conducted an open training for his fight against Patrick Gutierrez in Kansas. Courtesy Team Hernandez

Flyweight Nico Hernandez admits he is feeling the pressure of his upcoming professional debut, but he’s been the sort of fighter who has been able to handle it.

In August, Hernandez claimed a light flyweight bronze medal for the United States at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, thus ending the drought for the American men, who had not taken home an Olympic boxing medal since Deontay Wilder claimed heavyweight bronze in 2008.

Now the 21-year-old Hernandez is set for his pro debut in a scheduled six-round bout against upset-minded Patrick Gutierrez (0-2), of Las Vegas, that will headline a card on Saturday night (CBS Sports Net, 9 ET) at the Kansas Star Casino Arena in Mulvane, Kansas, a hop, skip and a jump from Hernandez’s hometown of Wichita, Kansas.

"It's a great feeling," Hernandez said. "I am feeling some pressure, but once I'm in the ring everything goes away. There definitely is some pressure on me because I'm fighting where everybody knows me in my hometown. So I can't lose. At the Olympics, all the Americans there gave me more energy to win. I didn't want to lose in front of my people. Fighting at home will push me to do my best.”

Hernandez’s pro debut was supposed to take place in December in Omaha, Nebraska, on the undercard of unified junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford’s defense against John Molina. Hernandez and Top Rank had come to an agreement on a one-off fight, but in the end it was not signed and didn’t happen. Hernandez waited a few more months for the big day after signing with promoter Knockout Night Boxing, which brought Hernandez’s debut to his home area.

"I'm not really focused on fighting on national television,” Hernandez said. “I'm going out there to put on a boxing clinic and if the knockout comes, it comes. If it happens, it happens, but I’m not going in there looking for a knockout. I'm used to fighting only three rounds (as an amateur), but as the fight goes on I've always gotten better. Six rounds do give me more time to work on my opponent and do more damage."

Hernandez will become the second of the six men on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team to turn pro. Olympic flyweight Antonio Vargas scored a first-round knockout win in his pro debut in a featherweight fight on Feb. 24 in Palm Bay, Florida.

The four others have dates scheduled for their pro debuts: Carlos Balderas on April 9 in Los Angeles; Charles Conwell on April 21 in Miami, Oklahoma; silver medalist Shakur Stevenson on April 22 in Carson, California; and Gary Antuanne Russell on May 27 in Oxon Hill, Maryland.