LI's Hernandez part of big win for Muay Thai

Steven Hernandez, left, throws a roundhouse kick to

Steven Hernandez, left, throws a roundhouse kick to Ariel Abreu, right, in a super middleweight title bout in the Muay Thai at the Mecca competition at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. (March 16, 2012) (Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

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Steven Hernandez completely lost the magnitude of the moment he walked into Friday night. That was by design.

The 19-year-old fighter from Valley Stream purposely chose to block out any rumination about being a part of "Muay Thai at the Mecca" -- the first Muay Thai event ever held at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. Muay Thai combines boxing, kickboxing and striking in the clinch.

"I tried not to blow it up because you want it to be like any other fight," Hernandez said. "Blow it up, it gets out of hand."

Nick Vaughan, a Barbados-born fighter who lives in Brooklyn and trains with the sport's legendary Kru Phil Nurse at The Wat in New York City, did the same thing.

"Don't get a big head, dude," Vaughan said. "Stay calm, stay calm. Forget about the arena, which is one of the hardest things because it is Madison Square Garden."

Vaughan won his bout. Hernandez did not.

Hernandez, who trains at PinPoint Muay Thai in Lynbrook, battled Ariel Abreu for three rounds in what was an extremely close fight to score. Hernandez was the aggressor in the first two rounds and seemed to get the better of the punching. He opened a cut over Abreu's left eye and landed several big punches off missed kicks. Abreu (5-0) had a more successful third round with several leg sweeps and earned a majority-decision victory over Hernandez (7-1).

"I could be more active than I was," said Hernandez, the lone Long Islander on the card. "I knew it was close, but I definitely thought I had the first and second rounds. The third round, he got me, a couple of leg kicks, not painful but caught me off balance."

Hernandez's amateur fight was one of 14 bouts on a sold-out card hosted by Take-On Productions that included five pro fights. It drew 3,203 fans and is believed to be the largest crowd ever for a Muay Thai event in New York.

"From the first fight to the end, every single seat was full," said Take-On president Eddie Cuello. "It was fantastic. I'm ready to jump out of my skin right now."

Muay Thai is one component of mixed martial arts. As is jiu-jitsu, judo, boxing, judo, taekwondo, wrestling and other styles. Each sport is legal to perform in New York State on its own, but when combined into one event -- hence "mixed" -- it becomes an illegal activity in the state.

New York is one of three states with athletic commissions that deems MMA illegal. That is a fight Zuffa, parent company to UFC and Strikeforce, has been fighting with New York legislators for the past four years. Madison Square Garden has been vocal in its support of legalizing MMA in New York and has agreed to host an MMA event if and when the law is changed. The bill currently sits in the State Senate's finance committee.

But this was a night for MSG and Muay Thai rather than MMA.

Vaughan, 28, defended his Take-On super middleweight title with a third-round knockout. Vaughan (14-1) blasted Brian Hutchings (5-5) in the face with a thunderous left hook. Not bad for the guy whose image hung from the banner in the front of the Garden and facing Seventh Avenue.

"Let the air out of the balloon, keep the head small and be humble," Vaughan said. "It's a blessing to be a part of this. We're showcasing Muay Thai to the rest of the world right now."

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