At 27 years old, Nico Hernandez has this physical status:
Shortly after his Olympic victory, USA Today reported that Hernandez planned to turn to professional boxing after the 2016 Olympics. His father, Lewis, resumed his role as his head trainer and coach.
Hoping to replicate the hometown pro success of Omaha, Nebraska boxer Terence Crawford, a unified junior welterweight champion, Hernandez initially sought to start with an undercard fight at a December 10, 2016 Crawford match in Omaha in a one-time event sponsored by promoter Top Rank. However, the deal fell through.
Instead, like Crawford, Hernandez began his pro boxing career in and around his hometown, starting in the Wichita area as a featured fighter for the new matches of the "Knockout Night Boxing" (KO Night Boxing, LLC) organization. His first two fights in 2017, at age 21—before thousands of fans at local arenas, and nationally televised by the CBS Sports Network—both ended in knockout victories for Hernandez.
Hernandez's first professional fight, on March 25, 2017 (in front of 3,100 fans at the Kansas Star Arena of the Kansas Star Casino, near Wichita, and televised nationally by CBS Sports Network), was against Las Vegas novice pro Patrick Gutierrez, a junior bantamweight fighter who had lost his two previous pro matches, and passed up a third "easy fight" to instead challenge Olympic medalist Hernandez, hoping that defeating him would gain him quick elevation to national prominence.
This was the first fight in which Hernandez had ever been scheduled for six rounds, and one of the few experiences he had ever had fighting without protective headgear (which had proven a problem for him at the 2016 Olympics).
Through four rounds, Hernandez exerted full control, attacking aggressively and rapidly. He introduced a surprise move, which he'd never used before: body-punching shots "going up the middle." He also switched briefly to left-handed blows. The fight ended in a technical knockout (TKO) of Gutierrez. Gutierrez, who had fought in heavier divisions, said he'd never before had his "bell rung like that" in any fight.
Hernandez's second pro fight, on June 17, 2017, in front of 2,000 boxing fans just outside Wichita at Hartman Arena in Park City, was initially broadcast nationally on CBS Sports Network (until a storm knocked out communications).
His challenger was Mexico native Jose Rodriguez, 29, a novice flyweight boxer of Markesan, Wisconsin, with a 2-0 pro record (having knocked out his two winless previous challengers). Rodriguez was trained by Angel Manfredy, himself a successful lightweight boxer (43-8-1, 32 KOs) and four-time world title challenger, who'd fought Floyd Mayweather Jr., Diego Corrales and Stevie Johnston.
Rodriguez's pre-match public remarks—claiming Hernandez wouldn't go the distance, and promising to knock him out—reportedly infuriated Hernandez, who committed to "take him out." In the following match, Hernandez did exactly that, quickly, maintaining control of the furious fight with multiple downings of his opponent, ending in a third-round knockout. Ernie Haines, Rodriguez's trainer, summarized, "We ran into a hurricane tonight." Describing Hernandez as "the first person of this caliber" they'd ever encountered, Haines said, "He barbequed us."
CBS Sports Network's color commentator for the fight, Sean Wheelock, said the bout demonstrated that Hernandez, in a fight, "is a phenomenal power puncher," recalling his previous fight showing "he just rips the body." Wheelock summarized the two bouts as showing "an evolution in Nico," projecting it would be "a rapid evolution," with potential power at fighting weights up to 135 pounds.