Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Rise of Jarrett Hurd

When the PBC launched in the first quarter of 2015, boxing power broker Al Haymon had more than 150 fighters signed to either a management or advisory contract. Big names such as Keith Thurman, Deontay Wilder, Danny Garcia and Adrien Broner were among the featured boxers representing the organization. Those fighters and many others were dispersed to various networks as headliners. 

In addition, the PBC offered television opportunities to a number of young or under-the-radar boxers, often on Fox Sports 1 developmental shows. To this point, a few of those fighters have graduated to the big time. Yordenis Ugas has become a player in the welterweight division. Jamal James might yet become one. But without question, Jarrett Hurd is the best success story to emerge from the PBC's developmental pipeline. 

Hurd, now an undefeated, unified junior middleweight champion, was only fighting eight-rounders when the PBC launched and didn't even have his first ten-round bout until the end of 2015. Flash forward to the present and he has wins over perhaps the best talent at 154 lbs. (Erislandy Lara), a former champion (Austin Trout), and one of best fundamental boxers in the division (Tony Harrison). What makes it all the more interesting is that Hurd can't come close to approximating the traditional boxing skills of those vanquished foes, yet he has found a winning formula; he has quickly become one of the best pressure fighters in the sport. 


Courtesy of Stephanie Trapp/Showtime

As Hurd progressed in his career, he defeated notable prospects such as Oscar Molina and Frank Galarza. At that point, he was a pocket fighter with height, a good punch and some raw fundamentals. He was seen as an intriguing physical specimen (6 foot 1 with a 76-inch reach), but few thought of him as a fast-riser to a world championship. Sure, he was an athlete. But did he have any idea of what he was doing in the ring?

In watching Hurd's development into a pressure fighter, I'm immediately reminded of Shawn Porter. Throughout Porter's early professional years, he couldn't settle on a ring identity. He could box, brawl, pressure or stay in the pocket, but frequently he tried to do all of these things in the same fight, leading to a lack of fluidity in the ring and some choppy performances. However, as he continued up the ranks, he belatedly found his calling as a pressure fighter. Starting with his title shot against Devon Alexander in 2013, Porter applied constant pressure in the ring. His approach yielded success, earning a championship belt. In subsequent years, he further refined his skills as a pressure fighter. Today he has established himself as one of the toughest competitors in the welterweight division. 

For Hurd, the Tony Harrison fight was the turning point in his career, similar to what Alexander was for Porter. Hurd couldn't match Harrison's fundamental skills and movement. Harrison's jab landed at will and his movement baffled the cruder Hurd. Harrison swept the first six rounds of the fight. On one level, it was easy work, Harrison wasn't getting touched much and he put on a boxing clinic as he racked up round after round. 

But Hurd wasn't discouraged. Despite being down in the fight, he never got flustered. He made Harrison work every second of each round. By the seventh round, Harrison stopped moving as much and Hurd was able to land some big power punches. By the eighth round, Harrison looked like he was ready to be stopped. In the ninth round, he was. 

The same formula was applied in the Trout fight. Trout dominated the early rounds and looked fresh and buoyant in the ring. Slowly but surely, however, Hurd was successful at closing the distance. By the 6th round he was teeing off with some enormous right hands. Hurd continued the onslaught in the subsequent rounds and the fight was eventually stopped in the 10th. 

Last Saturday's bout against Erislandy Lara had similarities to the Harrison and Trout fights, but Lara was able to make it to the final bell – just barely; he was knocked down in the final round by a crushing right uppercut/left hook combination. Overall, the fight was a fantastic slugfest, with Hurd doing just enough to win by split decision.

Courtesy of Stephanie Trapp/Showtime


Lara landed his best punches against Hurd: wicked left uppercuts, stinging left crosses, and the types of overhand lefts that broke Alfredo Angulo's eye socket. Hurd, not a defensive marvel by any means, withstood Lara's power shots, although they had a real effect on him in the ring. The fight was certainly not one-way traffic. Lara won a minimum of five rounds and many others thought that he was successful enough to capture as much as seven. Also consider that Lara's not a jabber at all; everything that he throws is with power, and lots of it.

Unlike his most recent outings, Hurd wasn't merely a crude pressure fighter on Saturday. By the third round, he had goaded Lara into staying in the pocket. Hurd also wisely kept moving to his right, which cut off Lara's leftward movement, his favored way of navigating the ring. These aspects of Hurd's performance on Saturday demonstrated a strong Ring IQ. In short, he didn't win just by brute strength or force, but also by cunning and ring craft. 

As Hurd has taken to pressure fighting, he has demonstrated significant improvement with the style. No longer walking in with his gloves down and with lumbering footwork, his movements were purposeful and strategic against Lara. He was well prepared and understood what he needed to do to win. Hurd and trainer Ernesto Rodriguez had a winning game plan and he executed it in fine fashion. 

One advantage that Hurd has over other pressure fighters is a full arsenal of punches. He has a powerful right hand, a sharp left hook (an improving shot) and uppercuts with both hands. He can jab when he needs to and goes to the head and the body. He also varies the speed and force of his punches, keeping his opponents guessing (Leo Santa Cruz is also very good at this technique). He can start combinations with all of his punches. He threw a four-punch combination of all right uppercuts against Lara. When Hurd's in close, he's not predictable.

***

With little fanfare or hype, Hurd has become one of the more exciting fighters in the sport. Later this year he could find himself in a second title unification match against Jermell Charlo, another boxer who has improved significantly in recent fights. At 27, Hurd is in his athletic prime; however, he's still very much an unknown. With the lack of publicity surrounding his career, it would be far-fetched to see him emerge as a bona fide star who could transcend the sport. 

But within boxing, Hurd creates thousands of new adherents every time he fights. With a willingness to take on all comers and a fighting style that plays excellently on TV, he should become a staple of Showtime Boxing over the next few years, irrespective of whether or not he defeats Charlo. 

Boxing never loses its ability to surprise. For every Omar Figueroa who was prematurely anointed as a star, a fighter from nowhere (actually, a suburb of Washington D.C.) emerges to win fans over the proper way: beating top opponents and looking good in the process. 

Still so little is known about Hurd. He gave up boxing in the amateurs for a while. He still lives at home with his parents. He...he...he...Well, that's about it. There's a gap here that needs to be filled by his team and handlers. Hurd is a compelling figure in the ring; might he be something special outside of the squared circle? 

Does the fire burn inside of him to become the best? Is boxing just a gig for him? Will he take long hiatuses from the ring to learn the flute? What does he want? 

In due time we will have more biography and a sense of who Hurd is as an individual. But as we wait for more, boxing fans can rejoice, as there's another reason to turn on the channel on a Saturday night, a new fighter to circle on the calendar. Hurd is ample proof of the first part of Larry Merchant's famous quote: "Nothing will kill boxing, but nothing can save it." Because of fighters like Hurd, the sport can regenerate itself. His efforts create new fans. And there is no higher praise. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.  

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

This big story on this week's Punch 2 the Face podcast was the Canelo-Golovkin cancellation. Although millions went up in smoke, was the cancellation still a net-positive for the sport? Brandon and I also reviewed  the lackluster Joshua-Parker fight and predicted what was next for the heavyweight division. We also looked forward to this weekend's fight card on Showtime, featuring a trio of intriguing fights, headlined by Lara-Hurd. In addition, we interviewed bantamweight Tony Lopez, who faces undefeated bantamweight prospect Max Ornelas later this month. To listen to the podcast, click on the links below:




Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.  






























Thursday, March 29, 2018

Joshua-Parker: Keys to the Fight

Boxing fans have been treated to a number of memorable fights in the first quarter of 2018 and Saturday's heavyweight unification match between British boxing superstar Anthony Joshua (20-0, 20 KOs) and New Zealand's Joseph Parker (24-0, 18 KOs) should continue the sport's winning streak. Over 75,000 fans are expected to fill Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.

As a champion Joshua has been riding the wave to true superstardom. Last year he knocked out Wladimir Klitschko in almost everyone's fight of the year and he also dispatched the capable Carlos Takam in 10 rounds. Joshua features power in both hands and a strong boxing foundation. He did hit the deck against Klitschko and his chin is not his strongest attribute in the ring.

Courtesy of Esther Lin/Showtime

Although there's been a lot of excitement in boxing circles about a possible mega-fight between Joshua and American titlist Deontay Wilder, Parker will look to rewrite the existing narrative in the heavyweight division; this is his moment to shine. However, in his last fight, he was lucky to escape with a majority decision over Hughie Fury. There's no use in sugar-coating it: Parker-Fury was atrocious to watch. Fury had a lot of success back-footing Parker, who often crudely lunged in with ineffective power shots. Nevertheless, two judges preferred Parker's attempts at aggression and he was awarded the decision. 

Luckily for Parker, Joshua won't employ the same type of evasive style that Fury displayed. Joshua prefers to fight in the pocket. He likes to mix in his power shots and he'll look to land his best punch, his right uppercut; however, he needs to be in range for that to happen. Thus, Parker should have opportunities to land and trade. 

But does Parker have enough dimensions in the ring to beat Joshua or will he be outgunned by a more versatile opponent? Will Joshua continue his assault on the heavyweight division? Below are the Keys to the Fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article. 

1. Will Joshua box or fight?

Part of what makes Joshua so refreshing is that he's a heavyweight who doesn't shy away from contact. Unlike the Klitschko brothers, Joshua doesn't believe in neutralizing opponents. He wants to assert himself in the ring and dominate his opposition. He's not afraid to take a shot to land one. However, Joshua's not a brawler by any means. With a solid jab, a large arsenal of punches and athleticism, Joshua can also win rounds via fundamental boxing. 

Against Parker, Joshua will have significant size and reach advantages. He can control the outside and use his feet to get himself out of trouble. The question comes down to what kind of fight Joshua wants. If he's content to win rounds by boxing and mixing it up only sporadically, that opportunity is there for him. However, if he wants to punish Parker and blast him out of the ring, then that scenario would give Parker more options in the fight. 

2. Chins.

Joshua was dropped against Klitschko and staggered when facing Dillian Whyte. To this point in his career, Parker has displayed a good beard. His problems have come more from fatigue than from chin issues. In this fight Joshua has the flashier weapons – straight right hand, left hook and right uppercut; however, don't discount Parker's considerable power. Parker's at his best on the inside and he throws menacing shots downstairs. He may work the body as well as any current heavyweight. In addition, Parker throws a sneaky, short right to the head that often finds its mark because his foes are so conscious of protecting themselves from his body shots. 

Still, one can look at Parker's resume and not see a bona fide puncher as an opponent. Andy Ruiz is heavy-handed but lacks knockout weapons. Carlos Takam is a solid but not spectacular puncher. Although Parker's chin has held up until now, he's never faced a slugger like Joshua. Parker needs to defend himself on the inside against Joshua's uppercut and he also must be wary of Joshua's left hook from close range. On paper, Parker might have the edge in the chin department, but it might not play out that way on Saturday. 

3. Who wins on the inside? 

Joshua has many weapons on the inside, but his shots aren't as short as Parker's; they need time and space to develop. Joshua, however, is the more accurate technician. He can cause damage with any of his shots without needing sustained flurries to land something meaningful. Parker often likes to grapple on the inside. He'll use his body to push opponents around to find angles to land his best shots.  

Much of this fight will come down to Ring IQ on the inside. Joshua doesn't have to engage at close range to win while Parker has to be on the inside to be victorious. Joshua should use his legs or tie up when appropriate. For Parker, he'll need some deception when attacking (something which hasn't exactly been his forte). Rushing in with crude punches won't be enough against a fighter with Joshua's weapons. Parker is also going to have to work in the clinch whenever possible. He shouldn't be initiating clinches to take a breather; that's an area in the ring where he needs to do his best work. 

4. Fatigue. 

Both Joshua and Parker have exhibited conditioning issues throughout their respective careers. Perhaps because of their size or that so many of their developmental bouts ended with early stoppages, neither boxer looks completely comfortable in the second halves of fights. Interestingly, they respond to fatigue differently. Joshua stops moving and becomes much easier to hit. When Parker is tired, he'll use his legs to move along the ropes, avoiding action. Joshua has demonstrated that he can catch a second wind in a number of his bouts while Parker seems to keep fading the longer that fights progress. 

The fresher boxer will have a huge advantage in the second half of Saturday's match. Both Joshua and Parker have announced that they plan to come in lighter than they have in their recent fights (the proof will be at Friday's weigh-in); they are essentially admitting that fatigue and conditioning have been problems in the past. It will be interesting to see which fighter has the conditioning edge over the duration of the fight. Often heavyweight bouts have several rounds that feature lulls in the action. The fighter who can push out a few more punches just might be the one to pick up needed rounds on the scorecards. 

5. The corners. 

With Rob McCracken in his corner, Joshua will have a significant advantage in this fight. McCracken has distinguished himself as a trainer, leading Carl Froch to glory in several big fights as well as shepherding Team Great Britain to great heights during the 2012 Olympics. Not only does McCracken have big-fight experience as a trainer, he has done very well in those matches. Featuring creative game plans and a no-nonsense attitude in the corner, McCracken also excels in the tough moments, helping to guide his charges out of danger and providing them with a path to victory (for example, Froch-Taylor, Froch-Groves I and Joshua-Klitschko). 

Parker's trainer, Kevin Barry, doesn't have the same type of strategic or motivational acumen that McCracken possesses. Parker underwhelmed against Fury and won a surprisingly competitive fight against Andy Ruiz. In addition, I'm not sure if Barry and Parker are always on the same wavelength. Parker can drift through rounds and Barry isn't always successful in goading Parker into fighting with more urgency.  

Prediction: 

With a potential mega-fight coming up against Deontay Wilder, it's incumbent for Anthony Joshua to remain undefeated. In addition, Parker's specific skill set suggests that Joshua would be wise to fight a lot of the bout on the outside. Therefore, it wouldn't surprise me if Joshua-Parker turns out to be more of a tactical fight than many anticipate. If Parker's not on the inside, he can't win. No doubt McCracken delivered that message to Joshua during training camp. 

Ultimately, I think that the key word for Saturday's fight will be discipline. Expect to see Joshua utilize his considerable boxing skills to flummox and stymie Parker. Joshua's jab will be a significant factor in the fight and Parker won't find ways to get inside consistently. Joshua will fight within himself and won't look to force the action. If the opening isn't there, then Joshua will wisely pick up points with his superior boxing ability. 

I do expect there to be a few enjoyable tussles on the inside but as the fight progresses, we'll see a lot of the same thing: Joshua giving Parker a boxing lesson. By the end of the fight, Joshua will box his way to a comprehensive and dominant points victory. I'd be surprised if Parker wins more than two rounds. 

Anthony Joshua defeats Joseph Parker by unanimous decision.  

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.  

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Bryant Jennings: On Boxing, Progress and Love

When talking with heavyweight contender Bryant Jennings (22-2, 13 KOs), he consistently surprises with unexpected candor. Here are four examples: 
  1. Top Rank didn't have to persuade Jennings to sign with them. It was actually the reverse. Jennings had to convince the company that he would be an asset to them.
  2. He doesn't love boxing; it's a job. 
  3. He stole his left uppercut from Alexander Povetkin.
  4. He's excited to be boxing on ESPN, perhaps most importantly because he has 15 to 20 friends in prison who haven't been able to watch him fight in years. 
Now that's a lot to unpack, but first things first: 

Jennings fights Joey Dawejko (19-4-4, 11 KOs, and a former amateur opponent) on April 28th in Philadelphia, also airing on ESPN. The card will be headlined by the Jessie Magdaleno-Isaac Dogboe junior featherweight championship bout and Jennings will fight in one of the televised matches on the card. 

For Jennings, this will be his first nationally televised fight since losing to Luis Ortiz in December of 2015. Following consecutive defeats to Wladimir Klitschko and Ortiz, Jennings was out of the ring for 20 months, embroiled in promotional politics. Eventually, he would leave Gary Shaw for Top Rank. Since his return to the ring in August of last year, Top Rank has kept him busy, albeit against lower-level opposition. Dawejko, a fellow Philadelphian, will be Jennings's fourth fight in eight months.


Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

When asked if he was excited about being back on national television, Jennings saved his most impassioned remarks for his friends in the penitentiary as referenced above. When asked if there was any bad blood between him and Dawejko, who defeated Jennings in the Philadelphia Golden Gloves in 2009, Jennings stated that he had none. 

"I’m a person with great positive energy," he said. "I don’t have negative energy toward anybody, and I don’t want to create any either."

Sure, Jennings believes that he should have been awarded the decision against Dawejko but he has a serene outlook about it. 

"If I hit him more times than he hit me than I felt as though I won," he said. "I wasn’t really devastated even with the decision going his way, but a lot of people in the audience and my corner thought the fight went my way. I didn’t really care about it. I wasn’t really worried about it. I wasn’t chasing anything. I just started [that fight was just four months after he had made his boxing debut]. It wasn’t a dream of mine."

Which leads to the subject of love. When asked when he fell in love with boxing, he replied that he never did. When asked if he would have answered that question differently four years ago, before he had several ups and downs in his career, he remained resolute in his response. 

“I still don’t love the sport," he said. "It’s just a job to me. I’m just clocking in. It’s just work. You know, I have ambition. I have a passion for success. I have a passion for being secure and comfortable in life… 

"The love for the game – it will hurt you over and over again. You tend to love the things that the game can bring to you or the things that the game can bring out of you."

Jennings further expounded on why boxing is not something that should be loved, and it was a fascinating explanation: 

"I understand what love is. I’m very careful about spreading the word love and even telling individuals that 'I love you.' It’s hard to even respond to people with 'I love you too' when you really don’t love them back...When you say you love something, the love is something where it will be stuck, unconditional. Love will always be there. Love never exits. Love never leaves. If I can feel that I used to love something, then I never loved it. There’s no such thing as I don’t love you anymore. It’s either you still do or you never did."

There's wisdom there. And perhaps some hurt. But either way it's not your stock answer to an innocuous question. With Jennings, there's a consistent thread of a developing philosophy of life, one that's been hard-earned through various trials and tribulations. It's clear that he's now focusing on the elements that he can control – his performances in the ring, his individual choices – and not those that can shift focus or distract. He's not worried about when or if he's getting another title shot, what that timetable is, or getting into a war of words with the other players in the heavyweight division. For him, so much of life presently seems to be about clarity of purpose. 

When talking about the intersection of boxing, philosophy and Philadelphia, it's likely that another fighter comes to mind – Bernard Hopkins, and it's no coincidence that Jennings and Hopkins have talked a lot over the years about the adversities that come inside and outside the boxing ring. Jennings and Hopkins have often discussed focus, clarity, and blocking out distractions. The X's and O's – not as much. 

"We don't talk about in-the-ring things," he said. "We talk about out-of-the-ring things. Out-of-the-ring things exercise your brain into how to think...preparing your mind to be able to take in certain information when you’re fighting or just keeping it clear. Fighting is based on a lot of situations that you’re going through at that present time. So if you’re having financial problems, it’s going to show in the fight. If you’re having baby mamma drama, it’s going to show in the fight. He’s helped with just being able to have the wisdom to think clearer – focus a lot better, receive information a lot better and fight a lot better.”  
  
This notion of focus is something that Jennings and trainer John David Jackson continue to work on in the ring. When asked about what Jackson has taught him, Jennings highlighted the psychological aspects of the sport. 

"We're working on being comfortable," Jennings said. "Being lighter on your feet, not being stiff. And being more offensive. Trusting in the power. Believing in the power. [He's] molding me into being who I can actually be with the education that he brings."


Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

It's often tough getting quality heavyweight sparring in Philadelphia and Jennings has learned his trade as a sparring partner in numerous camps throughout his career. During his hiatus from the ring, he was in camps with Alexander Povetkin, David Haye and Shannon Brings. Even though his professional career was at a standstill at that point, he remained focused on his craft. While Jennings may not love boxing, he maintains a strong sense of professionalism for his vocation. In fact, it was during the Povetkin camp where Jennings picked up a new way of throwing his left uppercut. Further refining Povetkin's shot with Jackson's knowledge of angles, Jennings now believes that his left uppercut is one of his best punches. 

But ask Jennings to name his best punch...he won't answer.

"The best punch is the punch that's open." 

More philosophy. That could be from Hopkins, or another cerebral fighter like Lennox Lewis (a friend and mentor to Jennings), but it's in fact Jennings's own belief. To Jennings, the keys are putting shots together and gradually breaking down a fighter. Sure, Jennings believes in his jab, left hook and right uppercut, but to him, one punch doesn't make the difference; it's the combination of shots that matter – exploiting openings and taking what the opponent provides as opportunities.

Here is where Jennings's in- and out-of-the-ring philosophy starts to coalesce. Asked to name a heavyweight he'd like to fight, he won't. Asked where he will be in a year from now and he provides a similar answer to his in-ring approach: take advantage of what is available. 

"We go after the opportunities," he said. "We go after the money. We go after the upper echelon of achievement, which is to be the heavyweight champion of the world. With these other fighters [in the division], it’s not personal, they just hold that titles that we want."

There's a sense that Jennings is still a developing product, both in and out of the ring. Although he's already 33, he started boxing only at 24. With Jackson, a former two-time champion, Jennings believes that he has the approach that he needs to get to the next level, but he's not in a rush. 

Somehow, Jennings has worked to push distractions aside. If he has a timetable for what he wants to accomplish, he's not saying. He understands that various elements of the sport are out of his control. But within those areas that are in his purview, he holds himself to a high standard. 

He mentions ambition and dedication but a healthy dose of realism continually manifests itself. He had to go looking for a promoter. Where once he appeared on HBO with regularity, now he had to make peace with fighting on three consecutive fights off TV. How many recent heavyweight title challengers had to do that? But there's no bitterness when discussing these facts. He understands the realities of the sport. 

"Progress and consistency," he said, "that’s all you can ask for in this game. This game brings a lot of shit. I want to still be around, to progress, to still be consistent, to still be building the brand and filling the cup." 

Modest aims, but realistic ones.

Bryant Jennings has a number of interesting perspectives on life. He's an original thinker. And if he can keep winning, another big opportunity will come his way. If he's able to take advantage of it, he can cut a very compelling figure in the boxing landscape. But he would object to this type of talk. He has no use for a distraction.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.