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.