Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Opinions and Observations: Hurd-Williams

"Jarret Hurd is like a fucking zombie. If you run away from him, he'll keep coming after you...You have to stand your ground and fight him."

– Stephen "Breadman" Edwards

Jarrett Hurd entered Saturday's fight as a prohibitive favorite. Having previously knocked out current champion Tony Harrison and defeated fellow titleholder Erislandy Lara, Hurd was viewed as the cream of the junior middleweight division. In addition, Hurd was facing Julian "J-Rock" Williams, a fighter who had been knocked out in his only title shot. 

The conventional wisdom for Williams's path to victory on Saturday was for J-Rock to use his superior boxing skills and quickness to win on the outside. But Williams and his trainer Stephen "Breadman" Edwards decided to flip convention on its head. Despite Hurd's mammoth size and skill with using his physicality to deplete opponents, Edwards thought that Williams would be safest within close quarters, where Hurd couldn't use his outstretched arms and Williams could thrive with his technical inside fighting skills. It was a dangerous play in that Hurd wears down opponents, leans on them with his fight-day weight of 175 lbs. or so, and crushes the body with thudding hooks.  

Despite the inherent risks, Edwards's strategy paid almost immediate dividends as Williams landed a left hook/right hand combination that dropped Hurd in the second round. J-Rock started the bout aggressively, jumping on Hurd, who had a tendency to give up early rounds. However, instead of piling up points by cute boxing, Williams inflicted damage. J-Rock went hard to the body with left hooks and strafed Hurd with quick right hands and creative uppercut combinations.  

Williams (left) catching Hurd with a short uppercut
Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Trapp

Hurd was able to work his way into the fight in the third round and had some sustained success in the sixth and seventh, but by the back third of the bout, Williams was the one who was fresher, more mentally alert and pulled the trigger with more regularity and menace. 

Throughout the fight, which had fierce exchanges and fantastic displays of power punching, Williams beat Hurd at his own game. During clinches, Williams routinely got the better of the action, using his free hand to wing power shots and inflict damage (referee Bill Clancy did an excellent job of letting the fighters work out of the clinch). When Hurd was able to trap Williams along the ropes, J-Rock often spun out and reversed the positioning; now he was the one battering Hurd in tight quarters. In those occasions where Hurd landed a big punch, more often than not Williams would respond with two or three. 

As the fight progressed, Williams was able to demonstrate his superior ring pedigree. Working one side of the body with uppercuts, he would deftly change positioning to pepper the other side and evade trouble. He used clever foot feints to get Hurd out of position and then moved to areas where he could land free shots. He threw creative combinations in close, such as a double left uppercut/left hook or left hook to the body/left hook to the head/straight right hand. Hurd often couldn't anticipate where and how Williams would attack. 

Throughout the fight Hurd was game. He landed his fair share of power shots, specifically left hooks to the body and straight right hands, but ultimately, he was outgunned and outhustled. Williams won via unanimous decision: 116-111, 115-112 and 115-112 (I scored it 116-111). 

After the match Edwards came ringside to talk to the assembled media. From breaking down tape of Hurd's fights, he believed that opponents burned themselves out trying to evade his pressure. From Edwards's vantage point, attempting to outbox Hurd created a pace that couldn't be sustained, which took a toll on the legs. He saw how Hurd stopped Harrison after Harrison gassed in the second half of the fight from moving around the ring so much. Hurd was also able to score a pivotal 12th-round knockdown against Lara, which sealed the fight in his favor. To prepare for Hurd, Edwards emphasized leg strengthening and also the finer points of inside fighting – using angles, working in the clinch, and turning an opponent along the ropes. 

Williams and Edwards embrace after the victory
Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Trapp

Mixing keen insight along with triumphant jubilation after the victory, Edwards basked in the biggest moment of his career. But his joy was more than the satisfaction of a win. Much more. 

In 2016, Williams, then a fast-rising young prospect, was wiped out by titleholder Jermall Charlo in five rounds. Hitting the canvas three times, including once from "an uppercut from hell" (Breadman's term), Williams went from contender to pretender in the snap of a finger for many people in the fight game. The aftermath of the loss was vicious. Williams was dismissed as a hype job. Edwards, who also manages J-Rock, was criticized for how he had matched Williams in preparation for his title shot.

Instead of rushing towards another belt, Williams and Edwards rebuilt momentum slowly and methodically. After a comeback fight against overmatched Joshua Conley, Williams faced the tricky veteran and former titlist Ishe Smith. Williams was able to outwork Ishe, but it was far from a convincing performance. Smith displayed many tricks of the trade, from holding, to working out of the clinch to countering off the ropes. In many respects, the Smith fight was a finishing school for Williams. 

J-Rock next faced Nathaniel Gallimore, a rugged fighter from Chicago, who had recently stopped prospect Justin DeLoach. In a physical, grueling fight, Williams pulled away in the second half to win by a majority decision (ignore the draw verdict there; the fight wasn't that close). In talking with Edwards in an interview prior to Saturday's fight, he said that he had intentionally picked Gallimore as an opponent because of his size and physicality. Edwards knew that Williams would need to master that style if he had any hopes of beating a fighter like Hurd. After the Gallimore bout, nearly 18 months past the Charlo loss, Edwards knew that Williams was ready to face the best in the division once again. 

I consider Edwards and Williams acquaintances of mine. I've interacted with them several times around Philly over the years and have had opportunities to interview them. And over the years I've realized that Williams and Edwards don't have a traditional fighter/trainer relationship. Edwards at times has functioned as a father-figure, a business adviser, a mouthpiece, a close compatriot, a protector. The two are the definition of a team. J-rock's loss to Charlo stung Edwards just as hard. In many respects, each was the other's way to make a name for himself in boxing; they were inextricably tied. They both harbored dreams, and those were dashed under the bright lights. 

Ultimately, Williams's comeback provides a crucial reminder that the most important attribute for a boxer, far more critical than technical skills, athleticism or physical dimensions, is self-belief. Williams was left for dead, but somehow got off the pavement, dusted himself off and went back to work. It takes a mentally strong man to accomplish what he did against Hurd and no matter what else occurs in his career, he has made a definitive statement about his character and competitive spirit. And on Saturday, it is my belief that no junior middleweight, current champion or contender, could have beaten him. It was the performance of his career. 


HBO's unofficial ringside scorer Harold Lederman died on Saturday after a long battle with cancer at the age of 79. For generations of boxing fans, Lederman was their conduit to understanding the finer points of the sport. In his brief spots between rounds, he provided an education that was invaluable. Harold articulated the crucial difference between effective and ineffective aggression. In tackling the black box of "ring generalship," he explained the concept in terms easier for layman to understand. Who consistently got off first? Who controlled the action? Who dictated the pace of the round? Lederman helped to create a more knowledgeable boxing fan. 

Harold's contributions to HBO Boxing were a big reason why the network's presentation of the sport was the best in the industry. Harold's scoring could help be a corrective to the narrative flow of the announcers or gently nudge the broadcast in another direction. As a respected boxing judge before transitioning to HBO, Harold could speak technically about the sport with sophistication and erudition, but he had a common touch and the geniality to accept opposing viewpoints. 

What Harold made look easy was in fact extremely difficult. Not only must his scores continually had to have been precise reflections of the action, but he only had 20-30 seconds to explain his thought process in a clear and decisive manner. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and many other networks now utilize unofficial judges as part of their broadcasts, but Harold's combination of subject matter mastery, cogent communication and humor has been unrivaled.

After Lederman's death, heartfelt tributes came rushing in from around the boxing globe, from fellow broadcasters, rival network executives, promoters, fighters and fans. Seemingly everyone had a Harold vignette where his warmth and decency had made a difference; for as much as Harold loved boxing, and few could rival his enthusiasm for the sport, his geniality and positivity affected so many. 

Even in failing health Harold would travel to club fights up-and-down the Northeast just to watch boxing as a fan. No show was too small, no event beneath him. Fight night always seemed to put a smile on his face.  

He was also quick with a kind word, regardless of a person's stature in the sport. Many years ago when I was a nascent boxing writer, Harold somehow found my work and he would send an occasional note of encouragement or gently provide an alternative point of view. Those interactions were gold to me and never ceased to put a smile on my face. And my scenario wasn't remotely unique. I know a dozen writers who have similar stories about Harold, always encouraging them, always generous with his time. 

Harold of course will live on. Universally admired in the sport, enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, he has left a rich legacy. His daughter, Julie, is a leading boxing judge on the East Coast. His mannerisms and phrases are warmly repeated by legions of boxing fans; you can probably hear his greatest hits ("Jim, let me tell you something," "be that as it may") in the crowd at any live fight. 

But more than all of that, he touched people. He made a difference. His mere presence caused people to smile and feel a little bit better about their day. We should all have such an impact. 

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.

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