TV friendly: Jarrett Hurd interview
Jarrett Hurd's last two fights have seen him bring power and pressure in a fan-pleasing way. On Saturday he faces Erislandy Lara in a tough unification match - "I want to prove I'm the best," he tells Mark Butcher in a candid interview...
As a youngster, Jarrett ‘Swift’ Hurd was encouraged to watch boxing on television by his fight enthusiast father Fred. Now the son of a hardcore boxing fanatic is making highlights of his own.
One of the sport’s rising stars, Hurd (21-0, 15 KOs) enjoyed a breakthrough 2017, toppling Tony Harrison (WTKO9) to claim the vacant IBF 154lbs crown before battering former champ Austin Trout (WRTD10) into submission to underline his new status as a major player in a bustling division.
Having swerved the traditional soft first defence by facing the respected Trout, the 27-year-old will take that resolve one step further when he faces tricky WBA champion Erislandy Lara in a unification match on Saturday in Las Vegas. The Cuban southpaw has been widely avoided due to his considerable defensive prowess, skills and speed. Hurd has no such qualms.
“I took the fight because I want to prove I’m the best in the division and I know on paper, on resumé, Lara has done the most [at 154]. A lot of people would say he’s the number one. But I believe I’m a much better fighter,” Hurd told BM over the phone from Maryland. “Lara has trouble with pressure fighters who are kind of awkward, like [Alfredo] Angulo, and I feel I can simulate that style. Styles make fights and I have the style to beat Lara.
“You’ve got to admire his skills. Lara is one of the most technical fighters in the game,” he continued. “People who are not really boxing fans can sometimes get a little bored because he dominates fights so well. But you can’t doubt his skills at all. Lara is so technical. Everything he does is to defend, move away and capitalise on guys who are also technical [with an amateur pedigree] - the basic one, two, three – he trains for that type of style. So me giving him a different style he’s not used to, throwing shots from weird angles, makes me tougher than other opponents. Plus my size, height [6ft 1ins, that also translates into a 2.5 inch reach advantage here] is also going to play a big factor.”
After a slow start, the hulking Hurd overwhelmed Harrison with a trademark surge to become the IBF champion in Alabama in February 2017. But despite showing remarkable strength and persistence in both his world title victories, Hurd’s categorisation as a pressure fighter is misleading and he insists that is not his natural game.
“We knew Harrison would tire down as the fight went on. It caused us to fight outside our comfort zone, coming forward [with] pressure,” Hurd told BM. “Same with Trout, he’s a mover. I was the guy with the longer reach and could have fought an entirely different way, but we decided to do something we’re not comfortable with and go for the stoppage. I had to come forward and pressure Trout. Kind of simulate the style we’re going to bring to Lara. Those two fights helped me prepare for him.
“To me, the fight is never over until the final bell. As long as there is some minutes left, or seconds left, I’ve still got a chance,” he continued. “You may see [opponents] have a little bit of an advantage over me in the beginning of a fight because I didn’t have a big amateur career but my hard work, determination, grit is what gets me through the fight. So as the fights go on, with my size and power, you are going to see the fight slowly change to my favour.
“[Against Trout in October 2017], I wanted to make a huge statement because we knew he’d been there with some tough champions, but none of them was able to successfully stop him. I was the first one, the new kid on the block. I feel like I made a great statement doing that.”
The 154lbs division is wide open with a number of title-holders and dangerous challengers jostling for position. By taking this fight, Hurd and Lara have taken a significant step in clarifying the picture, but the American views outspoken WBC champion Jermell Charlo as his main rival and defining fight.
“Of course, it’s Charlo – that’s the mega fight,” he said in a heartbeat. “Right now there are still a lot of guys who think Lara and Charlo are a step ahead of me, but - once I beat Lara - it’s going to make Charlo a much more competitive fight in the fans’ eyes, maybe a 50-50. I feel that’s the mega fight even though Lara is, to me, the number one in the division. But the build-up and the fight everyone wants to see is me and Charlo.
“I feel Charlo will be much, much easier because I’m going to be able to fight back in my comfort zone. Even though I do have size and the height, it’s forcing these guys to move around and me to come forward and be more of a pressure fighter. Growing up and coming up, I didn’t fight that way. This is something I’m still getting used to. With Charlo, I can go back to fighting off my back foot and using my height, reach and jab, working on the outside.”
Hurd has aspirations beyond the U.S. fight scene and would relish fighting on these shores. “I would love to fight in the UK. To grab some UK fans that would be excellent, man. I don’t just want to be a national guy, I want to go global, around the world,” he said. “So, fighting over in the UK is something that is on my ‘to do’ list. I would love to fight either Kell Brook or Liam Smith. When you feel like you are the best in the division, it doesn’t matter who you are fighting.”
What Hurd has achieved is especially notable given his lack of amateur experience (just 40 bouts) and the Maryland fighter feels he is still evolving on the job. “That’s the scary thing. I’m where I’m at now and I’m still learning. I don’t feel like I have it all yet,” he said. “I feel there is a lot more I can work on as far as my defence, my footwork and I’m here on this level now. I’m still young, I’ve still got a lot to learn. It’s going to be a scary thing when I get it all down pat.”
Father Fred, who worked in the mailroom of The Washington Post for 30 years, was always obsessed with boxing, buying Jarrett his first gloves as a child in the middle class neighbourhood of Accokeek. “He was the big boxing fan and put the fights on. We never really paid too much attention to them. But every single time Roy Jones came on the TV – he was so entertaining and we were watching,” recalled Jarrett, whose younger brother Justin is a 3-0 super welterweight prospect. “My father didn’t box himself, but he would teach us one or two things. Us being three boys in the house – he just wanted us to learn how to protect ourselves.
“We used to box out in the backyard with the gloves that my father bought and he looked at us and said, ‘My son Jarrett got some skills!’ and took me to the gym. I came to where Gary Russell Jr. was the top guy [at the Hillcrest Heights Boxing Gym] going for the Olympics and sparring with those guys is what got me where I am today.”
A critical support network and his most ardent supporters since day one, Hurd’s parents Fred and Brenda rented a 15-person passenger van and drove all the way from Maryland to Alabama to watch their son’s first glory night against Harrison. “Oh yeah, they would drive all the way to California – they are not missing those fights!” chuckled Hurd. “I was trying to become a firefighter and my parents allowed me to put school on hold, put the fire thing on hold, to pursue my career as a boxer because that’s how much they believed in me. They just wanted me to get the work ethic and knew, once I put 100% into it, I could become the world champion I am today. They had my back through this whole journey.”
In his only other paid job, Hurd worked in the deli department of a Fort Washington Safeway (where presumably he didn’t have too many complaints from customers) and it was here a phone call set him back firmly on the boxing path.
“When I was working at Safeway, I wasn’t really into boxing. I was in and out, in and out, in and out. [While] working there, I received a call that my trainer [Tom Browner] had passed away,” recalled Hurd, who has ‘Thomas Willis Browner’ tattooed on his right shoulder as a poignant reminder. “He always used to tell me, ‘You don’t [need] a job if you know how to box’. And that’s the first thing I thought of when he passed away.
“I went to his funeral and saw my trainer of today [Ernesto Rodriguez, a retired 8-0 pro super-featherweight] - who was also trained by Tom. We were both pallbearers and I asked him, ‘What do you think about training me?’ And he said, ‘If you come back to the gym, you have to be serious’. I said, ‘I owe this to Tom. I’m going to give it my all’. Now we’re 21-0. Ernesto took me under his wing and showed me how to change a thing or two. We’re a great match, man.“
In the coming years, Hurd hopes his TV-friendly style could see him progress into a pay-per-view attraction with a move to middleweight, and perhaps beyond, also on the cards. “I would love to be that pay-per-view star and have my own promotion team, still undefeated. Hopefully, in the next two years, I will have already unified the division and become the undisputed [champ],” he said. “Those are things on my checklist.
“I was at the Showtime event [announcing the US cable network’s early 2018 schedule] standing next to [WBC super-middleweight champion] David Benavidez and I was like, ‘Man, I’m not too much smaller than you’. Moving up to 160 is definitely in the picture. 168, we will see. That’s why I would love to get back to my other style because, moving up to 160, I know I’m no longer the bigger guy of the division. These guys are the same size, but moving up is definitely something I want to do.”
After turning pro without fanfare, Hurd is a fighter who has travelled beyond early expectation, but feels he is yet to reach the limit of his abilities. “I want to show people who aren’t the chosen ones when they grow up [they can] be the top guy. No matter what anyone says about you or thinks about you, you can become whatever you want to be,” he said.
“Back in the day, I didn’t even think I was going to pursue a boxing career. I came back because my head trainer passed away and just gave it one more shot, and I became world champion. I wanted to be the one to give hope to the guys who aren’t the big favourites or the number one draft picks. You don’t have to be that to still make it.”