By Kasim Aslam
There is a fine line between rushing a prospect and over protecting him. A steady balance has to be found based on the skill of that particular boxer, so that he can grow into the professional game, learn on the job and be tested to improve his skills. There have been combatants in the past who have rushed into big fights, not fully developing their ring IQ and there have been those who have amassed an unbeaten record through fighting non-threatening journeymen.
However, those that have taken the correct path in progression become gems, whose existence excite the boxing world. In America, they have a prospect that is being tipped to have a bright future, a 19-year-old welterweight from Washington who goes by the name of Dusty Hernandez-Harrison.
Harrison is the topic of much discussion in the States as he is the youngest American to turn professional at the age of 16. Thus far, he has culminated a perfect record of 19 wins, with 11 coming by way of knockout and was given the opportunity to fight on the Gennady Golovkin Vs Curtis Stevens undercard.
“I am a boxer-puncher,” he said when speaking to BoxingScene. “My biggest strengths in the ring are my speed, my movement and my Amateur experience. My youth gives me the energy and it’s an advantage I use to my potential.”
A lot of fans may be wondering why the welterweight was so eager to turn professional at such a young age. At 16, the majority of aspiring pugilists are enrolled on amateur programmes gaining solid foundations before they step up into the paid ranks, but, in the case of Hernandez, it was different, because at 16 years old the man from Washington DC had fought over 200 amateur bouts and had faced off against many different styles across the world. In 2011, the decision was made to sign a professional contract with Prize Fight Promotions.
“I fought over 200 fights and won numerous titles,” he said. “I discussed the opportunity to turn professional with my team and we just felt it was the best route for me and thankfully it has been. I have been grateful to the amateur programme. I was able to win nine national tournaments and I classify those as my best amateur wins.
“I am very pleased with the progression of my professional career. I am fighting regularly, I am the WBC youth champion [at welterweight] and I am undefeated in 19 fights. Things could not be going better for me.”
The team and supporters are an integral part to every boxer. Without his team, he would not be where he is today. Harrison has employed his father as the lead trainer and understand how integral it is so have people you trust around him, so that they can keep the young pro grounded whilst his demographic pull increases.
“Yeah, my dad is my trainer, “ he said. “There have been plenty of rough moments because we argue all the time. But the main thing is that we know how to work together and he will always be in my corner. I am thankful to my parents because they have raised me up to be grounded and humble and not be big headed. There is pressure, but the lessons I have been taught allow things like that not to affect me. I like to stay focused.”
Pressure was something that was in the air before the Washington native’s biggest fight of his career this far on the undercard of Gennady Golovkin’s bout with Curtis Stevens. The opponent was Josh Torres. The venue was the Mecca of boxing, Madison Square Garden and the title was the WBC youth championship.
In his first ever ten rounder, Harrison dominated from the get-go. Even with sustained pressure from the opponent, the American showed intelligent footwork, quick hand speed and exceptional balance to cruise through to a unanimous point’s victory with the judge’s scorecard reading 100-90 and two lots of 98-9.
It was a surreal moment for the contender. Not only was he the new WBC youth champion, he had a large number of lively fans chanting his name throughout. It was a night which will be engrained in his memory for the rest of his career.
“That night was incredible,” he recalls. “It was a great learning experience against my toughest opponent. I went 10-rounds for the first time and I got cut for the first time as well. Even after all that I was still able to come out with the belt. I definitely learnt more in that fight than I did in my other fights combined.
“I clearly won the early rounds. The middle rounds were much closer, but I think I won the majority of those rounds. The ninth round was my best round because my hand and foot speed overwhelmed him — and that allowed me to finish strong.
“I am so grateful to my supporters, especially for that many of them to travel so far just to see me. I think I have a good following because I can appeal to many demographics. My father is white, my mother is Spanish, my step mum is Asian and I grew up in a predominantly African American neighbourhood. I get along with everyone!”
For Dusty, the WBC youth title is the beginning for better things to come. The champion is going to use his victory as a springboard to motivate him to continue to stay grounded. Praise has been coming in from all parts of the boxing world, not least from former heavyweight champion and future hall of famer Mike Tyson.
Harrison, though, understands that in order to progress from a prospect to title contender his path must be paved with modesty, dedication and the willingness to learn. Without these attributes, he will not be able to fulfil his bright potential.
He said: “It’s an absolute honour to get mentioned from one of the pound for pound best. It’s an awesome feeling to know that someone of his stature is watching me.”
“Tyson’s comments and the youth title prove I have something to show for all my hard work. I fought 20 days after my victory and scored a first round KO over an opponent who had never been stopped before [TKO 8 over Marlon Lewis on November 22nd]. It seems like that has finished the year for me with eight victories and 4 KO’s. I couldn’t be happier.”