By Corey Erdman
In many ways, Erislandy Lara and Jarrett Hurd had no business being a Fight of the Year contender.
Lara is one of the sport’s most economical counterpunchers, a brilliant tactician who’d been able to nullify a who’s-who of the 154-pound division with a pawing right jab and a straight left hand. Not exactly the type of fighter you’d expect to see in a war.
Hurd is a relatively unassuming, calm character who operates both personally and professionally with a cool nonchalance. He still lives at home with his parents, is polite to a fault and seemingly ecstatic to be in the position he’s in. Not the typical profile of a man who would risk it all in a 12-round slugfest.
But Saturday night’s thrilling battle between Lara and Hurd was proof again that magic can happen any time the bell rings, no matter what you think of the participants beforehand.
Over the course of 12 rounds, Hurd relentlessly stalked Lara, throwing 824 punches, a colossal amount for a giant junior welterweight. While Hurd’s pressure did force Lara into uncomfortable spots, Lara played his own role in making the fight great, working behind a high guard and fighting on the inside, something fairly out of character for the slickster.
Ultimately, it was a knockdown in the final round—a head-popping uppercut followed by a left hook, sending Lara to the canvas—that sealed the deal for Hurd. Judges saw the bout 114-113 Lara and 114-113 twice for Hurd.
“It was a tough one, but I went out there and did exactly what I said I was going to do – fight all 12 rounds and get the victory,” Hurd told Jim Gray after the fight. “I didn’t feel like that (I needed the knockdown). I feel like I was in control the whole fight, applying the pressure. I don’t think it had anything to do with age. I think it was me and the game plan we had to apply the pressure.”
Hurd is perhaps the textbook boxing definition of “more than the sum of his parts.” The Accokeek, Maryland native is one of the most aesthetically unusual fighters in the sport of boxing today. Everything about him seems to effortless, and not in the sense of natural physical ability. At times it looks like he’s moving in slow motion. Rather than the sprint-across-the-ring high octane pressure fighters, like a Ricky Hatton or a Troy Dorsey, who tried to buzzsaw their opponents, Hurd is more reminiscent of a giant mallet, swinging over and over again.
Placed side by side with Lara in the boxing gym, he would likely be worse at every individual facet of the sport than his opponent on Saturday. But in the ring, it doesn’t play out that way. Sure, Hurd is tall for the weight division, but he weighed practically the same as Lara on fight night. No fighter beats someone as talented as Lara using sheer size. Hurd uses what he has—a great chin, physical strength, a knowledge of cutting off the ring and a world-class motor to consistently force his opponent to take offensive risks. While Lara connected plenty during the fight, he was forced to throw shots that left him vulnerable, and from distances he normally wouldn’t throw them from. Hurd’s team knew from Lara’s bout against Alfredo Angulo that if you could get Lara exchanging hooks, you’d have a chance to drop him, and that’s exactly what happened in the 12th round.
You wouldn’t expect the friendly religious man who was hawking Team Swift t-shirts on Instagram three hours before the biggest fight of his life to transform into a blood-and-guts warrior when the bell rings, but he does.
Lara had been maligned in recent years for dull performances and a style not particularly friendly to television. What he showed on Saturday is a major difference fans tend to confuse—a fighter who doesn’t get into wars isn’t necessarily someone who won’t. Perhaps it’s Lara’s preference to peck away and pot-shot his way to victory, but no man who has been boxing for his whole life and fled Cuba to do it professionally is a coward.
What happened to Lara is something we have seen on occasion in recent history—the generally cautious boxer being dragged into a war in the later stages of his career. Lara is pushing 35 years of age, and on top of the pressure Hurd was mounting was likely the mounting wear on his once spry legs. Prior to the bout, Lara said his training routine has “never changed.” That means the same volume of gym work, and moreover, the same volume of road work on 34-year old legs as he was doing on 20-year old legs. Over time, the rigors of the ring and the road always take their toll. Last year, Wladimir Klitschko, the man who was charged with everything from being the most boring fighter on the planet to the man who destroyed heavyweight boxing had the very best fight of the year against Anthony Joshua. In 2010, Ivan Calderon, one of the greatest technicians in boxing history and perhaps the second-greatest minimumweight who ever lived, found himself in the Fight of the Year against Giovani Segura.
"It was a great fight for the fans. I stood there, fought and it was fun. I thought I clearly won the fight. Once again a decision goes against me, but hey we just have to do the rematch,” said Lara after the fight.
If this was Lara’s Klitschko-Joshua or Calderon-Segura, then history would suggest it was his last stand. But his willingness to do it all over again, despite the fact that most would expect him to lose again a second time, shows that Lara always had an action fighter somewhere within him.
He just needed Jarrett Hurd to bring it—or beat it—out of him.