(Dusty Harrison, left, and D.C. based rapper Wale, right; via)
These are flush times for D.C. boxing. This Saturday, two of the top ticketsellers in the Beltway will appear on separate cards: junior welterweight contender Lamont Peterson fights in Atlantic City against Lucas Matthysse, while blue chip welterweight prospect Dusty Hernandez Harrison holds down the home front in Washington, D.C. in a step-up bout.
Acclaimed amateur Harrison made headlines for getting an exemption from local boxing regulators to begin his professional career at the green age of 17. Approximately two years later, he's fighting his first pro opponent with a winning record, Eddie Soto, and in only his second eight-round bout. It's an important moment in Harrison's career, one that in it short life has been wrestling — and by the testimonials of his team, successfully so far — with one word: "maturity," both mental and physical.
"I think it's a really good test for me, a perfect step-up fight," Harrison said in an interview with TQBR this week.
Key Harrison team member Jeff Fried said that with Harrison as the headliner of a nine-fight card Saturday at the University of the District of Columbia Sports Complex, they have every expectation of him selling out the 3,000-seat venue, although it's a bigger venue by a factor of three than Harrison has ever headlined.
Harrison is one of the torchbearers for a revival of boxing in the region, led by the Peterson brothers, featherweight Gary Russell, Jr., and heavyweights Seth Mitchell and Tony Thompson. Each are at varying stages of their careers, having suffered setbacks they haven't yet bounced back from (Mitchell/Anthony Peterson), having suffered setbacks subsequently overcome (Lamont Peterson/Thompson) or not having taken off yet at all (Russell). Harrison, all of 18 years old, is somewhere between the second two categories.
In August of last year, Harrison got dropped hard in the 6th and final round by 2-5-0 Marqus Jackson. The video is compelling footage. Fried, who has advised the likes of Riddick Bowe, Shane Mosley and Winky Wright, said he watched it 40 times while trying to decide whether to join forces with Harrison and his trainer father, Buddy. And everyone thinks — oddly enough — it was a wonderful occasion.
"I think it was the best thing that has happened to me," Harrison said.
On one level, it looked disastrous: a heavily hyped prospect, nearly knocked out by a fighter with Jackson's c.v.? And Harrison, for a while in the 6th and final round, had trouble even holding on to recover his senses. But he eventually locked Jackson up, and before long his legs were steady. That's when the passion of Harrison — often described in profiles as preternaturally calm — reared its head, as he pounded his fist against his chest and set about trying to KO Jackson. He got Jackson reeling, so he didn't achieve his aim, but he proved a point.
"When he pumped his chest, I knew we had a future world champion. There is a fire in his inner self in the ring," Fried said. "I think it is terrific that it happened, to realize what it felt like, that he can get up from it."
That's the exact lesson Harrison took from it. "I got a little lazy," said Harrison, who by his estimation had never been knocked down in the ring, even in sparring. "Now my team won't panic if it ever happens again, but I don't plan on it."
Buddy Harrison, Dusty's father and trainer, knew his fighter had made a mistake by dropping his hands, opening himself up for a big shot that dropped him. It reinforced a message that his team often reminds him about: His opponents might not have great records right now, but they see Harrison's undefeated record and they are going to be eager to snatch his zero, to train for a Harrison bout the same way Harrison would train for a world championship bout.
Harrison reeled off four consecutive stoppages after the Jackson fight, then two more unanimous decisions. His team admits to careful matchmaking so far, especially his father, even as his son has lobbied for tougher opposition. Fried said that, at 14-0, it was time to take another small step forward, even though the plan all along was for a "methodical" approach — there's no need to rush Harrison for financial reasons, and he's still growing into his body.
"There comes a time when, sooner or later, you have to do it," Buddy said of the step-up. "If I had a chance to do it away or do it at home, I'd pick home. If something happened or came up I wouldn't feel as comfortable as I would at home."
But just as importantly as his growing physical strength, Harrison needs to keep his mental strength up. He is friends with the Petersons and rapper Wale; big-name poker player Phil Ivey and Milwaukee Buck Monta Ellis are scheduled to attend the bout, as part of the All-In Entertainment team promoting the event; and while having star wattage around can go to anyone's head, Harrison has been dealing with it for a while, to the point that he'd have substitute teachers in high school asking to have their picture taken with him.
Fried, who's represented child actors in their teen years, said that in that environment, "It's the rare individual who stays grounded, and everything I've seen, he seems to have that ability to not let it affect him."
That's not to say Harrison isn't still a teenager in some ways. His father said Dusty still does plenty of things he'd prefer he didn't, without getting too specific (although he said the younger Harrison is prone to eating basically as he pleases then not eating at all the day and a half before the weigh-in, which has been working for him — at least so far). On the other hand, Buddy said he's in little position to rag on his son for youthful indiscretions, since Buddy himself spent a decade in jail for armed robbery. And Buddy said he doesn't need to rag on him much, anyway: Dusty has shown signs of maturity he never did as a teen, like taking both his mother and stepmother out to dinner jointly on Mother's Day. (The pair of mothers are friendly.)
The father/son trainer/boxer dynamic is working well, Dusty said. "It's good. We argue but we get along with everything. The reasons we don't have the problem some father/son relationships do, we both understand we have to give and take," said Harrison. "Usually the problem is the father wants to shine or the son wants to shine, but we're OK if he's getting it, if I'm getting it. If I want something done a certain way, he's good with it."
Buddy pushed his son into boxing, he readily admits, but mainly to give him the ability to defend himself in their rough SE D.C. neighborhood. He didn't anticipate his son being so prodigious. Buddy said the Harrisons don't plan to stay in that rough neighborhood forever, for Dusty to fight his way out of it. But D.C. has been good to them on boxing. Buddy said Fried has offered to bring in sparring partners from far-flung locales, but Buddy's answer is: Why? We have all the great sparring we need right here. And besides sparring with the Petersons, Dusty also recently did a stint near D.C. in the camp of top junior welterweight Danny Garcia for his battle against Zab Judah. "They fired us," Buddy claims, suggesting but not saying outright that his son was giving Garcia problems — although he was quick to note the Garcias treated the Harrisons well.
Dusty — born Arturo, then changed to Arthur, then acquiring the nickname from a grandfather Dusty resembled; "some of my family doesn't know my real name," Dusty said — is happy to be fighting back in D.C. again Saturday. "I'm glad to be in front of them. They support me through thick and thin," he said, adding that he has fans and family who have followed him to his fights in places like Delaware and Memphis.
Fried acknowledged that Harrison doesn't profile, with just 14 fights, as a typical main event fighter, but he's become the center of attention anyway. That's one of the reasons why Harrison isn't worried about splitting the D.C. boxing audience with Peterson on Saturday — Harrison has his own following.
"That, to me, is the most important area that will determine his ultimate success, is how he emotionally handles everything that comes with being seen as a rising superstar," Fried said. "Because at the end of the day, when that bell rings, all of the promotional hype is irrelevant."
Here's the full bout sheet. (Fried said we'd be hearing about Mike Reed and Jerry Odom in a couple years, FWIW.) For ticket information, call 202-320-5576 or 202-331-3900, or visit www.dustyharrison.com. The public is invited to the weigh-in Friday at 6 p.m. at the University of the District of Columbia Auditorium (Building 46 East, located next to Sports Complex) at 4200 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C.
SATURDAY, MAY 18
1. Dusty Hernandez-Harrison vs Eddi
Washington, D.C. Pawtucket, RI
14-0, 8 KO’s 12-6, 4 KO’s
2. Natu Visinia vs Phil Brown
Lakewood, CA Washington, D.C.
8-0, 7 KO’s 6-1, 3 KO’s
SUPER MIDDLEWEIGHTS 4-ROUNDS
3. Jerry Odom vs Andrew Morias
Bowie, MD Monroe, MI
3-0, 3 KO’s 1-1
JUNIOR WELTERWEIGHTS 4-ROUNDS
4.Mike Reed vs Christian Daniel
Waldorf, MD Wilson, NC
2-0, 2 KO Pro Debut
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHTS 4-ROUNDS
5. Patrick Coye vs Charles Parker
Alexandria, VA Wilson, NC
Pro Debut Pro Debut
JUNIOR WELTERWEIGHTS 4-ROUNDS
6. Blair Cobbs vs Dion Richardson
Philadelphia, PA Newark, NJ
Pro Debut Pro Debut
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHTS 4-ROUNDS
7. Greg Newby vs William Prieto
Washington, D.C. Lorain, OH
7-0, 4 KO’s
8.Charles Natal vs Gabriel Morris
Cleveland, OH Toledo, OH
1-0-1, 1 KO 4-21-2, 5 KO’s
9. Kevin Rivers Jr. vs Jason Rorie
Landover, MD Winston-Salem, NC
6-0, 5 KO’s 6-16, 3 KO’s