Hustle and Muscle Carry Jarrett Hurd Past Erislandy Lara

The judging of boxing matches is not unlike an art aficionado’s impressions of the masterworks hanging in the Louvre. Some official observers go ga-ga over Monet, others prefer Picasso. That, perhaps as much as anything, accounts for the sometimes wildly divergent scoring of fights in which the participants’ styles are radically different. Whenever such a contrast occurs, the winner, if the bout goes to the scorecards, more often than not is the guy who gets the other fighter to bend to his will.

Framed in that manner, Jarrett “Swift” Hurd’s 12-round split decision in his 154-pound unification showdown with fellow titlist Erislandy Lara at Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, makes perfect sense, and offers at least a hint of controversy for those holding the minority viewpoint. It also becomes an early entrant for consideration as Fight of the Year, a surprisingly (or perhaps not) entertaining affair in which both determined champions reached deep inside themselves to find that little bit extra that often determines who has his hand raised after the final bell.

“Lara is the type of guy that always had trouble with pressure fighters,” said Hurd, the IBF junior middleweight champion who annexed Lara’s WBA super welterweight title by virtue of the 114-113 cards submitted by Glenn Feldman and Dave Moretti, offsetting the 114-113 tabulation for the expatriate Cuban southpaw as assessed by Burt Clements. “I knew that my size and power, if I was able to pressure him the way I did, would be successful.”

The outcome literally hung in the balance until the last 36 seconds, when Hurd, a 27-year-old perpetual motion machine from Accokeek, Md., who bears more than a passing resemblance (the bleached blond hairdo helps) to New York Giants superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., floored Lara with a short left hook that landed flush. Although Lara beat the count, his trip to the canvas turned what otherwise would have been a 10-9 round for Hurd into a 10-8, giving the younger man (Lara turns 35 on April 11) a razor-thin victory instead of having to settle for a majority draw.

The Houston-based Lara and his trainer, Ronnie Shields, vociferously objected to what they perceived as perhaps biased scoring. Their position is that Lara, despite either opting to or being forced into more two-way trading than he normally prefers, had played to his own strengths often enough to get the nod.

“I thought I was winning the fight easily,” said Lara, whose badly swollen right eye certainly gave him the look of someone who had gotten the worst of the mid-to late-round exchanges. “(The knockdown) shouldn’t decide the fight. One punch in a fight doesn’t determine the fight. One hundred percent, I want a rematch.”

Said Shields, floating a conspiracy theory that frequently emanates from the loser’s side: “Every time (Lara) fights in Vegas they screw him. It ain’t right. The man cannot catch a break.”

Punch statistics, a useful but hardly conclusive tool for determining what actually takes place in the ring, offered no real insight as to whose version of the story is more accurate. The busier, harder-hitting Hurd connected on 217 of 824 (26 percent) to 176 of 572 (31 percent) for Lara, but Hurd’s advantage in volume on power shots (186 of 641, 29 percent) negated Lara’s more precise placement (123 of 267, an impressive 46 percent). The gap over the last four rounds – Hurd outlanded Lara, 106-71, with a 96-58 edge in power punches – was even more pronounced.

Despite Lara’s insistence that he is deserving of an immediate rematch, Hurd – who has stamped himself as a fun-to-watch action fighter, if not necessarily a candidate for pound-for-pound consideration – most likely will move on to another unification clash, which is in keeping with Showtime’s master plan to fully unify the division.  WBC super welterweight champ Jermell Charlo (30-0, 15 KOs), who defends his strap against the ever-popular opponent to be named on June 9 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, was at ringside for Hurd-Lara and he said he’s ready, willing and able to hurt Hurd should he get past his upcoming mystery guest.

“I’m down. Let’s go,” Charlo said of his interest in a go at Hurd, whose style is a much closer approximation of his own than was Lara’s. But, he added, “Hurd has to get his defense together because he cannot get hit by me like that. Lara doesn’t move like he used to. If he moves like he used to, he wins the fight.”

A slight favorite going into Saturday night’s (or very early Sunday morning, for those viewers on the East Coast) scrap with the larger but less-experienced Hurd, Lara – a now-naturalized U.S. citizen who successfully defected from Cuba in 2007, after an earlier attempt failed – has been a darling of certain critics and box-office poison with the public at large throughout his long championship reign. Those who appreciate his work have likened him to such patient craftsmen as Swiss watchmakers and doctorate-level mathematicians. His gift is not necessarily looking good himself, but making his opponents look clumsy and inept. Now, having failed to retain his title in his seventh defense of it, his leverage for continuing to be put into high-visibility bouts has been at least somewhat compromised.

“It was a good fight for the fans,” he said of the bout in which he was obliged to stray from the small-arms sniper fire in which he normally excels. “I stood and fought a lot and it was fun. I thought I clearly won the fight. Once again a decision goes against me, but hey, we just got to do a rematch.”

Had Lara been more inclined to engage when he was establishing himself as a world-class boxer, he might not have had to so often showcase his obvious talents in small rooms, such as the Hard Rock’s sold-out but cozy “The Joint,” which sold out Saturday night but for a crowd of just 2,579 spectators. Then again, like another Cuban expatriate southpaw similarly resistant to make adjustments to a style which has long worked for him, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Lara is a leopard that never has found a reason to change its spots, unless forced to do so. Hurd – four inches taller at 6-foot-1 and with a 2½-inch reach advantage – was just the guy to bully Lara out of his comfort zone.

Hurd is a temperamental and stylistic opposite of Lara, and as long as he continues to provide a high thrill quotient while cutting the occasional corner on refined niceties, he will continue to develop a fan base that is cottoning to his let ’er rip mindset. He likely would be the underdog for a meeting with Charlo, but his relentlessness of effort could soon make him must-watch TV. It could also make him susceptible to the wrong side of the quick-strike outcomes that thus far have stamped him as a rising star. But Hurd is the man of the moment, and it feels damn good.

“I’m No. 1 (at 154) now,” he crowed. “I’m in control. I’m going to call the shots.”

Photo credit: Chris Farina / Mayweather Promotions

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