Photos by Gautham Nagesh, Trey Pollard, and Jessica Chen for Stiff Jab
by Gautham Nagesh
We knew we wouldn’t have to go far to find the 2012 Prospect of the Year, not with so many promising young boxers turning professional in the DMV over the past 12 months. But as deserving as fighters like Day Day Grayton, Antoine Douglas, and Kevin Rivers Jr. are, there was only one choice for the prospect who took the biggest strides over the past year: welterweight Dusty Hernandez-Harrison.
Dusty fought eight times in 2012, all but one as a headliner for Keystone Boxing at Washington Convention Center. He delivered two unanimous decisions and six early endings, while making the leap from four to eight-round fights. Most importantly, he recovered from his first adversity, a knockdown in the final round of his six-rounder with Marqus Jackson, to register stoppages in his next three fights. With most other D.C. fighters plying their trade in distant casinos, Hernandez-Harrison has quickly become the most reliable ticket in a historic fight town.
"My fans are the reason why I have so many fights. Because I can sell tickets, I get on cards," Harrison-Hernandez said. "I want to keep it local as much as I can. Of course I’m going to have to travel eventually, but I want to fight local. I like it here."
"It’s not really like they’re fans, they’re more like my friends and family."
At just 18 years old, Hernandez-Harrison is now 11-0 with 7 KOs, and has started drawing attention from the sport’s kingmakers. His youth, talent, and already sizable fanbase give him the tools needed to become the sport’s next big Puerto Rican star. But the trait that most impresses about Dusty is his poise, which is uncommon for anyone of his tender age. Despite the growing media attention and increasing pressure, Dusty still comes across as a nice, normal teenager, albeit one with a nasty right hand.
Dusty took a moment to sit down with us at the last Keystone Boxing card at Rosecroft Raceway, and said he plans to stay busy in 2013, most likely starting with a local fight at some point in February. He hopes to spread his reputation nationally and is chomping at the bit for bigger fights, but knows there is plenty of time for him to grow before stepping up.
"A lot of people complain about the opponents I fight, but the reason my dad does do that is because I’m only 18," Dusty said.
Dusty is a promotional free agent, and until now his career has been mostly in the hands of his father, Buddy. Harrison-Hernandez recently added local sports attorney Jeff Fried as an advisor, another advocate of taking the long view.
"If it were solely up to Dusty, he’d be fighting for a unified world championship next week," Fried told Stiff Jab via phone. “But he’s also quite realistic in terms of knowing that there are things to learn. He’s willing to pay his dues at this early stage.”
Fried stressed that “a young fighter needs to be active, and that’s one of the things we plan to do.” The plan is for Dusty to fight more than six times in 2013, with a goal of further growth and development in each fight. Fried noted Hernandez-Harrison would still be only 19 at the end of the year, and likely still a couple years of years away from serious contention.
"I think you’ll see Dusty on TV in 2014, and see him fighting world-ranked fighters a couple years after that, when he’ll still only be 21" years old, Fried said.
Harrison seems well-equipped for the long, slow climb, having turned professional at age 16. The early start means Dusty is used to fighting for a living, and more than happy earning his living in the gym. However, both his family and Fried recognize the need for Dusty to pursue other interests, which is why he recently registered for classes at a community college in southern Maryland. He’ll start out with the usual pre-reqs, but eventually Hernandez-Harrison plans to study nursing.
"I’d say one of our clear goals is for Dusty to be both a world champion and a college grad in the next 4-6 years," Fried said, predicting a world championship would come even earlier.
Dusty was thankful to be named Stiff Jab’s first prospect of the year, calling it a small reward for his hard work during 2012. While he might not have the most decorated amateur career, it is that penchant for hard work that may eventually set Harrison-Hernandez apart. As Fried noted, Dusty’s character appears to be what distinguishes him from the ordinary prospect, and his dedication should bear fruit in the future.
It will be a long time before we’ll know how his career will play out, but regardless, we feel comfortable knowing that Dusty will handle whatever happens with grace and composure. That means a lot in boxing, where folks like James Kirkland were once considered the sport’s brightest future stars. Talent is alluring, and sometimes blinding. But the heart and the head determine a fighter’s future to a much greater extent than their hands. Dusty is blessed in both areas, and that’s why we expect big things from him in the future.