Photos by Anna John for StiffJab.com
by Gautham Nagesh
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Like all entertainers, boxers are unpredictable by nature.
Men that fight for a living are often more temperamental than the brattiest teen idol in Hollywood. Almost every card includes at least one fight scratched because an opponent has succumbed to that peculiar sickness that takes hold between the weigh-in and the opening bell. Promoters can only book their fights, make their contingency plans, and pray.
If boxing is, in the end, simply show business, then another maxim holds true: the fans come to see the main event, not the supporting players. That might be a hard truth to swallow for some undercard fighters, especially since they are putting themselves at the same risk as their better-compensated peers. But it’s the truth.
There were some complications on Saturday night during the first professional boxing show promoted by All-In Entertainment at UDC in Northwest Washington. Only five of the nine scheduled fights were completed, and writers were left typing their reports in blackness after a power outage cut the walk-out bout short. None of that mattered. To the nearly 3,000 fans that packed the auditorium, it was a night at the fights, a moment to be savored regardless of the complications.
It is still far too early to say how good 18-year-old D.C. welterweight Dusty Hernandez-Harrison will be. Even with 15 professional fights under his belt, Dusty is only scratching the surface of life as a professional fighter. But Hernandez-Harrison offered a tantalizing glimpse of his potential on Saturday night, displaying poise beyond his years during his 5th-round knockout of Eddie Soto.
Harrison looked every bit the polished professional, and completely at ease with his role as the face of the promotion. He delivered inside the ring as well, flooring Soto twice with an educated right hand while making sure the crowd got their money’s worth. Perhaps Harrison could have risked more, and ended the fight sooner. But the rounds will serve him well in his development, and the maturity he showed will linger in the minds of those that watched this fight.
And make no mistake, Dusty dominated this fight from the opening bell, right up until he put Soto down for the count with a final right hand. As someone that has tracked his development closely over the years, I saw enough growth and development in this latest outing to indicate Harrison’s ceiling is much higher than I might have previously thought.
The danger with Dusty will always be to risk too much, too soon, when he has already exceeded the expectations of many in the local community. Whether his team will have the strength to say no if ESPN or Showtime comes with an attractive but dangerous offer will be the true test. For the moment, they appear to be making all the right moves.
Credit should be given to matchmaker Michael Walters, because Soto was the perfect opponent at the perfect time for Harrison. The Pawtucket native was a prospect himself once, before failing to reach the next level and being relegated to a trial horse. Soto seemed thrilled to be part of the promotion all weekend, posing proudly at the weigh-in and after the final bell with Harrison and promoter Jeff Fried(top right). During the fight he tried, and gamely took a great deal of punishment before finally being counted out. But Soto never put Dusty in any real danger.
That was in part because of Harrison’s patient and intelligent approach, which consisted of staying on the outside and keeping Soto away with the jab. When Soto attempted to bob his way in, Dusty would look for a dangerous lead uppercut that landed more than once. By the end of the first round the right hand was landing, though not frequently, given Dusty’s deliberate pace.
Dusty kept looking for his opening and found it in the second round, after starting out dancing a bit more than the first. He kept up his jab and then followed it with a wide right hand, which journeyed around Soto’s guard to arrive at his chin. Soto went down hard but rose with a smile, and fought gamely for the rest of the round. Soto continued to march forward in the third round, while Dusty appeared to be measuring him for a big shot. Harrison kept up the jab on occasion, but seemed mostly interested in landing his straight right hand from distance.
Harrison’s jab was the most heartening aspect of the fight; he throws it with real snap and considerable speed, making it a real weapon that forced Soto back at times. By the end of the third Dusty’s jab had him touching Soto consistently, and he was following it with power shots upstairs and to the body.
Soto began showing signs of fading in the 4th round, but Dusty resisted the urge to open up and go for the early ending. Soto obliged his counterpunching style by continuing to march forward, despite continually getting hit. The visitor finally landed a stiff right hand of his own in the 4th, but Dusty took it without blinking. He responded with a tricky jab-right uppercut combination that did damage, along with a clean left hook at the end of the round.
The crowd sensed the end in the 5th, and began chanting Dusty’s name in its bloodlust. He responded by stalking Soto calmly, winging hard right hands that reached their target. Another hard right from closer finally put Soto down a second time, where he lay on the mat as referee Billy Johnson counted him out. Dusty climbed the ropes in celebration as the crowd erupted in cheers. It was an undeniably electric moment, even for those that have attended world title fights.
As mentioned, the evening was not without its hiccups, but ultimately Dusty delivered the goods. His swagger, stoppage, and celebration will be what most in attendance remember from this evening, not the fact a fight between two out-of-town debutantes was cancelled. The kinks must be worked out, and the quality of opposition on the undercard will hopefully rise, but All-In Entertainment has the makings of something special if they can stage even four D.C. shows a year of this scale.
The co-feature saw local super middleweight prospect Jerry Odom score his fourth knockout in four fights by stopping Andrew Morias of Monroe, Mich. in the first round. Morias entered the ring wearing a shirt that read “I Am Detroit” but his performance was decidedly downriver.
Odom came straight forward from the opening bell, not worried about anything Morias had to offer. Morias spent most of the round cowering along the ropes, where he was a plum target for hard body shots from the imposing Odom. A hard left hook to the midsection dropped Morias for the first time (above), though to his credit, he rose. Odom went straight back after Morias, who then failed to respond to five straight right hands to his unguarded torso.
The ref stepped in to stop the fight, while Morias shook his head in disgust. The crowd agreed with his opinion of the stoppage, booing loudly, but Morias would be wrong to think they had his best interests in heart. They just wanted Odom to get a chance to lay him out, and were left disappointed, despite the convincing result.
Not us. We love Odom’s style, and think he deserves a similarly badass nickname. Right now in the office we’re partial to "Two Tickets to Paradise," a nod to his roots in one of D.C.’s roughest neighborhoods.
"I ain’t even get to see one ring girl, nothing. I ain’t even heard the bell ring," complained one gentleman in the front row behind me. "I’ll be home in time to watch the [Lamont] Peterson fight."
The boo birds were stoked, no doubt, by the cancellation of the bout scheduled for 2011 Stiff Jab Amateur Boxer of the Year Michael Reed (above). The Waldorf, Md. native saw his original opponent fall out and replacement Damon Antoine balk at facing him at the last moment. Reed will have to wait for his third professional fight, after missing out on what would have likely been a third knockout.
Speaking of knockouts, Northern Virginia light heavyweight Patrick Coye (below) delivered the highlight of the night by smashing fellow debutante Charles Parker with a right hand at the end of the first round. Coye entered the ring to screams from his sizable cheering section, but he was all business and barely acknowledged his fans. Coye’s strength advantage was quickly apparent when both fighters began firing; a right hand dropped Parker like a Stone, where he was counted out the old fashioned way.
"Is he a fighter?" the documentary producer to my right asked me after observing Parker’s gangly, awkward style.
"No," I replied, after Coye had dropped him just an instant later.
Knockouts were indeed the theme of the evening, never a bad thing when launching a new promotion. Heavyweight Natu “The Samoan Truth” Visinia (below) of Carson, Calif. scored a huge stoppage of his own over Big Phil Brown of Upper Marlboro, Md. with just 11 seconds left in the first round.
Brown is a giant of a man, listed at 6’7” and weighing in at 307 lbs. in his stylish dress slacks. But he hadn’t fought since 2007. I asked him why he was coming back for this fight at the weigh-in, and he told me it was because boxing needs American heavyweights. He declined to reveal his game plan, besides telling me he planned to win.
Unfortunately, so did Visinia, and the 268-lb Samoan had a more concrete plan to achieve his goal. Natu hurt Phil early with a hard right hand, then continued to jab and look for the right behind it. The two giants wrestled for much of the first minute, and the ref was forced to break them on more than one occasion.
"Let ‘em fight. This ain’t tiddlywinks," observed an elderly gentleman behind me cheering for Phil Brown.
It was Visinia who came to fight, landing a left hook at the end of combination that forced Brown into the ropes. Natu kept up the pressure, landing another combination and then firing hard shots to Brown’s massive frame. Brown found himself trapped against the ropes, and then caught with a left hook as he tried to turn away.
Visinia followed with more punches and the referee stepped in; it looked premature from across the ring. However, Brown was getting hit, and it only takes one or two unguarded blows to do serious damage with heavyweights. Given the context, it wasn’t bad enough to warrant serious criticism.
Local light heavyweight prospect Greg Newby (left) of Lime Lite boxing was scheduled to fight William Prieto (right) of Ohio on the card, but that bout was cancelled after Prieto had already entered the ring. A source close to the promotion indicated that Prieto had failed his final pre-fight medical screening, and was potentially high or intoxicated to the point of nausea.
It wasn’t exactly a shock; Prieto’s pre-fight behavior could charitably be described as strange. He moped about the weigh-in on Friday sullenly before eventually taking the scales fully clothed, including his shoes. He still only weighed in at 166 lbs., well below the light heavyweight limit. Prieto also seemed borderline offended when a local news cameraman asked him to remove his shirt for a face-off, replying with a huff, “I’m good.”
We arrived late, as is our wont, but in time to catch the second half of the opening bout matching featherweight prospect Kevin Rivers Jr. and veteran trial horse Jason Rorie. Rivers is one of the brightest talents in the area, and had been riding a streak of six straight knockouts. But Rorie is rugged, and gave Rivers some good rounds before losing the unanimous decision.
This kind of fight is crucial to the development of a prospect like Rivers and will serve him well down the road. Rivers showed that he can both take a punch and deal with some roughhousing while remaining in control.
Rorie is a small step, but Rivers seems more ready for advancement than some of his peers. He is much closer to a finished product than most local prospects, and also seems a bit hungry for the spotlight. At 7-0, Rivers might be in the market for a real fight at some point this year, especially since a fighter with his amateur background has far more experience than his record indicates.
Rivers’ next fight is scheduled for the Ty Barnett show at Washington Convention Center on June 15th, against the unremarkable Rasool Shakoor. A few more fights after that, and hopefully Rivers will be headlining a card like this himself in the near future.
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