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Jarrett Hurd, Julian Williams Both Feel They Have Something to Prove

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  • Jarrett Hurd, Julian Williams Both Feel They Have Something to Prove

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    By Bernard Fernandez

    They don’t really look that much alike, but the boxer who has designs on being recognized as a superstar keeps getting mistaken for an athlete in another sport who really is considered to be at the very top of his profession.

    Such is the familiarity brought on by a distinctive hairstyle shared with someone more famous than you.

    “Oh, man, I get that all the time,” IBF/WBA junior middleweight champion Jarrett “Swift” Hurd replied when asked if people sometimes mistake him for Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., he of the similar blond-dyed topknot. “Almost everywhere I go they say I look like OBJ, because of my hair. I was hearing that even before I knew that much about Odell Beckham.

    “I saw him, finally, at Gervonta Davis’ fight with (Hugo) Ruiz. When he walked past he said, `What’s up, Swift?’ It shocked me. I didn’t think he knew he had heard about me or anything like that. But he was at a fight and he said, `Yeah, man, everybody kept on saying I was you.’ It was kind of funny. But now we’re pretty cool. That’s my guy now.”

    The goal for Hurd (23-0, 16 KOs) is to become as immediately recognizable for his own self as the headline-generating Beckham is for his outsized personality as well as for his incredible, one-handed catches on NFL fields. The gap between them as popular public figures could be narrowing, too, given Hurd’s penchant for slow starts, furious finishes and the periodic snatching of victory from the yawning maws of defeat, stamping him as something of an updated version of such memorable action fighters as Matthew Saad Muhammad and Arturo Gatti, both of whom are deceased and, oh, yeah, also enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

    If Hurd – split-decision winner of an instant-classic unification showdown with Erislandy Lara, which wasn’t decided until he floored Lara in the final minute of the 12th round – holds true to past form, there is a good chance that his fourth title defense, in the Fox and Fox Deportes-televised main event against gritty Philadelphian Julian “J-Rock” Williams (26-1-1, 16 KOs) on Saturday night, will be more stirring than last week’s tactical matchup of more celebrated fighters Canelo Alvarez and Daniel Jacobs.

    It would be a bit of a surprise if this homecoming bout for Hurd, a native of Accokeek, Md., who will be fighting close to his birth city, in Fairfax, Va., for the first time since November 2014, doesn’t feature one or more knockdowns or end in something other than a KO or stoppage. But, in another nod to OBJ, the champion also figures to be catching his share of leather as well as pitching it. Williams, who has put together a four-fight winning streak since losing his first shot at a world championship, on a fifth-round KO to Jermall Charlo on Dec. 10, 2016, is aware of Hurd’s history of involvement in tough scraps and he is convinced that he’s just the guy to get him in trouble and not let him escape.

    “My confidence doesn’t come from his vulnerabilities; my confidence comes from my own abilities and what I know I can do in a boxing ring,” said Williams, who added that he is “definitely at least a top 10 junior middleweight in the world” and someone whose “learning experience” loss to Charlo has prepared him even more for this second crack at the bejeweled belt he believes is his destiny.

    “I wasn’t going to fall into some kind of deep depression because a lost a fight,” he continued. “I wasn’t going to let that happen. Just because you take an `L,’ that doesn’t mean you can’t come back and be a great fighter. I knew 100 percent I would get another shot at a title. You can’t stay down too long. I just got back in there and keep fighting. Just get back on the horse.”

    Unlike, say, Gatti, whose natural instinct for rumbling at close quarters almost always superseded whatever advice he received from his more restrained trainers, Hurd never plans on getting into the type of slugfests on which his growing notoriety is based. He’d be pleased to win every time by dominating from the opening bell. It’s just that history has a way of repeating itself and, well, one does what one has to do as circumstances dictate. Hurd no doubt realizes that Williams is apt to apply pressure early and often, and not just because that offers him the best chance of success. And, like a lot of other knowledgeable observers, the challenger will want to see if Hurd’s surgically repaired left shoulder can handle the strain of another pitched battle.

    “The shoulder is 100 percent,” Hurd insisted. “It was 100 percent going into my last fight (a fourth-round knockout of Jason Welborn on Dec. 1, 2018). We just wanted to test it out against Welborn. Actually, it held up pretty well so I definitely accomplished everything that we went in there to do.”

    Williams likes to work in close, which almost guarantees that the exchanges will be spirited if Hurd can’t work behind his jab to the extent outlined by his trainer, Ernesto Rodriguez. But can another bombs-away triumph, while further embellishing his high excitement quotient, advance his objective of cracking most top 10 pound-for-pound lists?

    “It’s just everyone’s opinion,” Hurd said of that discussion. “I can’t really have a say-so in that, but one thing for sure, I do feel I’m overlooked. I am a champion with two titles. I think my resume of fighters I beat is better than some of the guys who are on the pound-for-pound list. I should be in the top five, no question, and I will be in the future.”

    Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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