How death, humility and prophecy made Jarrett Hurd a world champion

Sporting News
Jarrett Hurd wasn't necessarily supposed to be the world champion he is today. But a series of events altered the course of his life and put him in position to be one of boxing's best.
Jarrett Hurd wasn't necessarily supposed to be the world champion he is today. But a series of events altered the course of his life and put him in position to be one of boxing's best.

In today’s age of self-aggrandizement and pomposity, “Swift” Jarrett Hurd and his trainer, Ernesto Rodriguez, are outliers.

Hurd will defend his WBA and IBF world 154lb. titles versus England’s Jason Welborn this Saturday, December 1. Rodriguez has been his trainer for 13 years. According to him, they were brought together by a series of events that could only happen by divine intervention.

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Rodriguez, or Nesto as associates call him, was born in Panama City, Panama, in a rough section called San Miguelito. The boxing-centric district produced greats Eusebio Pedroza and Hilario Zapata.

Nesto began boxing at five. He was 10 when his family migrated to Maryland, where he pursued an amateur career and won two national tournaments.

In 1997, he turned pro at featherweight. He was 8-0 but had little to show for it.

“I had a wife and a child and boxing wasn’t taking care of my family,” he said. “I was taught as a young boy that a man takes care of his family. So, I applied for the police academy. I really wanted the job because the pay was decent and it had good benefits. I prayed and told God that if he blessed me with that, I would stop boxing.”

Nesto’s prayers were answered—and he kept his word. He still works for the Metro Police Department, but boxing was and is his first love. He joined Hillcrest Boxing Gym in Temple Hills, Maryland, assisting respected local trainer Tom Browner.

Hurd was 15 when his father brought him to Hillcrest. The family lived in neighboring Accokeek, a town with a median household yearly income of $126,000—not exactly a breeding ground for boxing legends.

Hurd and Rodriguez’s backgrounds couldn’t have been more different. Yet they shared a humble demeanor, a strong work ethic and a passion for boxing.

But it didn’t appear that way initially—at least for Hurd. After an inconsistent, 40-fight amateur career, he quit boxing to enjoy his teen years, briefly studying at the College of Southern Maryland with plans to become a firefighter.

Browner implored Hurd to return to boxing. His pleas were ignored until Hurd received a call one day at work, informing him that Browner had died.

“The news hit me real hard,” he said. "After that, all I could think about was how much he called and said I needed to go back to the gym.”

Hurd reached out to Rodriguez, who ultimately agreed to train him.

“In the amateurs, the guys from my neighborhood who were good would beat me,” Hurd admitted. “So, me turning professional, I didn’t have any big goals set. I just wanted to be on the main event of a local card.”

Rodriguez had loftier ambitions. As they prepared for Jarrett to turn pro, the deeply-religious trainer called the young boxer to his office.

“I said, ‘I’m going to prophesy to you today,’” Rodriguez recalled. “‘You’re going to turn pro, you’re going to sign with Mr. Al Haymon and you’re going to become world champion by your 20th fight. And then you will unify. Once you become a unified champ, you will move up to the next weight class and become a champion there.’”

Hurd turned pro in 2012. In November 2014, he signed with Haymon. In February 2017, he stopped Tony Harrison in his 20th bout to win the vacant IBF title. Last April, he unified titles by defeating WBA belt-holder Erislandy Lara via split decision in a Fight of the Year candidate.

Hurd, now 28, says much of his success is owed to Rodriguez and the rapport they’ve built over the years.

“Some coaches show the fighter what they should or shouldn’t do, but they don’t listen to the fighter’s input,” he said. There’s no ego with Nesto, even in the corner. He’ll tell me to do something, and I’ll explain why I’m doing something else. He’ll say, ‘okay, if you want to do that then move your head like this.’ It’s perfect chemistry for me.”

Hurd remains low key, despite his success.

“Nesto has had a great impact on my life. My humbleness came from my parents but having a role model like him—he talks to guys off the streets about coming to the gym and doing other things. His mentality and demeanor of having no ego rubbed off on me. That’s the atmosphere around Hillcrest and all the fighters because he rubbed off on everyone.”

Hurd, 22-0 (15 KOs), hasn’t completely fulfilled Nesto’s prophecy. After tearing his rotator cuff during training for Lara, he underwent arthroscopic surgery immediately after the fight. The procedure kept him out the gym for four months. Hurd typically walks around between 175-180lbs. This summer, he ballooned to 190.

Rodriguez says it isn’t a concern now but may be soon.

“I think he can be at 154 for no more than 2-3 fights,” he said. “He may think otherwise, but he’s getting older and his weight goes up higher in between fights. I want him to stay healthy and not struggle to where he’s weakening his body and affecting his performance.”

The biggest and best fight that can be made at 154 is Hurd versus WBC titlist Jermell Charlo. Hurd is confident it will occur in 2019, and that he’ll win.

“The Charlo fight is going to be easier than Lara,” he said. “He has nothing I haven’t seen before: a basic jab and right hand. He fights with emotion and doesn’t stay composed. Even when his corner is talking to him, you hear him say stuff like, ‘I’m trying! What you want me to do?’ The type of fighter I am, I beat you mentally. I don’t think he’s mentally strong, I think I can break his will.

“I haven’t fought at home since I’ve been on television so I’m going to do that next, hopefully at the Capital One Arena in DC. After that, it’s Charlo.”

First, he must get by Jason Welborn. The bout, which occurs at Staples Center in Los Angeles, is the co-feature on the Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury heavyweight showdown (SHOWTIME pay-per-view, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).

The danger here is overlooking Welborn, 24-6 (7 KOs), the British middleweight champion who is known for slugging it out—something Hurd says he’s trying to get away from.

“Looking at my fights from Harrison to now, I feel like I had poor defense in all of them,” Hurd admits. “I was getting used to walking my opponents down because that was the style I wanted to use against Lara. Now, I have to get back to the old Jarrett Hard. I’ve worked on my defense, using my range and height, and not just being the guy that comes forward.”

Rodriguez agrees but believes Hurd will need more than just that if he expects to continue winning.

“I know with success, a lot of new faces come in and destroy your blessings,” he said. “We’ve been blessed. Jarrett was an ordinary amateur. Now he’s an extraordinary champion. I’d like him to continue to remain humble and remember that God put him on top of the mountain. That will keep him there.”​

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