- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION

When Dusty Hernandez-Harrison was 10 years old, he and his father Buddy boarded a train at Union Station bound for New York. They were heading to the so-called Mecca of boxing, Madison Square Garden, to see Dusty’s idol, Felix Trinidad, face Ricardo Mayorga

“Our seats were as far from the ring as you could possibly get, but it didn’t matter,” Buddy Harrison said. “We were there. As Felix Trinidad walked out and the entire place wen t crazy, I tell skinny 10-year old Dusty that if you keep training hard and give it everything you’ve got, you’ll be fighting here one day.

That day comes Saturday when 19-year-old Dusty Hernandez-Harrison – a rising undefeated welterweight out of Washington, D.C. and maybe the next big thing in boxing – steps into the ring at Madison Square Garden to face Josh Torres for something called the World Boxing Council Youth Welterweight world championship.

I’m not sure exactly what the title means, but then no knows what titles mean in today’s boxing climate. Still, it’s a big step forward for Dusty – a fight at the Garden on a Home Box Office show, the undercard of the Gennady Golovin-Curtis Stevens middleweight title fight.

An exciting fighter of Irish and Puerto Rican descent, Dusty should be a crowd pleaser at the Garden.

It was the vision that Dusty’s father and trainer had for his son since he could walk. “He didn’t know anything else,” Buddy said. “He was 2 or 3 years old I had him throwing punches. He was jogging around the track. Everyone used to think that I was pushing him. Now everyone can see what I was doing.”

Buddy received a lot of that criticism – pushing his young son too fast and hard – when Dusty turned pro at the age of 16, believed to be the youngest professional fighter in the country. Maryland wouldn’t give him a license to fight because he was so young. But after a successful amateur career of more than 200 fights, Buddy felt he was ready to move his career forward.

He saw how the landscape had changed in the jump from amateurs to professional – how the Olympics, once seen as a springboard for a pro career, had lost that power.

“People told me I should wait until the Olympics,” Dusty said. “The boxing trials were just a few months away. But those same people didn’t wind up doing anything in the Olympics and now I’m 17-0 and fighting in Madison Square Garden for a title. We got a jump start on my career.”

USA Boxing has fallen on hard times of late. No American earned even a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics. Long gone are the glory days of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, when the boxing team produced five gold medal winners, including another local fighter by the name of Sugar Ray Leonard.

After his pro debut at the DeSoto Civic Center in Mississippi, a four-round decision win against Alphonso Alexander, Dusty got a phone call congratulating him – from Ray Leonard.

He has been on track for this moment ever since. He made his Washington debut in December 2011 at the Convention Center on the undercard of the Amir Khan-Lamont Peterson fight, knocking out Terrell Davis in the first round. Now he faces perhaps his toughest opponent yet in Torres, with a record of 12-5.

Sitting in a room at his father’s Old School Boxing gym – an atmosphere right out of Hollywood central casting, in a cement building on the grounds of Rosecroft Raceway – Dusty comes across like a smart, young man who has a good center of personal gravity.

“My mother [Dusty’s parents are divorced, but his mother Lynda Hernandez is very much a part of Dusty’s life and career] always made me promise to stay on my schooling,” he said. “I’ve taken a few college classes. I graduated from Thomas Stone High School. I was on the honor roll there and played varsity basketball for two years. I just went back there to speak to a class about how important it is to take advantage of every opportunity you have to succeed.”

One opportunity they took advantage of was a smart one – to sign with Washington lawyer, sports agent and promoter Jeff Fried, president of All In Entertainment. Fried, who was former heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe’s attorney, is one of the most connected people in boxing. He sees something special in Dusty Harrison’s future.

“In business and in sports we often describe someone possessing that intangible “it” factor,” Fried said. “This is generally attributable to not only skill sets but also the manner in which Dusty carries himself in and out of the ring. He has an uncanny grounded self accountability in his training and preparation that will continue to serve Dusty well as he continues to develop as a young professional athlete.”

They indeed will serve him well – but only if his left hook and right uppercut serve him as well in the ring Saturday night at the Garden.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com