D.C. boxer Dusty Harrison, 17, may have to wait for next chance

August 29, 2011

D.C. boxer Dusty Harrison, 17, may have to wait for next chance

In a bare, basement storage room at the Naylor Gardens apartments in Southeast Washington sits a worn, deflated punching bag that Dusty Harrison began hitting when he was 1 or 2 years old.

Harrison’s father, Buddy, hosted weekly sparring matches in the same basement until Dusty grew too strong and skilled for the other neighborhood children. Dusty Harrison fought in his first Toughman boxing competition at 6, when he knocked out a 10-year-old in the second round. At 8, he won his first amateur fight in a 55-pound Golden Gloves competition.

Harrison, 17, begins his senior year of high school this week, billed by his handlers as the youngest professional fighter in the United States. At 5 feet 11 and 147 pounds, he’s had two professional bouts, both wins, against fighters a combined 31 years older. Those fights followed 197 amateur bouts that included three junior national Golden Gloves championships.

But the two pro fights are now something of a problem for Harrison. Most states won’t allow fighters in the ring until they are 18 — California and Virginia recently denied him that chance when boxing officials discovered his age — and he can’t go back to amateur status because of the two paydays.

“A boxer must be 18 to fight in the state of Virginia and under no circumstances will a fighter under 18 be allowed to enter the ring in a professional fight, regardless of amateur experience,” a spokesman for the Virginia Athletic commission said. The commission canceled a fight of Harrison’s planned for Sept. 10 after a Washington Post reporter inquired about Harrison’s age.

California officials were questioning Harrison’s camp about the fighter’s age when a card scheduled for last Saturday in San Jose was canceled for other reasons.

“At 17, to me, they don’t have their man strength,” said Ray Rodgers, president of Golden Gloves. “A lot of guys are still getting stronger at 23, 24, 25 years old. Normally, by the time this kid is 30 years old, he’ll be punched out. . . . Your body can only take so many wars.”

Some experts contacted by The Post also expressed concern that absorbing blows to the head at a young age may have serious consequences for Harrison later in life. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Paediatric Society released a new joint policy statement Monday warning children and teens not to participate in boxing.

“We recommend young people participate in sports where the prime focus is not deliberate blows to the head,” the medical groups said in a news release.

Robert Cantu, co-director at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University’s School of Medicine, said that “brain development is related to how many total blows you’ve taken, not how many times you’ve been knocked out. It’s also related to over how long a time the boxer has taken those blows, and we don’t know with precise data how injurious it is to be taking blows at an early age.”

Harrison’s father, who trains him, said his son is so difficult to hit that he has taken much less punishment than other young fighters.

“If I did not know him and didn’t personally know him, I would be one of those guys saying he’s going to be punch-drunk,” Buddy Harrison said. “However, the kid has never once had a standing eight count. He has never once been hit with a solid punch in 200 fights. I agree with the doctors, but fortunately this case is different.”

And no less an authority than Sugar Ray Leonard, who left a message on Harrison’s phone after his professional debut, believes the benefits of boxing, in individual cases including his own, outweigh the health risks.

“Boxing is dangerous, of course it’s dangerous. That’s what it is,” Leonard said. “But boxing is also a poor man’s sport. It keeps people off the street. It kept me off the street. I’m a testament to what boxing has given me in my life and in my family’s.”

‘We saved each other’

Harrison’s boxing career began with Buddy’s insistence that his son know how to protect himself with his hands. Growing up with his father in Naylor Gardens, Harrison adhered to a strict routine as a child, running 10 laps of circles in his front yard as bystanders stared at the 3-year-old boxer-in-training.

A drive-by shooting across 30th Street SE interrupted one of Harrison’s workouts when he was 5, he recalled, and some nights of his childhood were punctuated by the sounds of gunfire and police sirens, he said.

“Dad, hit the floor!” Dusty Harrison would scream when he heard gunfire.

“It’s rough out there,” Buddy Harrison said. “I just wanted him to know how to fight.”

He should know. Buddy Harrison saw boxing as a way for his son to avoid repeating the mistakes of his youth. Buddy Harrison’s involvement in gangs ultimately led to a 10-year sentence for armed robbery.

During his sentence, Buddy earned a GED. He also accepted religion for the first time, which helped alter his view of life and personal behavior. And four years after his release in 1990, the birth of his son became what he calls his greatest deterrent from crime.

“Where would I be right now if it wasn’t for him?” said Buddy, who works at Old School Boxing gym, training his son. “People say to me all the time, ‘You saved your son [from the streets].’ Did I? Or did he save me? Maybe we saved each other. I don’t know.”

Dusty’s mother, Lynda Hernandez, feels her son has traded some of his childhood for success in the ring. “He’s in the gym six days a week for hours, not just one, two hours,” she said. “Every day, for several hours of his life. I think probably when he turned 15, he got a little bit of time. Took a little bit of time and tried to be a kid and catch up a little bit, but now he’s back at it again.”

Father and son have slept in their rental car after an amateur championship bout, short of money to cover weekend hotel rates in Las Vegas. Buddy Harrison sold cars and bred pit bulls to pay for his son’s airfare, registration, hotels and food costs for 197 amateur bouts over nine years.

The results of each trip are scribbled in two blue pocket-size books that date from his first amateur fight in 2002, when Harrison, then 8, won in the 55-pound Golden Gloves.

A pair of victories

In June, Dusty Harrison fought his first professional bout, a four-round welterweight contest against 38-year-old Alphonso Alexander in Mississippi. The state’s Athletic Commission made an exception to its requirement that professional boxers be 18 years old, based on Harrison’s amateur experience and win-loss ratio, according to Jon Lewis, its chairman. The fight was a lopsided unanimous decision for Harrison.

In his second professional fight, also in Mississippi, Harrison won another unanimous decision, against 27-year-old Trenton Titsworth, who had 17 previous professional wins.

A portion of Harrison’s five-figure take from the two fights went to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, which works to cure breast cancer. Harrison wears the organization’s symbol, a pink ribbon, on his boxing shorts.

On the right leg of his trunks, a Puerto Rican flag represents his mother’s heritage. The D.C. flag, representing the place where he threw his first punch at age 3, covers his backside. His last name is written in pink across the waistband of his shorts.

“I wanted to people to look at my shorts and know something about me,” Harrison said.

One day, Harrison would like to be mentioned in the same breath with the greatest boxers ever, including Muhammad Ali. He said he understands the risks involved in getting there.

“That’s why I work on my defense a lot,” Harrison said. “The less you get hit, the longer you can box. I hope to retire without getting hurt. I’m just not going to fight past my prime.”

by Shemar Woods

In a bare, basement storage room at the Naylor Gardens apartments in Southeast Washington sits a worn, deflated punching bag that Dusty Harrison began hitting when he was 1 or 2 years old.

Harrison’s father, Buddy, hosted weekly sparring matches in the same basement until Dusty grew too strong and skilled for the other neighborhood children. Dusty Harrison fought in his first Toughman boxing competition at 6, when he knocked out a 10-year-old in the second round. At 8, he won his first amateur fight in a 55-pound Golden Gloves competition.

Harrison, 17, begins his senior year of high school this week, billed by his handlers as the youngest professional fighter in the United States. At 5 feet 11 and 147 pounds, he’s had two professional bouts, both wins, against fighters a combined 31 years older. Those fights followed 197 amateur bouts that included three junior national Golden Gloves championships.

But the two pro fights are now something of a problem for Harrison. Most states won’t allow fighters in the ring until they are 18 — California and Virginia recently denied him that chance when boxing officials discovered his age — and he can’t go back to amateur status because of the two paydays.

“A boxer must be 18 to fight in the state of Virginia and under no circumstances will a fighter under 18 be allowed to enter the ring in a professional fight, regardless of amateur experience,” a spokesman for the Virginia Athletic commission said. The commission canceled a fight of Harrison’s planned for Sept. 10 after a Washington Post reporter inquired about Harrison’s age.

California officials were questioning Harrison’s camp about the fighter’s age when a card scheduled for last Saturday in San Jose was canceled for other reasons.

“At 17, to me, they don’t have their man strength,” said Ray Rodgers, president of Golden Gloves. “A lot of guys are still getting stronger at 23, 24, 25 years old. Normally, by the time this kid is 30 years old, he’ll be punched out. . . . Your body can only take so many wars.”

Some experts contacted by The Post also expressed concern that absorbing blows to the head at a young age may have serious consequences for Harrison later in life. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Paediatric Society released a new joint policy statement Monday warning children and teens not to participate in boxing.

“We recommend young people participate in sports where the prime focus is not deliberate blows to the head,” the medical groups said in a news release.

Robert Cantu, co-director at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University’s School of Medicine, said that “brain development is related to how many total blows you’ve taken, not how many times you’ve been knocked out. It’s also related to over how long a time the boxer has taken those blows, and we don’t know with precise data how injurious it is to be taking blows at an early age.”

Harrison’s father, who trains him, said his son is so difficult to hit that he has taken much less punishment than other young fighters.

“If I did not know him and didn’t personally know him, I would be one of those guys saying he’s going to be punch-drunk,” Buddy Harrison said. “However, the kid has never once had a standing eight count. He has never once been hit with a solid punch in 200 fights. I agree with the doctors, but fortunately this case is different.”

And no less an authority than Sugar Ray Leonard, who left a message on Harrison’s phone after his professional debut, believes the benefits of boxing, in individual cases including his own, outweigh the health risks.

“Boxing is dangerous, of course it’s dangerous. That’s what it is,” Leonard said. “But boxing is also a poor man’s sport. It keeps people off the street. It kept me off the street. I’m a testament to what boxing has given me in my life and in my family’s.”

‘We saved each other’

Harrison’s boxing career began with Buddy’s insistence that his son know how to protect himself with his hands. Growing up with his father in Naylor Gardens, Harrison adhered to a strict routine as a child, running 10 laps of circles in his front yard as bystanders stared at the 3-year-old boxer-in-training.

A drive-by shooting across 30th Street SE interrupted one of Harrison’s workouts when he was 5, he recalled, and some nights of his childhood were punctuated by the sounds of gunfire and police sirens, he said.

“Dad, hit the floor!” Dusty Harrison would scream when he heard gunfire.

“It’s rough out there,” Buddy Harrison said. “I just wanted him to know how to fight.”

He should know. Buddy Harrison saw boxing as a way for his son to avoid repeating the mistakes of his youth. Buddy Harrison’s involvement in gangs ultimately led to a 10-year sentence for armed robbery.

During his sentence, Buddy earned a GED. He also accepted religion for the first time, which helped alter his view of life and personal behavior. And four years after his release in 1990, the birth of his son became what he calls his greatest deterrent from crime.

“Where would I be right now if it wasn’t for him?” said Buddy, who works at Old School Boxing gym, training his son. “People say to me all the time, ‘You saved your son [from the streets].’ Did I? Or did he save me? Maybe we saved each other. I don’t know.”

Dusty’s mother, Lynda Hernandez, feels her son has traded some of his childhood for success in the ring. “He’s in the gym six days a week for hours, not just one, two hours,” she said. “Every day, for several hours of his life. I think probably when he turned 15, he got a little bit of time. Took a little bit of time and tried to be a kid and catch up a little bit, but now he’s back at it again.”

Father and son have slept in their rental car after an amateur championship bout, short of money to cover weekend hotel rates in Las Vegas. Buddy Harrison sold cars and bred pit bulls to pay for his son’s airfare, registration, hotels and food costs for 197 amateur bouts over nine years.

The results of each trip are scribbled in two blue pocket-size books that date from his first amateur fight in 2002, when Harrison, then 8, won in the 55-pound Golden Gloves.

A pair of victories

In June, Dusty Harrison fought his first professional bout, a four-round welterweight contest against 38-year-old Alphonso Alexander in Mississippi. The state’s Athletic Commission made an exception to its requirement that professional boxers be 18 years old, based on Harrison’s amateur experience and win-loss ratio, according to Jon Lewis, its chairman. The fight was a lopsided unanimous decision for Harrison.

In his second professional fight, also in Mississippi, Harrison won another unanimous decision, against 27-year-old Trenton Titsworth, who had 17 previous professional wins.

A portion of Harrison’s five-figure take from the two fights went to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, which works to cure breast cancer. Harrison wears the organization’s symbol, a pink ribbon, on his boxing shorts.

On the right leg of his trunks, a Puerto Rican flag represents his mother’s heritage. The D.C. flag, representing the place where he threw his first punch at age 3, covers his backside. His last name is written in pink across the waistband of his shorts.

“I wanted to people to look at my shorts and know something about me,” Harrison said.

One day, Harrison would like to be mentioned in the same breath with the greatest boxers ever, including Muhammad Ali. He said he understands the risks involved in getting there.

“That’s why I work on my defense a lot,” Harrison said. “The less you get hit, the longer you can box. I hope to retire without getting hurt. I’m just not going to fight past my prime.”

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