NEW YORK — At 20 years old, District fighter Dusty Hernandez-Harrison has time to spare in his pursuit of a world championship belt at the sport’s highest level. His team thus had been methodical in choosing opponents for the undefeated welterweight, preferring teachable moments in the ring rather than rushing into bouts for which he may not be ready.
Saturday night provided another such lesson in disciplined boxing, with Hernandez-Harrison scoring a unanimous eight-round decision over Nicaragua's Wilfredo Acuna as part of the undercard to the main event at Madison Square Garden featuring world middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin against Daniel Geale.
Hernandez-Harrison resisted his self-admitted urge to trade with impunity in the middle of the ring, although in the eighth round he let himself go ever so slightly while chasing a knockdown. By then, Hernandez-Harrison was the clear victor on the scorecards, anyhow, so his father allowed for power punches, knowing a win was all but imminent.
All three judges scored the fight 80-72.
“I’ll be honest with you. Going into the last round, I’m thinking, ‘Man, I’d sure like to see [a knockdown] my damn self,’ but I didn't,” trainer and father Buddy Harrison said. “With 30 seconds left, I’m hollering, ‘Go ahead and work, but do it on the end of your punches.’ Being that Dusty is taller and his arms are longer, the only shot the other guy has is to get in close. It was an absolutely perfect fight.”
After three largely uneventful opening rounds, Hernandez-Harrison (23-0, 12 knockouts) delivered the first clean strike with a straight right hand a minute into the fourth. Hernandez-Harrison continued to use his jab to the body, and that tenacity paid off late in the fourth round when he was able to land an uppercut.
With a considerable reach advantage, Hernandez-Harrison never allowed his opponent to get inside leverage. Acuna (15-15, seven KOs), who is three inches shorter than Hernandez-Harrison, instead often connected with nothing but air when he tried to land a punch. Hernandez-Harrison absorbed only a handful of meaningful blows in his fourth fight this year, three of which have gone the distance.
“The strategy was to go out and box,” Hernandez-Harrison said. “Not try to look for anything, not try to force anything. The big thing [the training team is] trying to get me to do is just to stick to the game plan, not to get carried away, to get overly comfortable.”
Straying from prefight planning had Hernandez-Harrison on the mat for the first time in his career three fights ago against Michael Balasi in Pala, Calif. Hernandez-Harrison went on to win via six-round unanimous decision and learned an invaluable lesson in the art of boxing over brawling that he adopted in his latest foray into the ring.
Hernandez-Harrison fought at the world’s most famous arena for the second time. The last visit came in Nov. 2013 in what was then the most demanding test of his budding career. Hernandez-Harrison scored a 10-round unanimous decision over Josh Torres in the Theater at Madison Square Garden to claim the vacant World Boxing Council youth welterweight belt.
As was the case then, Hernandez-Harrison had a cavalry of fans who came up from the District, like they do wherever he fights.
Hernandez-Harrison was so appreciative of the hometown cheering section that he made sure to greet fans as they stepped off the buses on the 7th Avenue side of Madison Square Garden only a few hours before he was scheduled to fight. A police officer had instructed the driver of one of the buses to move around the corner, but some who had made the five-hour journey from the District just couldn’t wait any longer.
Before the bus could pull away, several dozen supporters began disembarking, temporarily blocking the taxi lane as they posed for pictures with Hernandez-Harrison. Camera crews were there to film all of it, and the commotion compelled many curious onlookers to ask aloud who was at the center of all the attention.
“To me, even though we’ve been on ESPN a few times, to me this was the biggest,” Buddy Harrison said. “I just mean the atmosphere. We’ve got buses and buses pull up out front. I had more people here than even got off the buses. A lot of people made this into a vacation. To me it was bigger than normal.”