Photo by Wallace Barron
The story of rising welterweight prospect Dusty Hernandez-Harrison, and his father Buddy who trains him, defines determination. After he was released from jail in the 1990s on a robbery conviction, the elder Harrison was set on turning his life around and becoming a role model for his son, Dusty.
“Prison saved my life,” Harrison told this writer on the phone last week. “I finished eighth grade on the streets, I got my GED and two years of college on the inside. All my old friends are either dead, or strung out on drugs, or still in prison.”
Harrison, who runs a gym in the Washington, D.C. area, enrolled his son in boxing when he was eight. The reasons were more pragmatic than ambitious. The area they lived in was rough – so learning how to box was akin to surviving. Young Hernandez-Harrison won a trophy a few months after first lacing on the gloves. By age 16, he had engaged in 195 amateur bouts, winning seven national titles. A few months later he turned pro. The decision surprised many. Wasn’t trying to make the Olympic Team more important for a 16-year-old fighter?
Not necessarily. Times have changed. The Olympics are no longer a guaranteed springboard to a successful career. Father and son weighed the pros and cons and made the decision to apply for a professional boxing license in Maryland. They were promptly turned down, but not for long even though many criticized their judgment.
Since turning pro in 2011, Hernandez-Harrison has won all 19 of his professional fights, scoring 11 knockouts. He’s very aware of his father's past indiscretions.
“I have heard all the stories concerning my dad when he was younger,” said Hernandez-Harrison. “Reform School, prison, gangs, etcetera. He does and has taught me right from wrong. I have never once spent a night in jail and I don't plan on it.”
Now 19, Hernandez-Harrison keeps a keen eye on his competition.
“I like watching the welterweights,” Hernandez-Harrison said. “Coming up, Felix Trinidad was my favorite.”
Growing up idolizing the former five-time champion from Puerto Rico explains his style. Hernandez-Harrison is tall for a welterweight (6-foot-1) and he utilizes his long jab.
“I like to box but I love to slug it out sometimes,” he said.
Being a pugilist has also allowed Hernandez-Harrison to see much of the United Sates.
“Boxing is fun for me because of the same reason as when I was eight,” says Hernandez-Harrison. ”I get to travel all over. I see the same friends again that I met 10 years ago in the amateurs.
“I've fought in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, New Jersey and New York. I would have never visited those places if not for boxing.”
Hernandez-Harrison will be back in the ring on Jan. 31 to face Tim Witherspoon Jr.
“We respect Dusty, but it is Tim Junior's time,” said Steve Witherspoon, the fighter's uncle and co-trainer. “He's going to knock Dusty out. The Witherspoons are coming, and we are wreaking havoc!”
Hernandez-Harrison expects a tough fight.
“Not only is he the son of a former heavyweight champion; he's from Philly so I know he's going to be tough,” Hernandez-Harrison said. “He's slick, skillful, and has tremendous experience in his corner, so we know what we have to do, and it starts and ends with my hard work in the gym.”
To be successful a boxer has to be willing to work. Hernandez-Harrison knows this – as does his father who is resolute in helping his son.
“It's all about giving back,” Harrison says.
For his son, it's all about giving it to his opponents.
Photo / Wallace Barron