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Hurd vs Williams preview: What’s at stake, how they got here, and how the fighters match up

Two 154-pound titles are on the line this Saturday on FOX.

Kent Green
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

This Saturday night in a PBC main event on FOX, Jarrett Hurd tops a tripleheader against Julian Williams in a junior middleweight main event from Fairfax, Virginia. Here’s what you need to know about the fight.

What’s at stake?

Hurd (23-0, 16 KO) holds the WBA and IBF junior middleweight titles, and both are on the line in this fight, as is his status as the generally-recognized top 154-pound fighter in the sport today — he’s rated No. 1 by The Ring, TBRB, and BoxRec. Williams (26-1-1, 16 KO) doesn’t bring a title or a No. 1 ranking by anyone, but this is huge for his career. He already lost in his first shot at a world title in 2016, and doing so again could reduce him to fringe contender status.

How did Jarrett Hurd get here?

Hurd, 28, wasn’t really on anyone’s radar before Nov. 2015, when he faced Frank Galarza on a special Saturday night edition of ShoBox: The New Generation on Showtime. Galarza came in 17-0-2 and considered the A-side of the fight, aided by the reputation that can develop simply by being a fighter from New York.

But Hurd, a native of Accokeek, Maryland, put it on Galarza that night in Vegas, dropping him in the fourth round and stopping him in the sixth. Basically, he beat Galarza up until Galarza turned his back and referee Russell Mora stopped the fight.

From that point on, Hurd was officially someone to keep an eye on. He picked up stoppage wins over previously-unbeaten Oscar Molina and veteran Jo Jo Dan in his next two, then faced Tony Harrison in Feb. 2017 on FOX, with the vacant IBF junior middleweight title at stake.

Deontay Wilder v Gerald Washington Photo by David A. Smith/Getty Images

Harrison, a very good boxer with vulnerabilities, gave Hurd a good fight, and showed that the young up-and-comer was still a bit raw, still had some work to do. After nine rounds, scores were 76-76, 77-75, and 77-75 in Hurd’s favor. What we learned for sure that night is that Hurd, with his naturally big frame at 154, was going to be tough for anyone to handle over the distance. He dropped and stopped Harrison in the ninth round to claim his first world title in Birmingham, Alabama.

Eight months later, he went to Brooklyn to defend against former titleholder and crafty southpaw vet Austin Trout. Again, Hurd had some trouble early with a superior technician, but again, he wore his opponent out, marched through the shots, and broke Trout down enough to secure a stoppage after the 10th round, when the ring physician recommended the fight be called off.

The biggest test of Hurd’s career to date came in April 2018, when he put his IBF title on the line against the WBA title held by Cuban Erislandy Lara, long one of the division’s best and often most-avoided fighters.

Lara generally has not been known over his career for action fights, but he and Hurd had a war that night on Showtime from Las Vegas, at the same venue where Hurd had beaten Galarza in 2015. In a terrific fight that wound up winning several Fight of the Year awards, Hurd and Lara went back-and-forth, before Hurd dropped Lara in the 12th round.

That knockdown won him the fight, as the judges had it 113-114, 114-113, and 114-113 for Hurd. Without the knockdown, it would have been a majority draw.

Later, it was reported that Hurd went into the fight with Lara with a bad left shoulder, and he had surgery in June to repair a torn rotator cuff. He returned to action in Dec. 2018, matched soft against England’s Jason Welborn. Welborn was very game and knew of Hurd’s reputation as a slow starter, so the underdog came out firing with everything he had. But he didn’t have the ammo needed to take the bigger, stronger, better fighter down, and then Hurd flicked the switch and knocked him out with a body shot in the fourth round.

How did Julian Williams get here?

Williams, 29, picked up some career steam a little before Hurd did. Back in 2013, he faced former titleholder Joachim Alcine in Brooklyn, and dropped the veteran three times en route to an eight-round decision win, but it wasn’t all roses for “J Rock” that night, either — on the judges cards, he won 77-72 across the board, which seems wide, but amounts to winning five of the eight rounds in the fight, three of those 10-8s because of the knockdowns.

After beating Alcine, Williams was matched three months later against fellow prospect Hugo Centeno Jr on a showcase card meant to build hype two days before the Mayweather-Canelo pay-per-view event. Williams led 30-27 after three rounds, but the fight ended in a no-contest 59 seconds into the fourth due to an accidental headbutt that left both men cut.

Wins over veterans Orlando Lora, Freddy Hernandez, and Michael Medina followed, all stoppages. He beat undefeated-and-untested Puerto Rican Eliezer Gonzalez in Sept. 2014, and late notice ShoBox opponent Jamar Freeman in December of that year.

Frankly, his career sort of stagnated for a bit. Joey Hernandez, Arman Ovsepyan, and Luciano Cuello were beaten in 2015, and in March 2016, Williams got an eliminator win over Marcello Matano on Showtime to set up his first world title shot, which came nine months later against IBF 154-pound titleholder Jermall Charlo.

Stephanie Trapp/SHOWTIME

Things didn’t start well, as Charlo put Williams on the canvas in round two with a strong jab, an early sign that Williams would absolutely have to avoid Charlo’s power if he were to win the fight and the title. In the third and fourth rounds, he showed the ability to do that, and it became an entertaining fight, with judges having it two rounds apiece after four, giving Charlo a one-point edge due to the knockdown.

Then Charlo landed an absolute bomb of a right uppercut in the fifth round, putting Williams down hard, and the fight was really over there. Williams got up, but he was done, and Charlo closed the show, dropping him again.

Since the loss to Charlo, Williams has gone 4-0. He came back with a TKO win over Joshua Conley in June 2017, and followed that up with a decision win over veteran Ishe Smith in Nov. 2017, a fight that aired on Bounce and was a little closer than the scores might have led you to believe. In 2018, he beat Nathaniel Gallimore and Francisco Javier Castro in April and December. Basically, he’s kept his name in the mix and piled up a few wins, and now he’s back in a title fight.

How do the fighters match up?

Challenger Williams, at 5’10” with a 72½-inch reach, is not a small junior middleweight or anything, but he’s going to be giving up size, as just about everyone does at this weight against the 6’1” Hurd, whose 76½-inch reach gives him on paper advantages due to his length, but that’s not something he really relies on.

Instead, Hurd likes to walk guys down and wear them out, which is another, more fan-friendly way to use size advantages like he generally has. He’s done it to Harrison, he’s done it to Trout, he’s done it to Lara. As far as pure boxing skills go, all those guys were better than Hurd, and Julian Williams probably is, too, but Hurd’s sort of physicality and grind-it-out approach is tough to deal with for a full 12 rounds. Lara managed it, barely, and Harrison and Trout both got stopped late.

Who’s the favorite?

Hurd is the clear favorite in this fight. As of this writing, odds on him at various books range from -450 to -714, with Williams listed between +325 and +450. It’s not as silly as a lot of televised main events, but we do have a clear favorite and a clear underdog. A Williams win would be a genuine upset.

Who will win?

Check back on Friday at Noon ET for our staff predictions!


Mikey Garcia v Robert Easter Jr Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

At one point in time, Mario Barrios (23-0, 15 KO) was one of the most purely intriguing prospects out there, a 5’10” guy at 130 pounds with a 71-inch reach. But he quite understandably grew out of that division before he could do any real damage on the bigger stage, and he wound up blowing right by 135, too, settling in at 140 over the last couple years.

Now 23, Barrios is, frankly, a little less intriguing at 140. He’s still tall and long for the division, but not quite so much as at 130, and frankly the matchmaking has been a little “kids gloves.” I know he’s young, and he’s still at worst a pretty good prospect, but even still.

Since moving up fully, he’s beaten Yardley Armenta Cruz, Jose Luis Rodriguez, Naim Nelson, Eudy Bernardo, Jose Roman, and Richard Zamora. That sort of matchmaking continues on Saturday, when he faces Juan Jose Velasco (20-1, 12 KO), who is coming off of a one-sided beatdown loss to Regis Prograis 10 months ago.

In the FOX opener, 36-year-old middleweight Matt Korobov (28-2, 14 KO) gets another chance with PBC. The one-time Top Rank prospect fizzled out after a TKO loss to Andy Lee in a WBO middleweight title fight back in 2014, doing basically nothing of real note for four years before coming in on short notice to face Jermall Charlo last December in Brooklyn.

Korobov gave Charlo a really good fight, and so he gets another look, this time against 25-year-old Immnuwel Aleem (18-1-1, 11 KO). For a hot minute about two years ago, Aleem looked like he was someone to keep an eye on, as he dropped and stopped then-unbeaten Ievgen Khytrov. But then seven months later he got goomed hard by Hugo Centeno Jr. He last fought in May 2018, stopping Juan De Angel in six. This is a meaningful fight for both Korobov and Aleem — it’s not going to grab everyone’s attention, but they both need the win.

Some fights will also air after the FOX broadcast wraps up, starting at 11:00 pm ET on FS1. The best of those is a super bantamweight matchup between Philadelphia’s Stephen Fulton (15-0, 7 KO) and Namibian veteran Paulus Ambunda (27-2, 11 KO), briefly a titleholder for five months in 2013. Fulton, 24, is 14 years Ambunda’s junior.

Bad Left Hook will have full live coverage of Hurd vs Williams on Saturday night, starting at 8:00 pm ET

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