Dusty Hernandez-Harrison, like many boxers, often goes on extended runs early in the morning when he’s training for a bout. For added inspiration, the D.C.-born fighter almost always called his father and trainer, Buddy Harrison, during those scenic journeys around the nation’s capital.
Throughout this most recent training camp, however, there were times Hernandez-Harrison would end his workout prematurely, bow his head, turn around and walk home, having lost all motivation to continue in the wake of Harrison’s shooting death.
“He’s the reason why I box. He’s the reason it’s in my life,” Hernandez-Harrison said. “Very little of my boxing has not been done with him watching. All my best moments in boxing he was there, so that part’s been hard. It’s been extremely hard.
“I won’t sit here and lie to you and say, ‘Everything’s been going great.’ A lot of people want to do that. I’m not that type. It sucked. There’s been days I woke up, and I was like: ‘F— it. I don’t want to go to the gym today. For what? I don’t want to do it no more.’ ”
Harrison, 62, was fatally shot Sept. 24 outside his home in the 2700 block of 30th Street SE. The attack occurred at approximately 11:40 a.m., and Harrison was pronounced dead at the hospital. The suspects, whom authorities described as three men dressed in black and carrying handguns, remain at large.
As the investigation continues, Hernandez-Harrison (34-0-1, 20 knockouts) is set to face Mexico’s Jose Humberto Corral (20-31, 12 KOs) on Saturday night in his first fight since the tragedy. The heavyweights are meeting in the eight-round feature bout of “Beltway Battles Round 3” at Entertainment and Sports Arena.
Hernandez-Harrison spoke about his father last week at Urban Boxing Navy Yard, which also was the last place they saw each other. Two days before the shooting, Hernandez-Harrison, 28, and his father attended an open workout for news media in advance of “Beltway Battles Round 3,” originally scheduled for Oct. 1.
The card also was to showcase Hernandez-Harrison in the main event, albeit against a different opponent, in his comeback from a hiatus that lasted more than 2½ years, in part because of the coronavirus pandemic.
During the layoff, Hernandez-Harrison was fatigued mentally, he said, contributing to him ballooning in weight. By the time he got back into boxing as a promoter for the first two installments of “Beltway Battles,” Hernandez-Harrison had gained more than 100 pounds from his early years as a promising welterweight contender.
But with Harrison’s encouragement, Hernandez-Harrison began to reclaim the joy he initially found in the sport. That change in perspective, along with getting married, led to Hernandez-Harrison shedding much of the weight. He was itching to fight again.
“Some of the pictures that he posted [on social media] were him saying this was the happiest moment of his life, the proudest moment of his life,” Hernandez-Harrison said of his father. “A lot of people can look at that and say, ‘Damn, this is sad,’ but for me, I look at it and find peace in it. We had our problems that were public. We didn’t talk for a while, but then we came back, and we were phenomenal at the end. Couldn’t have been better.”
So ready for a comeback was Hernandez-Harrison that he told The Washington Post exclusively two days after the shooting he still intended to fight the following Saturday. But event organizers postponed the card until this weekend, citing security concerns.
Hernandez-Harrison, meanwhile, has not paid much attention to the investigation. His family keeps him updated, but Hernandez-Harrison indicated he would rather channel positive energy into boxing as opposed to allowing the investigation to consume him.
“I don’t get into it,” he said. “I’m religious, and my peace is knowing where my father’s at. I’m not here for — I don’t need revenge. A lot of people want justice. To be quite honest I don’t care. Like, I’m happy where my dad is at, and I’m focused on my own life, and that’s all. And I know a lot of people don’t want to hear that. Even my mom’s like, ‘We need justice.’ I don’t. That’s not on my mind at all.”
Since his father’s passing, Hernandez-Harrison’s primary trainers have been Billy Briscoe and Bruce Babashan. Briscoe had worked with Harrison in previous training camps. Babashan is a relative newcomer to Hernandez-Harrison’s team.
Hernandez-Harrison’s weight also is up since he was last slated to fight, accounting for Saturday’s bout being contested at heavyweight.
Regardless, it was supremely important, Hernandez-Harrison said, simply to step into the ring as soon as possible to honor his father, whose Old School Boxing Gym continues to operate thanks to donations from the community that long embraced Harrison for his generosity in supporting the homeless and others in need.
A 10-bell count is planned for Saturday night’s card, as are other tributes to Harrison, according to organizers.
“He’s serious, but we’re not of the single mind that we always can be, that we like to be, because of the life circumstances,” Babashan said of Hernandez-Harrison. “So I think his head is in a good place. I think his heart is in the right place for everybody else. He’s getting good work in the gym, but I’d be less than honest to say we weren’t challenged by this situation in unique ways that none of us are super familiar with.”