Forgotten Legends: Diosbelys Hurtado

By: Steve Gallegos

The Cuban amateur boxing system is one of the best in boxing. The Cubans have dominated amateur boxing for decades and have produced some of the best defensive technicians. Due to communist rule, professional boxing has been banned in Cuba; therefore many great Cuban boxers have had to make the difficult decision to defect to the United States in order to fight professionally.

In the late 1990’s a 10 man team of Cuban fighters was formed in Miami, Fl and they called themselves “Team Freedom”. The most popular and successful fighter of “Team Freedom” was Joel Casamayor; however there was another standout of the team that many have forgotten about. That fighter was former Jr. Welterweight champion Diosbelys Hurtado.

Hurtado was a tall, slick boxer with great speed, skill and technique. Hurtado was born and raised in Santiago, Cuba and was a member of the Cuban national team in which he had an outstanding amateur record of 221-20. He longed for a better life and a career as a professional fighter; therefore he made the difficult decision to defect to the United States, leaving behind his family. He settled in Miami, FL and turned pro in December of 1994. He would win his first 20 fights, 12 by knockout before getting his first shot at a world title against the legendary four-time world champion, Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker.

They met on 01/24/97 at the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, NJ for Whitaker’s WBC Welterweight title. Whitaker had a major showdown scheduled for 04/12/97 against Oscar De La Hoya, which was the biggest fight in the Welterweight division in 16 years and he had to get past Hurtado in order to make that fight happen. Hurtado came out in the first round and surprised Whitaker by landing a straight right that put “Sweet Pea” down. It was a huge confidence booster for Hurtado and he began to dictate the pace of the fight with lateral movement and quick in-and-out combinations. Hurtado would drop Whitaker again in the fifth round with a quick flurry of punches.

The fight would turn into a rough, foul fest in which low blows and rabbit punches were being landed. Whitaker’s huge payday with De La Hoya was slipping away and the “Golden Boy” who was sitting at ringside was starting to get very nervous. Whitaker had not had a knockout past the sixth round, but in the 11th he landed a huge left hand that sent Hurtado reeling against the ropes. Whitaker went in for the kill landing one left hand after another and after nine unanswered left hands, referee Arthur Mercante Jr. finally stopped the bout with Hurtado halfway through the ropes.

At the time of the stoppage, Hurtado was ahead on all three judges scorecards. He was less than five minutes away from changing boxing history. The devastating knockout Hurtado suffered would have broken many fighters; however not this fighter. He hired hall of fame trainer Lou Duva and was back in the ring five months later and would win his next eight fights, six by KO before getting another crack at a world title against future hall of famer Kostya Tszyu.

They met on 11/28/98 at the outdoor arena at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, CA for the vacant WBC Super Lightweight Championship. Tszyu was scheduled to meet Miguel Angel Gonzalez of Mexico; however Gonzalez pulled out of the bout due to an injury; therefore Hurtado took the fight on 10 days notice after fighting just 15 days earlier. In the first round, Tszyu dropped Hurtado with a three punch combination against the ropes. Hurtado looked hurt and possibly ready to go; however he caught Tszyu coming in with a right hand and put Tszyu on the canvas. He would put Tzsyu down again in the first round while causing Tzyu’s right eye to swell badly.

The fight would be all action in which shots were being landed back and forth. Hurtado was able to counter Tzsyu’s hard shots very well as Kostya was leaving himself wide open; however Hurtado had a bad habit of keeping his back against the ropes, which left him an open target for hard shots. Tszyu continued to press forward, fighting like the great champion that he was and began to focus on Hurtado’s body.

In the fifth round, Tzsyu caught Hurtado on the ropes and dropped him twice with hard body punching; causing the referee to stop the bout. Hurtado would shake off the knockout loss and would win his next six bouts from 1999-2002, while winning the lightly regarded IBA Jr. Welterweight title. He would get a third shot at a world title as he faced the very tough, hard-hitting Randall Bailey.

They met on 05/11/02 in San Juan, Puerto Rico for Bailey’s WBA Jr. Welterweight title. Hurtado was able to withstand Bailey’s hard power shots which had “knockout” written all over them. In the second round, Hurtado dropped Bailey coming in with a straight right hand counter. Bailey would respond with a hard right hand in the sixth that put Hurtado down. Before the start of the seventh round, Hurtado’s corner told him that he had to go out and fight Bailey and he did just that by going for the gusto and putting Bailey down for good with a barrage of body punches. Finally, Diosbelys Hurtado was a world champion; however the glory would be short lived as Vivian Harris blasted Hurtado in two rounds in his first title defense seven months later.

He would fight three times in 2003-2004, winning all three bouts before retiring. He would make a comeback in 2007 and would go 5-0 before retiring again for good in 2011. His record as a professional stands at 43-3-1 with 26 KO’s. A true professional who always came into the ring in shape and ready to fight. He has helped pave the way for the new generation of great Cuban fighters like Erislandy Lara and Guillermo Rigondeaux, who like Hurtado have realized the dream of becoming world champion by sacrificing and truly dedicating themselves to the sport of boxing.

Diosbelys Hurtado

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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