Former unified junior middleweight champion “Swift” Jarrett Hurd worked with his trainer Ernesto “Nesto” Rodriguez for 12 years. But when Hurd (23-1, 16 KOs) returns to the ring against Francisco Santana on Saturday, January 25th, there will be a new face in his corner. Kay Koroma, known affectionately as Coach Kay to his fighters, will be Hurd’s new trainer going forward. When Hurd parted ways with Rodriguez following his first loss, he began his search for a coach he could gel with, who would help him hone his craft, and most important, someone he could trust in an unforgiving sport.
Koroma trains top professional and amateur fighters out of Alexandria Boxing Club in Alexandria, Virginia. As National Assistant Coach on the USA amateur boxing team, he has helped various boxers win world championships and Olympic medals. But he wasn’t sure initially if he wanted to help Hurd.
“A lot of people take on things just because of the look,” Kay explained. “A lot of people would say, 'Jarrett Hurd, he makes a lot of money. Training him will make me look good.' But if I'm not gonna add something to you, there's no reason for me to take the job. Is there something I can really do for this kid? If there's not, there's no point. At the end of the day, a paycheck can ruin you as a coach. I told Jarrett if he really wanted pursue me training him, come out to Colorado by himself [to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs]. He did, and he liked training around Shakur [Stevenson], Keyshawn [Davis], Troy [Isley], and everybody. It motivated him. So, we went back home, we started training, and we're back in Colorado now finishing up camp.”
Hurd suffered his first loss in May 2019 against Julian “J-Rock” Williams. Initially, Hurd decided to exercise his immediate rematch clause. It was originally planned that the rematch would happen by the end of 2019.
For Coach Kay, that was out of the question. “I wouldn't coach him if he was going to rematch J-Rock right away,” Koroma said. “You're going back to fight J-Rock when you just lost a fight, your team wasn't working together, and now you’re trying to put yourself back into the running? No, we can't go into the J-Rock fight like that. I've got to see what your weaknesses are and what your strengths are so I can use those against J-Rock. You have a new coach—I don't know you yet, you don't know me yet. You're not used to my voice, my schooling. I have to earn that trust as a coach.”
Hurd will now face Santana (25-7-1, 12 KOs) at Brooklyn, New York’s Barclays Center, live on Showtime Championship Boxing (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT). The bout will be the co-feature to the welterweight showdown between former two-division champion Danny Garcia and hard-hitting Ivan Redkach.
In order to inform their training strategies, Kay thoroughly studied Hurd’s fight against Williams. “I feel like he wasn't fully prepared mentally,” Koroma said. “Mental preparation is a big thing. In this fight, he had to use his mind. It was hard for him to make the adjustments during the fight. And no offense to J-Rock; he came in there on his game. Everybody is always saying Jarrett comes from [behind] and wins in the later rounds. But a person can get in there with a game plan that says, 'I don’t want to be the person Jarrett Hurd does that to.'
“I feel like the fight can only make Jarrett better because now he realizes he has to start faster, box more, stay off the ropes, let his hands go a little bit more. He has to be smart—he can't be playing catch up.”
In camp, the focus has been on key fundamentals. “We've been working on defense, so he can read when punches are coming,” said Coach Kay. “Being in the right position to get away from the punch but also be able to throw a counter. When to throw power, when to touch, when not to fight backwards, knowing where you are in the ring so all the judges can see you scoring.”
“Jarrett sparred right before we came to Colorado. This was the first time we left the gym to spar. I told him I wanted to see him use his jab and not go on the ropes. Jarrett did that, but also what happened was—being I didn't fill his head up with a lot of other stuff—he started doing everything we worked on. He started countering his opponents, he didn't throw power, he let his hands go, he slipped punches and stayed balanced. Jarrett was like, ‘I liked that.’”
Koroma maintains a positive outlook with Hurd, including how they view Jarrett’s previous coach. “I know they got each other [to the top],” Kay said about Nesto Rodriguez. “When Jarrett's successful, nothing goes away from what Nesto taught him. It's still in him. That's 12, 13 years. You can't take that away.
“Everybody expects this brand-new Jarrett Hurd to show up January 25th. I expect Jarrett Hurd to be Jarrett Hurd. Because now the lights are on; you're on the big stage. The first thing you do is go back to who you are. But what I expect is somewhere down the line, he's gonna do two or three things that I taught him out of the 30, 40 things. And then I'll be content and happy.
“That's how I look at it. To build him up to get back to where he needs to be to be world champion. As long as I see that, I'm happy.”
PBC press release written by Caryn A. Tate