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Hernandez-Harrison feels stronger from sparring with middleweight champion

Unbeaten welterweight Dusty Hernandez-Harrison hopes to benefit from sparring against middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez in Saturday's return. Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Welterweight prospect Dusty Hernandez-Harrison returns to fight in his hometown of Washington, D.C., for the first time since 2014 having come off the most intense training camp of his career.

The 21-year-old traveled to San Diego -- his first time going away for a training camp -- and spent five weeks in camp with middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez as one of the chief sparring partners to help Alvarez get ready for his title defense against Amir Khan, which ended in a massive sixth-round knockout of the year contender this past Saturday in Las Vegas.

While Alvarez was using Hernandez-Harrison to simulate Khan's speed, Hernandez-Harrison was getting tremendous experience in preparation for his scheduled 10-round fight against Michael Dallas Jr. that will headline Roc Nation Sports' "throne boxing" card on Friday night (BET, 10 ET) at the DC Armory.

In a scheduled four-round undercard fight, 6-foot-4, 247-pound Philadelphia heavyweight Darmani Rock, 20, a standout amateur who won 2015 National Golden Gloves and U.S. National Amateur titles, will make his professional debut against Carlos Black (1-3, 0 KOs), of Rockville, Maryland.

Hernandez-Harrison said he sparred some 50 rounds with Alvarez and was proud to say, "I got more rounds with him than anyone else in camp." That means Alvarez liked the work Hernandez-Harrison gave him, and the youngster was happy to get such valuable experience.

"It was great, and I want to give a huge thanks to Golden Boy and Team Canelo. They probably treated me better than they treated Canelo," Hernandez-Harrison said with laugh during an interview with ESPN.com. "I was taken care of every second of every day. Real class act and great experience.

"Canelo is a funny guy. He'll try to kill you in the ring and then tell you to have a nice weekend when you're done. He's cool. He's so strong. It was great."

Hernandez-Harrison (29-0, 16 KOs) turned professional at age 17, so even though he is going into his 30th fight, he remains raw and is still developing. Now being trained by Barry Hunter after a falling-out with his father, Buddy Harrison, Hernandez-Harrison has gotten tremendous sparring going into the fight with Dallas, who represents, by far, his most notable opponent.

Hernandez-Harrison sparred with fighters such as former junior welterweight titlist Lamont Peterson, former junior middleweight titlist Austin Trout (who is getting ready to challenge for another world title against Jermall Charlo on May 21), Demetrius Hopkins (nephew of the great Bernard Hopkins) and up-and-coming lightweight contender Robert Easter Jr.

"I definitely feel ready for Dallas," he said. "This is the best sparring I've ever gotten for a fight. That might be the best sparring anyone has had."

But Alvarez, with whom he sparred three times a week, really showed him what it was like to be in the ring with an elite fighter.

"He's so strong in there that you can't relax," he said. "Sparring four rounds with him is as hard as eight with anyone else. Khan relaxed for one moment and it was all over. I did very well. It was pretty exciting when me and Canelo sparred. I had to prove myself. I sat there and banged with him. [Alvarez trainer Jose] 'Chepo' [Reynoso] liked it. He said he liked me because I had balls. He said some guys are scared of Canelo because he's so strong but they liked me because I had balls.

"They would throw me in there after he sparred other guys and was maybe a little tired and tell me to throw more punches and I would keep going and going. We were trying to hurt each other. It was as real as it could get. It was intense sparring. Maybe the first round you warm up, but after that it was great. I did love it, but I'd be sore the next day. It was a good way to measure myself. It's a lot different than the fight, but he's one of the best in the world."

Hernandez-Harrison said he took more than just the experience of the sparring from the training camp. He said working with Alvarez gave him a chance to observe how to get ready for a world championship fight.

"That was big, being at a serious training camp for a world title fight," he said. "When I'm home in camp, everything is about me. But I got to take a step back and see what it's like where it wasn't all about me. I got to see how he prepared, the way he hit the bag, how he shadowboxes. He did everything with intensity. He hit the bag like he was trying to knock the bag down. It was good to see that and see what it takes to fight at that level."

David Itskowitch, the chief operating officer of Roc Nation Boxing, which promotes Hernandez-Harrison, said the company was very pleased with the experience he got in the Alvarez camp.

"Any time a young fighter spars with someone at the level of Canelo Alvarez, it's going to be helpful to that fighter's development," he said. "Dusty came back from camp with Canelo with a noticeably extra spring in his step."

The preparation should have him ready to face Dallas (21-3-1, 10 KOs), 29, of Bakersfield, California, who has won two fights in a row since suffering a first-round knockout loss to a prime Lucas Matthysse in an interim junior welterweight title bout in January 2013. Dallas did not fight again until this past November, then won again in December.

"He's definitely the most experienced and best guy I've stepped in the ring with," Hernandez-Harrison said. "People say he's my toughest opponent yet, but nobody is saying I'm his toughest. This is not new to him. I think a lot of people focus on that Matthysse loss. But Matthysse's next fight he fought Peterson and did it again. You can't blame [Dallas] for that loss. Matthysse is a killer. I think too many focused on that. That's not the Mike Dallas I'm expecting. I think the one who will show up is the good contender."

Dallas said he is happy to fight in Hernandez-Harrison's hometown because there is no pressure on him.

"I feel very good ahead of this fight, confident and strong," Dallas said. "I'm just ready to go out there and perform. There's more pressure on him than me fighting in his hometown.

"I took some time off to let my body rest and heal and to let my mind get together. Now I feel great. I'm ready to come back and get back on top of things. I'm going to go out there and do my thing. I know Dusty is a pretty good fighter. I know he can box. I'm just ready to go out there, be smart and execute the game plan. I'm ready for people to know I'm back and there mentally. I'm ready to get back in the game and take care of these people in these bigger fights."

Armed with the experience of such a tremendous training camp with Alvarez, Hernandez-Harrison is hoping it will translate to a win to set the stage for what he hopes will be an important next 18 months.

"Over the next year to 18 months, I really want to step it up each fight," Hernandez-Harrison said. "I wanted to do it last year, but we had a lot of trouble getting opponents. A little bit of bad luck. I don't want that this year. I'm really maturing and getting that man strength. Every fight I feel a lot stronger."