LAS VEGAS -- Junior middleweight world titlist "Swift" Jarrett Hurd spent years watching Erislandy Lara, the slick and crafty veteran titleholder, and after Hurd won his belt last year he began calling him out -- something few other 154-pounders dared to do.
But Hurd got what he wanted and, in a brutal contender for fight of the year, he dropped a fading Lara with 37 seconds left in the fight to secure a split-decision victory to unify world titles before a sold-out crowd of 2,579 on Saturday night at The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
Hurd was trailing on all three scorecards going into the 12th round but he floored Lara with a crushing left hook in the waning seconds of the fight to give him the winning margin of 114-113 on two scorecards. The third judge had the fight 114-113 for Lara, who has received vast criticism over the years for a series of boring fights but not on this night when he was involved in a terrific battle. ESPN scored the fight 115-112 for Hurd.
It was just the seventh title-unification fight in division history and the first since Floyd Mayweather -- who was ringside in his capacity as the co-promoter of the card -- easily outpointed Canelo Alvarez in 2013. The others were Terry Norris-Paul Vaden, Felix Trinidad-Fernando Vargas, Oscar De La Hoya-Vargas, Winky Wright-Shane Mosley and Alvarez-Austin Trout.
It was Hurd's volume punching and power that was the difference. According to CompuBox punch statistics, he landed 217 of 824 punches (26 percent) and he was clearly the bigger puncher. Lara landed 176 of 572 blows (26 percent). Over the final four rounds, Hurd outlanded Lara 106-71, including 96-58 in power shots.
Hurd said all along that his size advantage and pressure fighting would lead him to victory and it did.
"It was a tough one, but I went out there and did exactly what I said I was going to do -- fight all 12 rounds and get the victory. I didn't feel like that [12th-round knockdown for the win]. I feel like I was in control the whole fight, applying the pressure."
Lara, who earned $1 million to Hurd's $500,000, got off to a quick start, coming to Hurd and nailing him to the body and with right jabs from his southpaw stance. He was more offensive-minded that usual and threw combinations in front of the much bigger Hurd, who struggled to land cleanly against a master defensive fighter.
Hurd (22-0, 15 KOs), 27, of Accokeek, Maryland, who made his second title defense, began to force Lara back with right hands in the third round as they settled into a back-and-forth affair that had the crowd cheering. It was far more entertaining that Lara's usual fights because Hurd pressed him so relentlessly. "It was a great fight for the fans. I stood and fought a lot and it was fun," Lara said. "I thought I clearly won the fight. Once again a decision goes against me, but, hey, we just gotta do the rematch."
In the sixth round, Lara (25-3-2, 14 KOs), 34, a Cuban defector who lives in Houston, was making his seventh title defense, landed a short and clean uppercut that didn't budge Hurd, who at the end of the seventh round landed a big-league right hand that didn't move Lara as they both showed good chins.
The ninth round was brutal as they spent long stretches trading clean punches but neither fighter would given an inch in a dog fight. The 10th round was similar. Both fighters were hunched over and banging away in the 11th round looking for any opening. Lara tried to measure Hurd with his jab and Hurd blasted away to the body and head as Lara's swollen right eye began to close.
Hurd came out strong in the 12th round. He was going for a knockout as a tiring Lara tried to tie him up. Hurd landed two uppercuts and Lara looked absolutely gassed as he backed up and covered up. Hurd continued to fire away with combinations against a dazed Lara before dropping him with a clean left hook with about 15 seconds left in the fight. Lara, his right eye bleeding, gathered himself and made it to his feet, and to the final bell, but Hurd had finally broken him.
"I don't think it had anything to do with age," Hurd said of the youth advantage. "I think it was me and the game plan we had to apply the pressure."
Lara did not agree with the decision.
"Besides the last round, I thought I was winning this fight easily," said Lara, who went to the hospital after the fight as a precaution. "That's not to decide the fight. I was winning the fight. One punch in a fight doesn't determine the fight. One hundred percent I want the rematch. The problem was the cut on the eye. I couldn't see in the last round."
Another unification fight is likely next for Hurd against titleholder Jermell Charlo (30-0, 15 KOs), who was ringside. If Charlo retains his title on June 9 against an opponent to be determined, the fight with Hurd would likely take place in the fall as part of Showtime's plan to unify the division.
"Hurd has to get his defense together because he can not get hit by me like that by me," Charlo said. "Lara doesn't move like he used to. If he moves like he used to he wins that fight. I'm down. Let's go. We want that work. I feel Hurd only took the fight with Lara because he realized the harder fight is with Jermell Charlo."
Hurd said bring it on.
"'Swift' isn't ducking anyone," he said. "I'm No. 1 now. We're calling the shots."