FAIRFAX, Va. -- All along, Julian "J Rock" Williams said it made no difference to him that he was going to challenge Jarrett Hurd in front of his home-region fans, because they couldn't get in the ring and help.
And when the boxers were done battling for 12 hellacious rounds Saturday in a fight-of-the-year contender, it was Williams who had crashed Hurd's homecoming party and won a unanimous decision to take his unified junior middleweight world title belts in the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions card at EagleBank Arena, located 30 miles from Hurd's hometown of Accokeek, Maryland.
The judges had it 116-111, 115-112 and 115-112 for Williams, who scored a knockdown in the second round. ESPN had it for Hurd 114-113 in a fight in which every round appeared competitive.
For Williams, the victory was the culmination of a lifelong dream to win a world title.
"This is a dream come true. I have been waiting for this for years," Williams said. "I never ditched the gym. I never got into girls or left the gym. I am from the streets, but I was never in the streets. I was in the gym practicing my craft. The only people that believed in me were my team, but all I can say is, 'and the new!'"
It was his second opportunity, too, coming 2½ years after an abject failure in his first shot. That is when he got a mandatory fight with then-junior middleweight world titleholder Jermall Charlo in December 2016, but he got knocked down three times in a crushing fifth-round knockout loss.
But Williams, a Philadelphia native, shook off the loss quickly and came back to win his next four fights to earn a mandatory shot against Hurd, and he made it count in a blazing, action-packed fight that featured tremendous action in almost every round after the slower first.
"I am just overwhelmed," Williams said. "This is such a great feeling. I outclassed him. I am one of the best fighters in the world. Maybe I wasn't ready for the title the first time I got the shot. I took the loss. I took it like a man and the whole world doubted me. I went into this fight a 5-to-1 underdog."
Hurd had no quarrel with the decision.
"I wasn't able to get off. I can't really call it right now. I have to go back and watch," he said. "I was loading up on my shots instead of just letting my hands go."
According to CompuBox statistics, Williams landed 273 of 687 punches (40 percent) and Hurd connected with 249 of 800 (31 percent). Williams landed more punches than any other Hurd opponent in the 11 fights tracked by CompuBox.
"It was J-Rock's night," said Ernesto Rodriguez, Williams' trainer. "There is nothing you can say about it. He was humbled by a tough defeat. Won three or four fights and then did his job. We want the rematch. Our preparation will be better."
Hurd unified two 154-pound belts 13 months ago by outpointing Erislandy Lara in the 2018 fight of the year, and was in yet another barnburner in the title defense he so badly wanted to have at home after not boxing in his home region since a first-round knockout of Terry Cade in Washington in November 2014.
He received a hero's welcome from the crowd of 5,105, and had the Washington Redskins' marching band play before he came to the ring wearing a Redskins logo on his outfit.
A rematch is in the offing.
"There's definitely a rematch clause in our contract and I'm going to go for it. I'm going to come back better than I was tonight," Hurd said.
But there will be a debate as to the location.
"We'll give him a rematch but we didn't say where," Stephen "Breadman" Edwards, Williams' trainer, said. "Let's see if they'll come to our hometown like we came to his hometown. I am not shocked [by the win]. I am just happy. We just knew that we were going to win. There are certain things that you just know. He trained so hard and he was so ready, I just knew."
The crowd immediately began to chant Hurd's nickname -- "Swift!" -- to lift him as the fight began, but it got off to a slow start, with each man moving around and looking for an opening.
The action picked up considerably in the second round as they exchanged clean shots, but Williams was all over Hurd and backed him up before landing a powerful left hook to the head that dropped Hurd late in the round for the first time in his career.
"He was crafty and he had heavy hands. I just stayed poised. I listened to my coach and I just worked," Williams said. "He couldn't hurt me. I saw everything he was throwing. I knocked him down."
Said Hurd: "It didn't really change my strategy. It was a flash knockdown. It caught me by surprise. I wasn't really hurt. 'J Rock' was just the better man and I was never really able to get off the way I wanted to."
The action continued in the third round with Hurd, who was making his fourth title defense, rocking Williams' head back with a nasty uppercut, but Williams quickly came back to stun Hurd with a left hand as they battled toe to toe.
Hurd (23-1, 16 KOs), 28, came back very strong in the action-packed fifth round, as he rocked Williams repeatedly and swelled his left eye. Williams landed many solid punches, but Hurd walked through them and had Williams (27-1-1, 16 KOs), 29, in trouble as he punished him along the ropes in the late stages of the round.
They continued to pound away on each other in close, all-action rounds, but Williams opened a small cut over Hurd's right eye in the eighth.
Hurd landed a series of right hands early in the ninth round that seemed to slow Williams down, but he rallied late to nail Hurd with a powerful right hand.
It continued to be an intense battle down the stretch, particularly on the inside in an exhausting fight. Hurd went to the body often and Williams answered in kind.
Williams came out strong in the final round. He was all over Hurd, but it again became a back-and-forth slugfest as the crowd cheered Hurd on.
Barrios crushes Velasco
Junior welterweight prospect Mario Barrios destroyed Juan Jose Velasco in the second round of their scheduled 10-round co-feature.
Barrios (24-0, 16 KOs), 23, of San Antonio, wasted little time. He took it to Velasco (20-2, 12 KOs), 32, of Argentina, from the outset. In the second round, he landed a perfect left hand to the body with a right to the head behind it to knock Velasco down to all fours. He barely moved, and referee Wayne Spinola counted him out at 1 minute, 16 seconds.
"I was trying to use my jab. I was being patient. I saw him opening up every time he would step in. I knew one of the body shots was going to do it and I found the sweet spot," Barrios said. "We weren't expecting it to end that quickly. I wasn't predicting a knockout, but I knew I had the power to do it and stop him."
Barrios has looked very strong in recent fights and has scored eight knockouts in a row, including a fourth-round stoppage of Richard Zamora in his previous fight Feb. 9. Now he wants a bigger fight.
"I want a world title shot," Barrios said. "I am always in the gym. I am always ready. I want all the smoke at 140. I want any of the champions."
Velasco suffered second knockout loss in a row. Last July, he faced top contender Regis Prograis, who stopped him in the eighth round. Two fights later, Prograis won a world title by sixth-round knockout of Kiryl Relikh on April 27 in the semifinals of the World Boxing Super Series.
Draw in Korobov vs. Aleem
Middleweight contender Matt Korobov started fast but faded down the stretch in a majority draw with Immanuwel Aleem. Korobov won 97-93 on one scorecard but the other two were 95-95.
Korobov was announced as a majority-decision winner, but an error tabulating the scorecards was made and a Virginia commission member had to go to the dressing rooms to tell the fighters about the correct outcome.
Korobov (28-2-1, 14 KOs), 36, a former Russian Olympian now living in Saint Petersburg, Florida, was trying to bounce back from his a controversial decision loss challenging Jermall Charlo for his interim middleweight title Dec. 22 in Brooklyn, New York.
"I felt heavy and not totally sharp enough," Korobov said. "It was hard to react and stop him from going inside. I have things to work on. He was tougher than I expected. He wasn't as strong as Charlo, but he is a really good fighter. He kept coming forward. He wasn't afraid. He just kept throwing punches."
Through the first six rounds, Korobov, a southpaw, continually backed Aleem up and could barely miss with his straight left hand. He had a big sixth round when he rocked Aleem several times with punches from each hand.
Aleem (28-1-2, 22 KOs), 25, of Richmond, Virginia, had few answers before making a rally in the final few rounds when Korobov looked very tired. Aleem had a good eighth round, catching Korobov with several clean shots. He seemed to realize he was behind, as he pressed the action in the ninth and 10th rounds in search of a knockout or at least a knockdown.
"I felt like I won. I didn't feel like he was doing enough," Aleem said. "I was trying to use my range. He was just touching me. I realized when I started hitting him that he didn't have the gas. I am faster than people think. I see open shots better than people expect. I made a statement tonight and I want to keep making statements."
Aleem suffered his first loss by hard third-round knockout to Hugo Centeno Jr. in August 2017 but returned for a sixth-round stoppage of journeyman Juan De Angel last May before the draw with Korobov.
According to CompuBox, Korobov landed 154 of 417 punches (37 percent) and Aleem landed 119 of 630 (19 percent).