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Hurtado making a name for himself

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

BY MIKE HOUSER

When Diego Hurtado showed up to compete in last week’s Everlast U.S. Championships at Colorado Springs, many of the competitors and coaches had one question on their minds: Who is this guy and where did he come from?

After the 17-year-old Hurtado forced United States Marine Roberto Castillo, of Camp Lejeune, N.C., to retire in his corner after only one round in the preliminaries, the Sparks resident took USA Boxing’s No. 2-ranked light flyweight (106 pounds) Austreberto Juarez to the limit before dropping a 28-22 decision in the quarterfinals.

Juarez went on to win the gold medal and was one of three boxers in the light flyweight division who had qualified through previous tournaments for the upcoming Olympic Trials.

Thanks to his resounding stoppage of Castillo, a subsequent bye and his quarterfinal performance against Juarez, Hurtado also qualified for the Trials, which will be held in Tunica, Miss., from Feb. 16-21.

If the amateur boxing world didn’t know Hurtado before, they know him now.

“Diego stopped Juarez in his tracks with combinations,” said trainer Bobby Lee of Virginia City, who served as the Western region’s team manager. “Juarez usually does that to his opponents, but he couldn’t do it to Diego. (Hurtado’s) power is the best in the top 10. He has awesome defense. He gave Juarez too much room for the first two rounds, but then Juarez got tired from getting hit with so many shots. I’m super excited for this kid.”

As if making the Olympic Trials isn’t amazing enough, consider that Hurtado has only 40 fights, while the majority of his opponents at this level have between 100-200 fights.

So who is this young puncher who slipped under the amateur boxing world’s radar?

Born in the Michoacan province of Mexico, Hurtado moved to the area when he was 5. He put on the gloves for the first time when he was 10, and was inspired by his older brother Francisco, who is now 20. He began boxing at the Fourth Street Youth Center in Reno, but said he found himself doing more training than boxing.

“When I was 13, I was only 70 pounds,” said the 5-foot-3 Hurtado. “Most of the other 13-year-olds were already 110 pounds. I was always fighting bigger guys.”

Hurtado hit a growth spurt before he was 15 and moved into amateur boxing’s lightest open division at 106 pounds. He also met his current coach Arthur Leon, who has guided him to the pinnacle of the amateur sport.

“Diego was persistent,” Leon said. “He came to me for years. He bothered me a lot. I sent him away a few times, but he kept coming back. He knew the Olympics were coming up and that there was something he should be doing. He didn’t know the schedule, so I took him to a calendar in late 2002 and said that if he didn’t get started, it would be too late.”

Leon, who moved to Reno to continue training as a boxer and instead turned into a coach, began to work the mitts with Hurtado.

“I had worked with a lot of pros, and the first time I worked the mitts with him, it was so natural,” Leon said. “I knew we were a good mix and as a team we were a good combination. Diego can bang. He is gifted with raw, natural power, which we are trying to improve on some more. He hits like a 130-pounder. He has great timing.

“The way he explodes with his power, it’s like a young Oscar De La Hoya. He hits you with left hook and you go, ‘Wow.’ He’s at his best when he’s the aggressor. He goes to the body, which at this level (in the amateurs) is a big no-no, but he’s gotten this far, so we’ll stick with it. He has a pro style.”

Hurtado took third place in the 2003 National PAL tournament, missing automatically qualifying for the Olympic Trails by two points, losing to Rau’Shee Warren, another Trials qualifier. Hurtado won the 2003 Blue and Gold National Invitational and slugged his way to the national U.S. Championships by winning the 2003 USA Nevada State and 2004 Region 14 championships.

Hurtado can count on one hand how many more fights he needs to win to become a member of Team USA. He has to win three times and can only lose once at the Trials and still have a shot of going to the Olympic Box-offs, which will feature the top two boxers in each division and will be held in Cleveland, Ohio, the week after the Trials. The boxer in the winner’s bracket has to win only once at the Box-offs, the boxer in the loser’s bracket must win twice.

“It’s pretty exciting. I wanted to get here, but it’s weird being here already,” Hurtado said. “It’s so close. I think I can win this tournament. They’re all beatable. I have to take it round by round, fight by fight. I’m not going to look too far ahead. I want to take care of business.”

And Hurtado has already learned from his slow start against Juarez.

“Every round I have to run it hard,” Hurtado said. “I used to take the first and second rounds off and by the third and fourth I’d really be nailing them. The more rounds, the stronger I get. I’m keeping this in mind for this tournament. I doubt they’ll still be around in the fourth round if I pressure them from the first.”