People most remember Hurtado for twice flooring six-time world champion Pernell "Sweet Pea " Whitaker and frustrating the WBC welterweight champion for 10 rounds, Diobelys Hurtado was just four minutes away from upsetting one of the pound-for- pound fighters in boxing. Exhibiting superior ring generalship, Hurtado built a large points lead by utilizing a "hit-and-move" fight strategy. The 26-year-old landed solid combinations and escaped before Pernell could counter. Hurtado's ring savvy dominated the bout until the 11th round when a barrage of overhand lefts sent the Cuban reeling through the ropes, unable to arise (TKOby 11). Recognized as one of the finest amateur champions in Cuban boxing history, Hurtado compiled an extraordinary amateur record of 200-20, highlighting his amateur career with gold medals in the 1990 International Tournaments, the 1993 World Cup and the 1993 and 1994 Cuban National Championships. In October 1994, after participating in a tournament in Ledyard, Conn., Hurtado was scheduled to board a connecting flight from Miami to Cuba. Refusing to return to the hardship that awaited him in Cuba, Hurtado bolted from Miami International Airport. Shortly after defecting, Hurtado joined a group of other Cuban amateur fighters who defected to the US to become professional boxers and who would eventually become promoted as "Team Freedom." Hurtado stormed through 1995, exterminating 11 of his 14 opponents. Only one of his opponents survived past the sixth-round. At 15-0 with 11 KO's. After his very disappointing, loss to Whitaker, Hurtado returned to the ring on June 21, 1997, stopping Jaime Balboa (TKO 9). Hurtado refused to allow any setbacks to derail his march. Hurtado shocked some boxing insiders by dismantling tough, Puerto-Rican contender Leonardo Mas in only three rounds (TKO 3). Hurtado floored Mas once late in round two with a left hook to the temple, and then flattened his Miami- rival permanently with a vicious left hook/overhand right combination to the head midway through round three. Hurtado continued his climb to the top of the junior welterweight division on September 4, 1998, flooring Darryl Tyson three times in round five to force the referee to invoke the three knockdown rule (TKO 5). Hurtado shrugged off a second round knockdown and battered Tyson with blinding combinations in rounds three through five. The impressive victory brought Hurtado one step closer to a world title shot. On November 28, 1998, despite receiving only two weeks notice, Hurtado challenged Kostya Tszyu for the interim WBC super lightweight championship. In an action-packed bout that produced five knockdowns, Hurtado twice floored Tszyu before being stopped in round five (TKOby 5).
By Enrique Heredero Keeping alive hopes of one day fighting Oscar De La Hoya and avenging his loss to Kostya Tszyu, Diobelys Hurtado came back June 19 to beat an experienced veteran and ex-champion in "Lightning" Lonnie Smith by unanimous decision. It was Hurtado's first fight since his gutsy loss to the power punching Tszyu last November for the interim WBC Junior Welterweight championship, a loss that Hurtado is aching to avenge. You see, Hurtado wasn't supposed to be fighting for the interim WBC title. He was a last minute replacement for another fighter, Miguel Angel Gonzalez, who was supposed to be in the ring with Tszyu that night. When Gonzalez pulled out of the fight, Hurtado was called in to replace him. "I was told that I was fighting for the title 10 days prior to the day of the fight and wasn't as prepared as I could've been. I was on vacation and all of the sudden I'm fighting for the world championship in a little over a week." Against the veteran Lonnie Smith, Hurtado, formerly trained by Lou Duva and now trained by Mariano Leyva and Jerry Lee from Miami, would win a relatively easy decision, scoring an impressive knockdown at the end of the first round, knocking Smith's mouthpiece out of Smith's mouth in the second round and cruised to a 10 round unanimous decision victory with two scores of 98-91 and one score of 96-93. Smith would occasionally score with effective shots, but Hurtado would prove too much for him. This writer had it at 99-91 in favorof Hurtado. 34 year old Smith is the former WBC Super Lightweight champion. He had won that title back in 1987 by knocking out Billy Costello in 8 rounds. Since then, Smith had lost several decisions to Julio Cesar Chavez, Wilfredo Rivera and Ike Quartey. He also fought to a 10 round draw with highly rated Derrell Coley. The fight was televised on FOX Sports. Hurtado was criticized by FOX's commentators for failing to knock Smith out when he had him hurt. Hurtado would explain that the bell had saved Smith, which was why he couldn't finish him off. The commentators would also point to Hurtado's fights with Tszyu and Whitaker as evidence that Hurtado wasn't a good finisher. Jerry Lee, one of Hurtado's trainers and the man in charge at Lee's Academy on eighth street in Miami, countered: "I don't see any problem with his finishing ability. No one has been able to finish Lonnie Smith. [Julio Cesar] Chavez was unable to KO Smith. Quartey was unable to KO Smith. When he fought Tszyu, he was in no condition to be in the ring because he was a last minute replacement [for Gonzalez]. When Hurtado fought Whitaker, Hurtado was still young and inexperienced. The commentators, who were criticizing Hurtado from round 1, had their mouths shut when at the end they saw the punch stats that indicated that Hurtado had a much higher connect percentage. They had to stick their tongues where they belong." Hurtado was born in Santiago, Cuba and came to Miami as an amateur boxer with 12 other fighters on October 24, 1994. He defected a few days afterward. Ever since, he has become a well known professional boxer among the boxing community and has made a name for himself in epic clashes with all time great Pernell Whitaker and rising star Kostya Tszyu, both fights for world championships. However, while Hurtado's success has only begun to come to fruition, he still misses the family and the country he left behind in order to pursue freedom. "It was very difficult starting a new life. I miss my family constantly, my seven brothers and mother and father. I'm waiting to make enough money to bring them over here if they want to. I speak to them by phone whenever I want but the phone lines over there are very poor, so it's hard to hear them. I always miss my country and I would love to return when Cuba is free again. Right now, Cuba is a disaster. I think there are some changes in the works and hopefully those changes will benefit those who seek liberty. "Ever since I was 12 years old, I wanted to be a fighter. My older brother was an amateur boxer [in Cuba]. He gave me two pairs of boxing gloves and I would take them to school and play with other kids. I began going to the gym behind my mothers back. She was always very protective of me because I was a sickly little boy, always getting sick for one reason or another, but that all changed as soon as I starting boxing. Once I began to box, I never got sick. However, to turn professional, you have to leave Cuba. There are only amateur divisions in Cuba. So in order to become professional in any sport, you have to leave Cuba." Hurtado remembers hearing about Sugar Ray Leonard while still in native country and how he always wanted to see him. Now, Leonard remains his favorite fighter and one of his idols. Hurtado states that of all the fighters he can fight, he wants to fight Welterweight champion Oscar De La Hoya the most. With many fighters, one might think that the reason they want to fight De La Hoya is for the money, but with Hurtado, one gets the impression that it goes beyond money. Hurtado and his trainers seem determined to prove that Hurtado is a greatfighter. "We're willing to fight any champion who is willing to give him a shot," said Lee, "First, we have to gain a title so that we can get De La Hoya in the ring. If De La Hoya still won't fight us, we'll clean out the division and force a match with De La Hoya. We're going to [show everyone] what Cuban fighting is really like [against Smith]." Since he's so interested in fighting De La Hoya, he was asked who he thought would win the De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad showdown scheduled for September 18, 1999. Hurtado said, "I feel that, at his best, De La Hoya will beat Trinidad." However, Hurtado doesn't limit his sights to just De La Hoya. "I'll fight any champion," Hurtado says, "but there is also a thorn in my side that I need to take out in the form of Kostya Tszyu." Hurtado is hungry to avenge his fifth round knockout loss to Tszyu and Hurtado hopes that the path to redemption has begun with his most recent performance over Lonnie Smith. "I won every round, "Hurtado said after the Smith fight, "I'm back."