Coach Kay Koroma: Training Jarrett Hurd & the USA Amateur Boxing Team
By Caryn A. Tate on January 25, 2020
His fighter's success is what Coach Kay cares most about. (Amanda Wescott/Showtime)
Tonight at 9pm ET/6pm PT live on Showtime, former unified world super welterweight champion Jarrett "Swift" Hurd (23-1, 16 KOs) returns to the ring. It's Hurd's first fight back since his loss suffered last May to Julian Williams (who just lost to Jeison Rosario last Saturday). "Swift" faces Francisco Santana (25-7-1, 12 KOs) in a 10-rounder.
It's well known that Hurd recently changed trainers. Ernesto Rodriguez was Hurd's long-time former coach, and the two had a falling out after the Williams fight.
Now, Jarrett is working with Kay Koroma. Coach Kay, as his fighters call him, has operated out of Alexandria Boxing Club in Alexandria, Virginia, for years. Koroma has coached professional fighters, such as Shakur Stevenson (now a world champion) and Mikaela Mayer. Coach Kay has also worked as National Assistant Coach on Team USA's amateur boxing team, helping several boxers earn international and Olympic medals.
Koroma and Hurd completed part of their training camp in Colorado Springs, at the Olympic Training Center.
"It made it kind of cool because him coming out to Colorado and being in the gym with Troy [Isley], Keyshawn [Davis], Shakur, and other fighters, they're all in the gym here too," Kay said. "So he leaves the gym in Alexandria, Virginia and then he comes out here and he's still alongside his stablemates.
"He gets sparring, but also it's a peace of mind. Jarrett's used to being in the gym with a whole bunch of people around him. I feel like he wasn't getting the full attention and teaching like he should. So when he comes out here, it's just him, without everybody else and he just focuses."
Coach Kay has done a lot of analyzing of Hurd's loss to Williams.
"I think his mind wasn't really into the fight. From what I saw, it was regular Jarrett Hurd—where he goes in and picks up the later rounds and does what he has to do.
"With all the confusion and madness going on, I can't use that as an excuse with Jarrett. I just felt like I could see him not really being there. I could also see the corner not being prepared for that. I think it was a learning lesson for everybody."
Koroma is clear that he's not criticizing Hurd's former cornermen, or Hurd himself, when discussing the Williams fight. Quite the contrary—Kay is understanding about what can happen on fight night.
"You can't criticize somebody because in the ring, you learn a lot. Especially in the fight—there are things you probably didn't prepare for and then it happens in the ring and you're in shock. You don't know what to do. I think Jarrett's never been that threatened to have to flip that switch and make the decision himself and have to change things up in the ring. It kind of confused everybody. I think that's all it was—I think it was a learning lesson for everybody."
Kay discussed what he thinks Jarrett needs to do differently going forward.
"I think it's nothing major that Jarrett can't fix, it's just that he has to be aware of it. That's what we've been working on in the gym, being aware of your surroundings in the ring, knowing when to do this or that. I've been telling him, 'Look Jarrett, you can be on the ropes and you can be making the person miss, but if all the judges see is the person's back, they think that person is winning.' So you want to keep it in the center of the ring. You want to learn how to fight from the center of the ring.
"He's been doing really good with his boxing. The key thing with Jarrett when we got the fight call...Everybody wants him to act like nothing ever happened. They want him to just wake up and be able to do this the next day."
Kay was the opposite. In fact, he told Jarrett up front that he wouldn't take the coaching job if Hurd was going to rematch Williams right away. He simply felt it was too soon, that with all of the changes that have transpired in Jarrett's team combined with the fact that Kay and Jarrett aren't used to each other yet, it wouldn't be setting Hurd up for success.
And his fighter's success is what Coach Kay cares most about.
"He needs to [trust me], to believe, 'Kay's telling me to do this so it will work.' That's how it is with me. It's about the trust factor. That's how you get the best out of your athlete.
"It's [the fighter] in there. Going in there and taking these punches...you could die in this thing, and next thing you know, you turn around and you don't know if your corner really has your back or if they're there for a paycheck or if they're there to say I told you so.
"That's not a good feeling at all. I don't want an athlete to feel like that. I want them to know Coach Kay is with me win or lose. I want them to know I have their back no matter what."
Having worked with Olympic silver medalist and now world champion Shakur Stevenson for many years, Koroma has watched Stevenson grow year by year.
"Shakur's always been a talented kid," Coach Kay said fondly. "I knew he could be great because he showed me he could be great. He showed me his IQ in boxing, he showed me he's really into it. To have a kid who's just so into it—not just from the aspect of knocking people out—but looking at other fighters and understanding what they're doing in the ring...it's a blessing for a coach.
"So it's great to watch the transition. He got a great education in the Olympics. To help him become a world champion today.
"Me sitting there watching him, I'm like, 'Wow, he always told me he was gonna be a world champion, he told me he was gonna be an Olympian. Everything he ever said he was gonna do, he's done it.' I'm glad to see him on the rise. It's great."
Looking at Team USA's current boxing team, Koroma is impressed with the level of talent he sees among the amateurs fighters.
"There are a lot of great amateurs out here. There are a lot of juniors out here who can be elite. Being in this academy in amateur boxing, you're learning every day. You're seeing kids 8 years old who are doing things 30-year-olds should be doing, but they're doing it with ease.
"I just sit there and I watch it all day."
Summer 2020 is boxing's next turn at the Olympic Games. Koroma gave his thoughts on Team USA's current boxing team as they look ahead to the summer games.
"We took a big hit losing Duke Ragan and Troy Isley," Coach Kay said. "They've been in the program the last three years and they've been world medalists and shown that they're the best in the world.
"What I'm looking for is a new challenge, which I got with the USA team now because it's like I’m starting over with a new team. Right now the women have returned who have been on the team, three of the men have returned who have been on the team. But I have to put attention on the new guys. They've never fought without headgear, they've never fought in Russia, they've never fought in someone else's backyard who doesn't speak the same language as you. It's mental more than physical.
"Today was the first day training with them. It felt good. They responded well to my voice and the things I wanted to see them do. I always tell them if there's a question please ask. They'll ask me, 'Coach Kay, how do you do this or that?' Once I see that right there, I know there's hope. On top of what they [learn] in their home gym, all you're doing is adding to it. You're not taking anything away that their home coaches have given them. You're just adding and helping them be more aware of this or that."
Kay gave his thoughts on whether Team USA can expect any medals at this year's Olympics—which they have achieved for the past two Olympic Games (2012 and 2016).
"Right now I feel like from what I saw today, we have a big chance. But you can't really predict it outside the ring, you have to see what happens inside the ring.
"I tell people you don't have to be #1 to be the best. Styles make fights. Some people are in the right position to win it and some people aren't. But that doesn't mean you can't be a great fighter."