We love you when you are young, and are quick to tell people how overrated they were when they were done. Those are themes of boxing in the gyms, and journalism as a whole. I’m contemplating this after watching what I assume will be the last bout for Tony Harrison, a brutal and uncomfortable knockout loss to Tim Tszyu, in which Harrison struggled to mount effective offense beyond a well-educated and resourceful jab.
Let’s look back at what made Harrison, the Harrison we know and love as a fighter.
Harrison was a solid amateur who competed at multiple national championships and was one of the last fighters to have a connection and work with Emanuel Steward, up until Stewart’s untimely passing in 2012.
Harrison would turn pro as part on the Wladimir Klitschko vs. David Haye card, as I would assume Stewart got his up-and-coming fighter on the card. Huge for his weight class at six-foot-one-inches tall, Harrison wasn’t Thomas Hearns, but being from Detroit, with the long frame, he attracted a bit of buzz.
After the loss of Steward, Tony Harrison would transition to working with his father, Ali Salaam, a legend in Detroit, Michigan in his own right. By 2014, Harrison had established a good record, and was now fighting on notable cards including cards promoted by TGB Promotions, as well as starting to be featured on the upstart boxing entertainment network, Premier Boxing Champions.
“Nelson’s got a lot of heart. I’m not underestimating him. I’m coming in in top shape. I did things I normally don’t do in training. I went swimming for this camp. We know what we’re up against,” said Harrison prior to facing Willie Nelson. “I’ve been ready to face a guy of this caliber for a long time. I’ve been sparring Gennady Golovkin, Andy Lee, K9, and Luis Collazo. I’ve been in with champions before I even turned pro. I’ve been in with the best and did what I was supposed to do against them.”
Harrison’s first really big fight was against a fighter I know quite well, and consider a good buddy of mine, Willie Nelson. The fight encapsulated both the good and bad of Harrison’s career. In terms of talent, and ring-IQ, Harrison always had it. The issue with Harrison was focus – it was like Harrison had ADHD in the ring and couldn’t stay locked in for every second of every round. These small mental lapses would erode all the work that he did that was positive, because it appeared once he lost focus he would get hit with a clean shot.
Things would tailspin in Harrison’s career, as he never showed the ability in his professional career to bounce back from a daunting adversity. Once adversity hit, it usually snowballed, not unlike a talented fighter named Antoine Douglas.
Nelson would knock out Tony Harrison in 2015, at the USF Sundome in Tampa, Florida in the ninth round. The fight was coming on the heels of wins over Tyrone Brunson and Bronco McKart, and many had viewed the fight as a graduation to the next level for Harrison, who was starting to enter the world title picture.
Harrison would rebuild his career fighting three times in 2016, most notably beating Fernando Guerrero. That set the stage for Harrison to fight Jarrett Hurd for the vacant IBF super welterweight title once Jermall Charlo vacated the division. Once again, Harrison would paint a Picasso, but see the same exact result getting stopped in the ninth round.
It might’ve been fatigue, or it might have been nerves, but it always felt to me it was focus.
Tony Harrison always seemed to be a people person, an outgoing personality, and under the bright lights it seemed he wanted to actually soak up the moment at times, rather than live in the moment, which was his downfall on some nights.
After the Hurd fight, those who knew saw Harrison as a talented fighter, but also as a fighter who had some flaws, and despite quite possibly having the must pure talent in the division, he never seemed to harness it in the big moments.
As Spider-Man once said, ‘with great power comes great responsibility,” but Harrison felt like a first-ballot ‘what-if’ guy, up there with the likes of Matt Korobov, and Martin Murray.
Whereas Willie Nelson would be fed to the wolves facing Demetrius Andrade in his next fight after Harrison, Hurd would become a star after defeating Tony Harrison, essentially taking the spot many expected Harrison to sit upon in the sport.
After the tough Hurd loss, Tony Harrison would follow his protocol, defeating game spoiler Paul Valenzuela, and former champion Ishe Smith before facing Jermell Charlo, in what many viewed as a “stay-busy fight” prior to a Jermell Charlo vs. Jarrett Hurd PPV. That would get messed up in multiple ways, but the Tony Harrison we expected to see for four years finally showed up.
Harrison was an abrasive personality at first, but became a star at the press conferences against Charlo, as his trash-talk came off as charming, whereas Charlo appeared very sincere, but also very annoyed.
The two were perfect for each other to bring out each others’ greatness. Harrison showed what made him a beloved figure from his personality to his talent in the ring, and Charlo had to show his greatness of his championship run by winning his world title back from Harrison.
In the end, both fighters became legendary in December 2018, on FOX, as Tony Harrison fought the fight of his life. It is a fight some claim Charlo won, others claim Harrison won, but in the end it was a darn good one, and seeing veteran reporter Heidi Androl’s reaction to Harrison’s pure joy in the ring is something that always makes me smile. Harrison won the world title and lived up to the potential set by him at a young age, when the world had counted him out.
In the rematch, Harrison would get stopped. This time he lasted two more rounds than in his previous stoppage losses as he was cut and stopped in the eleventh round.
The Pandemic hit, and Harrison would not fight. Tragically, Harrison would also lose his father. He would return a year-and-a-half later, fighting to a draw with Bryant Perrella, who was fighting at 154 lbs for the first time in his career. The fight saw Harrison trying to stalk Perrella, which was not in his nature, and I think the overlooked part of this fight is how much the loss of his father weighed on him during this scrap.
A year to the date of that fight, Tony Harrison would return to outbox Sergio Garica, the boxer, not the golfer, in a fight that was a shut-out and academic—-it was a textbook boxing lesson.
When Jermell Charlo would suffer an injury delaying a fight with Tim Tszyu, Tszyu jumped on the chance to challenge Tony Harrison, the only man to beat Jermell Charlo.
This would set up what I assume was Harrison’s final fight of his career, a ninth round loss to Tim Tszyu in Australia, in which yet again he got stopped. Tszyu made Harrison look old. Harrison did himself no favors as his feet no longer had the bounce they once had, and the outcome from round three onward looked inevitable.
In hindsight, Tony Harrison is one of the best modern Detroit fighters, a fighter who both underachieved and overachieved at different points in his career. Also, he started as an antagonist, who seemed to be following the playbook of Floyd Mayweather, but ended his career as a beloved veteran of the sport, who lifted up any promotion he took part in.
Harrison became a star, he became a hero to many fighters in the gym, and part of that is because he never gave up on himself. Not unlike Abraham Lincoln, Harrison had more failures than successes, but the fact that he kept fighting is what inevitably made his career stand above most of his peers.
Tony Harrison is the ultimate blue-collar fighter. At times loud like your neighbor who fixed cars all week in his garage shop after a six-pack of beer, Harrison also had the blue-collar grit of a union worker grinding his way to the upper-middle, putting on his local union uni, and getting the job done. Harrison is a fitting person to rep the city of Detroit; while he might not be Eminem, Harrison could very well be Proof.
Tony Harrison's career mattered. And along with his brother LJ Harrison, the two will continue to help the youth in Detroit, and more than likely pop up on boxing telecasts for the next 30-years, or so.