Like many of his boxing contemporaries, Tony Harrison really had no occupational Plan B if fighting for a living didn’t work out. Check that: He had a Plan B, but it wasn’t exactly along the lines of architect, businessman or doctor.
“If it wasn’t for boxing, I would’ve gone down a road where I was trying to make ends meet through fast money,” says Harrison, whose grandfather, Henry Hank, fought professionally for two decades and was a top-10 contender at 160 and 175 pounds in the early 1960s. “And we all know that the fast money is in the streets, so I would have probably been into something of that sort.”
Thankfully for Harrison and his family, his boxing skills evolved to the point that he parlayed a successful amateur career into an equally successful professional résumé in which he won his first 21 fights while rapidly progressing from 154-pound prospect to contender.
Now, the 26-year-old native of Detroit stands on the brink of earning his first world title opportunity: On February 25 in Birmingham, Alabama, Tony Harrison (24-1, 20 KOs) will meet Jarrett Hurd (19-0, 13 KOs) on FOX (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT), with the winner becoming the mandatory challenger for the 154-pound championship currently held by Jermall Charlo.
As he began to wind down preparations for his battle with Hurd, Harrison took a break to share his thoughts on his introduction to boxing (including his first unofficial knockout), his reverence for several great fighters of the past and his infatuation with a certain tennis superstar.
You’re coming off last summer’s ninth-round TKO victory over Sergey Rabchenko, who entered the ring at 27-1 with 21 knockouts. On a scale of 1-to-10, how would you grade that performance?
I give myself about an 8. If I would have pressed the action a little more, it would never have gone nine rounds. But I feel like I was the ring general and I moved my feet really good.
I made him aware from Round 1 that I could punch and that I was fast, and I earned my respect. Bu there are a lot of things I could have done differently, like put a lot more combinations together.
How exciting is it that you’re competing against a fighter the caliber of Jarrett Hurd in a 154-pound title eliminator?
There is something about my competitive nature that thrives on situations like this. When you’re a competitor, you’re glad to be right back in the mix of the hottest division.
You want to be competing against the best prospects and to fight the best of the best—win, lose or draw—to find out where you are as a fighter.
How old were you the first time you put on a pair of boxing gloves and stepped in the ring, and what do you recall about those early days?
I had to be about 5 or 6 years old, and I remember my dad working with me in the basement and teaching me how to fight.
I had an older brother, Lloyd, and we used to box downstairs. I remember one time I hit him with a right hand and his head hit a pole, and he started crying. I remember laughing at him during that one moment, because he was always better than me at everything else.
My older brother could always run faster and jump higher than me, and he was stronger and wrestled and did everything better than me. But for that one moment, I felt like I was so much better than he was. And I made him cry.
“ I used to love the thrill of fighting in school and everybody coming up to me and asking me when I was gonna be fighting. I loved the fact that everyone was not exactly fearing me, but also not [messing] with me, either. ” Tony Harrison, 154-pound contender
So with respect to your introduction to boxing, was it love at first punch?
You know what, that was my one early claim to fame against my brother, so yeah, I loved it from Day One. I used to love the thrill of fighting in school and everybody coming up to me and asking me when I was gonna be fighting.
I loved the fact that everyone was not exactly fearing me, but also not [messing] with me, either. They damn sure wasn’t gonna [mess] with me, because they knew I was putting in the work.
I was fighting all the older guys, too. If someone tried to fight my brother, they would see me start taking my jacket off and I would immediately start fighting for him. It was a thrill that even though I was one of the smaller guys, [other students] respected me.
If you could pick the brain of any fighter in history, who would that be and what would you ask?
No. 1 would be my granddad, Henry Hank. I would ask him about all the little tricks and would want to be around him to learn what he did that was great, and hopefully have him teach me to do it a little better.
No. 2 would be Muhammad Ali. I’ve been fascinated with him since I was a kid, and that went far beyond boxing. Every time he spoke, he directed it to the people. He was just such a people person.
Muhammad Ali had great values and stood for a lot, and I see a lot of that in myself. I stand for something before I fall for anything, and that’s what Ali was all about. He would have been someone whom I would have shadowed all the time for every second. I would ask him if he would’ve done anything different.
My last one would be Sugar Ray Robinson. I would have asked what made him so damn fast, how he threw so many combinations so well and about his everyday schedule—how he trained, what he ate.
Who’s the one fighter in history you wish you could’ve fought?
“Irish” Micky Ward. I just like that he was so tough and gritty, and he was always in Fights of the Year and classified as one of the toughest fighters, if not the best pure [fighter].
Before I leave this boxing game, I want to be remembered for being part of an all-time classic fight, and I have no doubt that a fight against “Irish” Micky Ward would be a bloody fight that would [end in] a draw and be remembered historically.
Finish this sentence: If not for boxing, I would …
… probably be doing something that I wasn’t supposed to be doing, to be honest.
My commitment to boxing came when [my family was] evicted a couple of times. At that time, I told myself that I needed to be able to do something to feed myself and my family, and at that moment, my thinking was, “You need quick money, fast money, [you] do anything you can to get to the money.”
If you had the ability to change your body type, what’s the one weight class you wish you could compete in?
I would probably go down to 147 or stay [at 154] and fight Floyd Mayweather Jr. I would want to fight the best fighter of my generation.
Floyd will probably go down as the most iconic fighter of my generation, so I would want to be a part of history and dance with him.
Stylistically, I’m pretty long and tall. And I don’t think Floyd likes those kinds of attributes in a fighter, or else he would have fought Paul Williams. He wouldn’t have liked my length, strength and quickness.
Not including yourself, who is the best fighter in your division right now?
It would probably be Canelo Alvarez. He’s fought everybody, and he’s a competitor who shies away from nothing.
Just from his résumé, the pedigree and the fact that he’s come out the winner on every occasion but [against] Floyd Mayweather. Everything about Canelo is complete, so I give it up to him.
Describe what it feels like to land the perfect punch.
It had to be when I was overseas in Germany getting ready to fight in my professional debut on the Wladimir Klitschko-David Haye undercard.
I was sparring a guy in training, and I knocked him out with a left hook-right hand [combination]. Then I went into the fight, and I dropped the guy [Uwe Tritschler] twice in the first round, the first time with a right hand to the body and to the head. The second time, it was a body shot with my left hand.
Who has hit you the hardest in your career?
I would have to say Calvin Odom, when I was 8-0 with eight knockouts. That was my first fight going the distance—it went eight rounds.
[Odom] had fought Wale Omotoso, and he had only been dropped once or twice. My back was kind of turned, and he hit me behind the head, and it shook me up. The referee warned him for hitting behind the head, and I went on to finish the fight. Everything was perfect.
But then, when I got to my hotel room, my head was intensely throbbing, and I’ve always been tough where I don’t go to the hospital. But my head was banging so hard that I couldn’t sleep. It was like someone had hit me with a brick.
It was one of those shots that had me looking in the mirror and saying, “Man, [boxing] might not be for you.”
Favorite punch to throw?
In sparring, I love the left hook to the body, but in a fight, I end up throwing a lot of right hands. I save my right hand in sparring and throw a lot of lefts to the body. But in a fight, I don’t get a lot of opportunities for the left hook, so I throw a lot of right hands.
What is the one thing about the life of a pro boxer that the general public doesn’t understand?
The discipline that it takes to be a boxer and stick around in this sport. Look at any other athlete in any other sport, and then look at any fighter. Like me—I’ve been fighting at 152 [pounds] or thereabouts since I was 13.
I’m 26 now, and I’m fighting at 154, so that tells you about the discipline that I’ve had to stay around the same weight and still remain strong.
And when it’s fight time, you have to give up so much. You give up spending time with the people that you love, you give up making love, you give up the best foods, the best parties. It seems like whenever I have to fight, the best parties are going on and I can’t attend them.
It’s during fight time that your focus can’t be anywhere else, and that’s different from every other sport. You see football players after a football game, and they’re partying the next day. Basketball players have a game, and they’re partying later that night. When I have a fight, I’m not partying at any time during training.
Also, the time [spent] getting ready is different from every other sport. You’re talking six to eight weeks, or as much as three months of doing nothing but everything right.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would you want to portray you?
I would say Tyrese Gibson. There is something about his characteristics, how he smiles a lot and he’s very charismatic.
There are a lot of roles that he has played where he’s contemplative and humorous, making you laugh and think at the same time. That’s me.
I live life and have fun with it, but I’m also a very humble, silly guy who is blessed with all of the women and dressed to be the best. But when it’s time to take things seriously, I’ll take them seriously and get down to business.
Every movie Gibson is in, he’s kind of reminded me of myself.
If you could have dinner with four people in the history of the world, who would be on your guest list?
Barack Obama. My grandmother, Vivian Harrison, because she always cooked the best food. I would love to spend one more moment with her. I would want to meet Malcolm X one time. And No. 4 would be Serena Williams.
You can change one thing in the world. What is it?
The hate. There is so much hate, man. If everybody would stop hating and put that time and care and patience into something else that matters a lot more, the world would be a much better place.
What’s on your bucket list?
One of the things is to live to see my son, who is 9 months old, be successful, no matter what he does. I want him to grow up and achieve [success] at whatever he decides to do in life.
I also want to meet Serena Williams one time and take my chances with her, and I’m not [afraid] about getting rejected. I just have to know if there is a shot once she hears me talk.
And I want to bring boxing back to Detroit and help the economy in that way.
“12 Rounds With …” is published Wednesdays at PremierBoxingChampions.com. Next week: former heavyweight title challenger Dominic Breazeale.