Both Tony Harrison and Willie Nelson did plenty of jawing at each other in the lead up to their fight on Saturday at Tampa’s USF Sun Dome. But in the end, it was Nelson’s right hand that spoke the loudest.
Although Nelson (24-2-1, 14 KOs) was trailing on all three judges’ scorecards heading into Round 9, he bailed himself out in explosive fashion, scoring a sensational TKO in a fight that was like a stick of dynamite with an especially long, slow-burning wick gradually working its way towards detonation.
There was a lot of bad blood between these two prior to Saturday night, including a skirmish at the press conference Thursday, but it didn’t translate to many good exchanges, at least early on, when the action was so measured, the crowd showered the fighters in boos.
Nelson was especially tentative offensively.
A tall, lanky presence at 6-foot-3, Nelson used his height and reach advantage to fight from a distance, but he seemed reluctant to engage, preferring instead to counter Harrison (21-1, 18 KOs), who was the far busier fighter.
Harrison outlanded Nelson and pressed the action most rounds, building a lead as the fight entered the homestretch.
But in Round 9, Harrison got crushed by a massive right hand from Nelson, followed up by a hard left and another right that sent him to the canvas.
Harrison was able to beat the count and get back to his feet, but the referee stopped the fight as Harrison struggled to find his legs.
Prior to Saturday, Harrison had never been past eight rounds in a fight, which figured into Nelson’s approach.
“The plan was to take him into deep waters,” Nelson said afterward.
For his part, Harrison said he pressed too hard for a knockout, leaving himself open for the kind of punch that led to his first loss.
“I let the anxiety get to me,” he said of his desire to close the show. “I felt like I was winning the fight.”
Until Nelson’s right hand changed all that.