The former world super welterweight champion says his late father and trainer, Ali Salaam, will still be with him when he faces Bryant Perrella in a 154-pound showdown Saturday night on FOX.
The voice possessed a calm undertone. It had a deep, distinct Barry White bass-baritone quality, projecting a tranquil effect on anyone nearby who heard it. In many ways, the voice was much like the man, a steadying force who could sit with a stoic demeanor on a rocking chair in the middle of a hurricane and not wince.
That’s the voice Tony Harrison would hear above the daily din of the gym. The whomp-whomp-whomp of the swinging heavybags, ratta-tat-tat of the bounding speedbags and the staccato pop-pop-pop of the gloves couldn’t drown it.
Ali Salaam’s voice could cut through anything. Last April 20, Harrison lost that soothing, confident voice when Salaam, Harrison’s father and trainer, died at the age of 59 due to the coronavirus.
On Saturday, there’s a good chance that “Superbad” will still hear Salaam, when the former WBC world super welterweight champion takes on southpaw Bryant “Goodfella” Perrella in the main event that will headline the three-bout FOX PBC Fight Night telecast (8 p.m.ET/5 p.m. PT).
After his father passed away, it wasn’t long before Harrison (28-3, 21 KOs) was back in the gym.
“I think about my dad every day,” Harrison said. “My dad was the calmest guy in the world. His calmness and demeanor in any situation never changed. You would never see a goosebump, or a frown on him. My mom could be cussing him out, and he wouldn’t blink (laughs).
“No one could break him.”
Like no one could snap Harrison.
Saturday night marks the first time Harrison will be fighting since his setback in the December 2019 rematch with Jermell Charlo, when he lost the WBC belt.
That kicked off what was a harsh, bitter 2020 for Harrison.
“Last year was a rollercoaster, and I can still remember being five years old when my father started me boxing,” Harrison said. “My dad has been with me through my whole boxing career. Then coronavirus hit him, this strong, strong man and I had to sit and wait. Because of COVID-19, I couldn’t even visit him in the hospital.
“I couldn’t even talk to him on the phone, because he wasn’t able to talk. My dad would want me to fight and continue moving forward. I knew I had to do it for my dad and come to understand mentally that life was not going to change if I just sat around and did nothing.
“Me and brothers got ourselves in the mindset of a champion again, thinking ‘We gotta do this for pops.’ I could have sat around and got fat. My dad wouldn’t accept that.”
Because Salaam was the first one to ever put boxing gloves on Harrison’s tiny hands. Boxing is Superbad’s way to stay connected to his father.
“Oh, I can hear him, ‘Get off your ass and do it!’ and my father wouldn’t want me to stop because of him,” Harrison said, laughing. “My first day back into the gym was motivating. The man rarely cursed. He would tell me that there were two things he never wanted to be, and that was a liar or a thief.
“That was his favorite thing to tell me. People never trust a liar and they’ll never let you around if you’re a thief. I wouldn’t want to come from any other bloodline. I’m like my dad, I suppose in a way, because I’m not that emotional. Once I got back in the gym, I got back in the groove of things and got back into shape.”
“ I think about my dad every day. ” Former World Super Welterweight Champion - Tony Harrison
Harrison said he blew up to 185 pounds in 2020, which is the heaviest he’s ever been. Most of that came for basic indulgences, combined with sitting around doing nothing.
“When you’re in a sport that makes the physical demands that boxing does, you never want to go a year without getting hit by 10-ounce gloves,” Harrison said. “It’s part of the sport. It all feels different once you start getting hit again. It’s been 15 months since I last fought, so I’m really excited to get back into the ring again and see how me and my brother LJ have been clicking as trainer-boxer.
“I’m ready to get back into the ring under the lights. I’m ready to get back into the ring for my father and get back into the ring because the game needs me. People adapt to me because I’m real, and I speak the truth.”
Fans on Saturday night will see “LLA,” meaning Long Live Ali, on Harrison’s trunks and robe and Ali’s face tattooed on Harrison’s chest.
Harrison said he and his brother LJ have a great collaboration. They’ve added some new dynamics to their training and are fully prepared for Perrella, who comes in a dangerous foe since suffering a devastating loss in his last outing.
Fighting as a welterweight, Perrella (17-3, 14 KOs) was up on all three judges’ scorecards only to be stopped with one second left in the 10th to Abel Ramos on the Caleb Plant-Vincent Feigenbutz February 2020 undercard.
What’s more is Perrella has added future Hall of Famer Roy Jones Jr. to his corner.
“Perrella is a tough guy who will bring out my A-game and he just added one of my pound-for-pound greats to his corner, Roy Jones, adding a little more swagger to his style,” Harrison said. “He’s no longer a guy who’s looking to brawl it out. Roy will add some style and sauce to him, so I’m looking for a tough, 10-round fight.
“I know what this guy went through in his last fight and he’s going to come in with an attitude, as he should. He’s comfortably coming up in weight, and I’m still losing weight. There will be nothing different from me, other than he’s a southpaw, when I’ve only fought one. I’ll adapt.”
But Harrison does have one added advantage: A voice will be with him.
“It’s playing in my head like a record, my dad telling me, ‘turn, turn, turn, throw a set, and finish with the hook,’” he said. “I can hear it and it will never go away. LLA now, and LLA until we die.”
For a closer look at Tony Harrison, check out his fighter page.
- Tony Harrison