Tony Harrison is ready to rise to the occasion

Detroit native has experienced the ups and downs of boxing, but “Superbad” aims to climb higher than ever this Saturday night when he faces Jermell Charlo on FOX.

Junior Middleweight contender Tony Harrison and his trainer-father, Ali Salaam, are well-versed on the highs and lows of boxing. Each has lived it.

The Detroit duo face their toughest challenge yet when Harrison meets WBC 154-pound champion Jermell Charlo this Saturday, December 22 at Barclays Center in New York.

Both have worked hard to eliminate the mistakes that led to Harrison’s only two career losses, and expect upside against Charlo (31-0, 15 KOs). The bout serves as the co-main event on a PBC on FOX card (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT). Jermell’s twin brother, Jermall Charlo, defends his interim WBC middleweight title against Matt Korobov in the main event. The title double headers kicks off PBC’s new series of fights that will be broadcast on FOX and FS1.

Harrison’s double downfall — technical knockout losses to Willie Nelson (not the singer) and Jarrett Hurd — can be summed up in a word: Stamina.

Or more accurately, the lack thereof.

Harrison, (27-2, 21 KOs), began a promising pro career under the tutelage of the late, great Emanuel Steward at the famed Kronk Gym. In 2015, he suffered a ninth-round TKO loss to Nelson, and then to Hurd nearly two years later in a showdown for the vacant IBF 154-pound title. Harrison was ahead on the cards versus Nelson and holding his own against Hurd when he tired in the second half of both fights.

Salaam, a professional boxer in the ‘80s, shouldered the blame for both losses.

“I want to go on record saying I’m not minimizing what Nelson and Hurd accomplished,” he said. “Both young men came ready, prepared and did what they needed to do. But at the same time, for Nelson I under-trained Tony, and for Hurd I over-trained him. He was sparring 18-20 rounds a day; we left that fight in the gym.”

This time, Team Harrison insists they’ve found a formula that works.

“I was the mule of the camp, I let my team handle everything that has to do with strength and conditioning,” Harrison said. “I let them make the adjustments and do exactly what they need to do, and I do exactly what they tell me to do. My brother Lloyd, my strength and conditioning coach, ramped it up a couple notches, and I feel great.”

Salaam says his son is fully prepared to go 12, a place he’s never been before.

“I’m extremely happy with his training and the work he put in. I have no complaints,” the trainer said. “The model for this camp is no excuses. We’re not going to have any excuses and we’re not going to make any excuses. We’ve had ample time and I’m extremely happy with where he is.”

Harrison, 28, counts his athleticism as his greatest asset in the ring. It’s in his DNA: Grandfather and Salaam’s father, Henry Hank, was a respected middleweight who won 62 fights between 1953 and 1972; two cousins currently play in the NFL—future hall of fame tight end Antonio Gates and wide receiver Devin Funchess; brother Lloyd played professional basketball in Europe, and Harrison himself was a high school quarterback who, according to Salaam, led the state of Michigan as a senior in touchdowns for a quarterback, which earned him scholarship offers for football and track.

Harrison says there are scores of other great athletes in the family who simply never got the opportunities afforded those listed above.

He’s a solid fighter and what separates him is his ability to stay sound in every round. I’ve got to be more consistent with what I’m doing, be more aware, more alert, and don’t relax. If I do that, I think I will be successful. Junior Middleweight Contender Tony Harrison

Against his father’s wishes, Harrison opted for the ring over the gridiron, and never looked back. Both agree Harrison’s superior athleticism is strong enough to beat any opponent, including Charlo.

“My athleticism speaks for itself and I think that’s what Charlo is going to have trouble with come fight night. Honestly, I think my athleticism is going to frustrate him,” Harrison says.

Charlo is coming off a majority decision against gritty Austin Trout in June, following a stunning first-round knockout of unbeaten Erickson Lubin in October 2017.

It’s been a rather quiet buildup to this fight, given that both fighters are known for their propensity to run off at the mouth.

“There’s not been too much (trash) talking, we’ve both been very professional,” said Harrison, who has won three straight since the Hurd loss.

“I think everything (Charlo) said goes hand in hand. “I think he said if I don’t show up, I’m going to end up like the rest of them, and that goes without saying. I feel the same way about him.”

Neither Harrison nor Salaam believes this is a must-win fight, though both acknowledge another knockout loss would be devastating.

“I don’t think it’s a must win,” Salaam says. “(Charlo) is going to outbox anyone you put in front of him. He’s by far one of the best punchers in the division. Our game plan is simply this: Be able to do in the 12th round what you did in the first. He’s going to do a great job with Charlo, I’m very confident. We’re going to finish the fight. The performance will be crucial as to whether he gets another opportunity.

“If we do 12 and, God forbid, lose a split decision, and the performance was good, it’s not going to hurt him. But he really has to perform well in order to stay relevant in the boxing world.”

The fighter nicknamed “Superbad” understands that and simply wants to be the best Tony Harrison he can be.

“It’s a championship fight, with a championship caliber opponent,” he says. “He’s a solid fighter, man, and what separates him is his ability to stay sound in every round. I’ve got to be more consistent with what I’m doing, and more consistent with my defense, be more aware, more alert, and don’t relax. If I do that, I think I will be successful.

“I’m not thinking about anything else but winning.”

For a closer look at Charlo vs Harrison, check out our fight page.

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