Unbeaten prospect Tony Harrison earned a place in the heart of late trainer Emanuel Steward, who used Detroit’s famed Kronk Gym to mold boxers such as Thomas Hearns into champions.
“Emanuel loved me and had faith in me like he did Tommy Hearns,” Harrison said. “There was nothing he wouldn’t do for me.”
Before his death on Oct. 25, 2012, at the age of 68, Steward co-trained Harrison alongside Harrison's father, former pro boxer Ali Salaam, nicknaming him, “Superbad.”
“I knew Emanuel for two years, but it felt like 10,” Harrison said of Steward, who was the lead corner man in four of his first 11 bouts. “I was with him damn near every day. We would just talk or barbecue at his house. I lost a mentor."
Tony Harrison (21-0, 18 KOs) will take Steward’s memory into the ring in his 154-pound bout against Willie Nelson (23-2-1, 13 KOs) on July 11 at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa, Florida, which airs on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
"Emanuel said I was doing something nobody out of Detroit had done in years, like Tommy Hearns," Harrison said. “I’m doing everything that I can to live up to what Emanuel believed I could be.”
Harrison said it was Steward who gave him the nickname “Superbad,” taken from former Detroit fighter Bernard “Superbad” Mays, a once-promising 160-pound prospect who died from the effects of alcoholism in 1994 at the age of 33.
“In interviews, Tommy Hearns says Bernard Mays almost made him stop coming to the gym,” Harrison said. “Emanuel thought Bernard was the baddest to ever put on gloves. Nobody was ever worthy of Emanuel giving someone else the ‘Superbad’ name, but he gave it to me.”
Steward began calling Harrison “Superbad” after his seventh fight, a second-round technical knockout of Ishwar Amador in Temecula, California, in May 2012.
Starting with his professional debut in July 2011, a first-round stoppage of Uwe Tritschler in Hamburg, Germany, Harrison has fought on the same card as heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko four times, all in Europe, including three instances in 2012.
“Emanuel trained me for all of the fights I had overseas,” Harrison said of Steward, who also trained Klitschko. “When I fought in the States, my dad trained me and Emanuel assisted."
Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder bonded with Harrison while serving as Klitschko’s sparring partner in November 2012.
“Tony and I talk often. I just tell him to stay motivated and confident in his ability, his skill and to keep his head on straight," Wilder said. "It means a lot to a fighter to have a late, great trainer like Emanuel Steward give his blessing to you. Being ‘Superbad,’ Tony has a big responsibility to live up to, but he's got a good thing going. I believe he will become a world champion some day.”
For complete coverage of Harrison vs Nelson, visit our fight page.