When Tony Harrison was 16 years old, he walked into a standoff in his living room. His family was dug in to prevent being evicted from their home on Detroit’s west side.
“I woke up in the morning, the police and a dumpster were outside, and my dad was at the door with a shotgun in his hand,” said Harrison, recalling the summer after his junior year of high school. “My mom had a rifle in her hand. My uncle had a gun in his hand. My dad told me and my brother to leave. They were willing to die for that house.”
The event ended without violence, representing the first of three times during his teenage years that Harrison was forced to live with relatives.
"We came back a couple of hours later and the dumpster was full. I grabbed my trophies and some clothes," Harrison said. “That house, which I had been in since two days after my birth, everything I had known was being taken away.”
A 6-foot-1 boxer-puncher, Tony Harrison (21-0, 18 KOs) credits his difficult past for making him the fighter he is heading into a 154-pound bout against Willie Nelson (23-2-1, 13 KOs) on Saturday at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa, Florida, which airs on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
“I appreciate Detroit. It’s a city that can make you a man, and that’s what Detroit did for me,” said Harrison, 24, who now lives with older brother Lloyd in a three-bedroom, two-story house in Detroit. “It’s been my house for over two years. I’m taking care of the bills and maintaining it. The struggles, obstacles, depression and the negativity in this city either makes you sink or swim.”
Harrison credits an older cousin, Graham Hester, for housing him during his senior year of high school. Hester’s routine included shuttling two of his children, four of his siblings and Harrison to and from school, commuting 45 minutes to classes at Eastern Michigan and then taking Harrison to evening gym workouts.
Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward worked with Harrison before his death on October 25, 2012, at the age of 68, mentoring the fighter and serving as co-trainer with Harrison’s father, former 147-pound boxer Ali Salaam.
Harrison, the grandson of former heavyweight contender Henry Hank and the second youngest of eight children, was coaxed into boxing by his mother to quell his suspensions from school for fighting.
“I'm doing this for my family, a city so much in need of something positive and for everybody who risked a lot to make me the man I am today,” Harrison said. “I want to give my mom the house I said I’d give her. I want my dad to become a world-renowned trainer.
“I'm doing it for Emanuel, who was the door opener and the first one to believe in me. I want to do it for his legacy, giving him another champion straight out of Detroit. God gives the biggest, toughest battles to his strongest soldiers. Detroit is hungry for something great, and I’m going to give that to them.”
For complete coverage of Harrison vs Nelson, visit our fight page.