By Jake Donovan
Before they go toe to toe once again in the ring, Tony Harrison and Jermell Charlo were literally nose to nose on stage.
Things became testy in a hurry at a kickoff press conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday to formally announce their super welterweight title fight rematch. The bout will take place on June 23 in a special Sunday evening edition of Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) on Fox live from Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It merely took for both boxers to arrive on stage for tempers to immediately flare.
Charlo (31-1, 15KOs) has remained bitter from the moment he landed on a controversial decision which cost the Houston (Tex.)-bred boxer his undefeated record and 154-pound title last December, which also aired live in primetime on Fox.
Harrison (28-2, 21KOs) sensed as much the moment he was called to the room by famed ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. The defending titlist from Detroit, Mich. immediately stepped to his old rival with the two instantly jawing at each other to the point of having to be separated by their respective trainers.
“I think that’s kind of what we do, man, when you let emotions overtake everything and it becomes personal,” Harrison told BoxingScene.com of the press session, though nowhere nearly as angry as the former titlist. “Everything’s good, though. I’ve matured as a man because there’s no way, five years ago, we would’ve been face to face like that and I wouldn’t have swung on somebody.
“So, I’ve grown and I’m pretty sure he feels the same way. He’s grown. You know, it’s a little more control over both our emotions. But it’s personal because there’s disrespect from both sides. It’s cool, man.”
Harrison came up aces in his second bid at a major title, having suffered a 9th round knockout to unbeaten Jarrett Hurd in their Feb. 2017 vacant title fight. Hurd has since added another strap to his collection, as he defends both titles versus Julian Williams this Saturday evening live on Fox from EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Va.
The weekend was potentially dedicated to a three-belt unification clash between Hurd and Charlo, only for those plans to go up in flames when the decision on December 22 went in favor of Harrison. The final outcome was widely disputed, with many feeling Charlo had done enough to retain his title, but the three judges felt otherwise.
Enough controversy existed for the need to run it back. Given the spacing between Hurd-Williams and Harrison-Charlo II, it remains possible that the winners can still collide later this year to determine divisional supremacy. It’s not the route Charlo had hoped, but ultimately has learned to live with the hand that fate has dealt him.
"I'm coming to this rematch with a whole different mindset and a much better game plan,” insists Charlo, whose loss to Harrison ended a lengthy title reign extending back to his May 2016 come-from-behind knockout win of John Jackson. “I took this loss like a wake up call and reminded myself why I've been doing this for all these years.”
Of course, it only took for the budding rivals to be in the presence of each other for mere seconds to remind them just how much more is at stake in the rematch.
“It’s probably one of the more personal fights for me, probably more personal for him,” Harrison said. “I just think coming face to face, first time seeing him again [since the fight], emotions fly high and he was talking all crazy.
“It’s just a manly thing. You don’t want to give up no inches. This is a game of inches, and you don’t wanna give up no inches when it comes to face to face. You show no fear. He thought he thought he would smell fear in whatever he was trying to do, but there was no fear. He woke up a raging bull.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox