By Jake Donovan
There were brief moments late in his fight versus Cecil McCalla where Tony Harrison he was experiencing deja vu. The super welterweight prospect from Detroit was less than four months removed from a knockout loss to Willie Nelson – a fight he was winning handily prior to getting caught – and found himself in a similar situation in his rebound fight last October.
Harrison was miles ahead on the scorecard when getting caught with a right hand shot in round nine and again in the final round. The difference this time around was that he was able to make it to the final bell, thus claiming a landslide decision win. The night was more than moving on from a loss; it was convincing himself that – if needed – he could persevere in the face of adversity.
“To this day, I swear that Cecil caught me with a harder punch than the one that Willie Nelson dropped me with,” Harrison insisted to BoxingScene.com ahead of this weekend’s Showtime-televised showdown with Fernando Guerrero at Sands Bethlehem Event Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “The fact that I survived the same scenario and got the “W”, I think it answered a lot of questions whether I can take a punch.
“The difference this time, was that I wasn’t weakened from making weight. I put my body through hell to make (the super welterweight limit); that drain takes a lot out of you. I didn’t feel that in my last fight, and was able to survive those big shots and prevail.”
More of the same could be required versus Guerrero (28-3, 20KOs), a 29-year old southpaw whose fights have largely been feast or famine. While possessing dynamite in both fists, the fighting pride of Salisbury, Maryland – who now trains in Los Angeles – has a reputation for not taking the best shot, having been dropped no fewer than 15 times through 31 pro fights.
It could become a shootout, a scenario the Kronk Gym-bred Harrison welcomes, although prepared to go as many rounds as it takes to claim victory.
“We’re ready for anything; this fight was actually on my radar for a minute before Guerrero decided to go in another direction,” Harrison says of revisiting past business for the sake of moving forward. “His power and skills – these are fights you want in order to answer questions about yourself. You don’t come in the sport just to mess around.
“My last fight answered those questions. Going 10 rounds for the first time in my career was a big jump, having never been past eight. Before [the Nelson fight], I didn’t go more than three rounds in like three or four years (10 straight knockouts in three rounds or less from Nov. ’12 until the loss to Nelson). Now, I know how it feels – I can tell you I damn sure don’t want to do it again, but ready to if it comes to that.”
Saturday's bout is scheduled for 10 rounds, serving as the chief support to a super welterweight eliminator between unbeaten Julian "J-Rock" Williams and Italy's Marcello Matano. A win would put Williams in line for a crack at defending International Boxing Federation (IBF) champ Jermall Charlo, an oppportunity Harrison craves, but knows will come in due time. With that, he knows that a win over Guerrero takes precedence over the manner in which it's achieved.
"I'm still going to put on a show no matter when I step in the ring, no mistake about that," Harrison promises. "But it's no longer my everything. Part of the maturation process was knowing that stepping into the ring is no longer about bragging rights, it's no longer only about doing things to please the crowd. The fans will be entertained from the opening bell, but they're also going to see a brand new fighter in me.
"As for who else is on the show and what's at stake, none of that matters. It's not about impressing Julian Williams or (Matano), that's not the end game. I want to fight the J-Rocks of the world. I want the Charlo brothers, Vanes (Martirosyan)... everyone in this weight class. I want to clean house, but I have to first start with taking care of (Guerrero), 'cause that's who's in my way right now. I can't worry about anything else but doing everything the right way here. That got me in trouble before, so now every step I take has to come correct."
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox