Returning to the ring was always going to be a family affair for Tony Harrison.
This coming Tuesday will mark a year since the passing of Ali Salaam, Harrison’s father who died last April due to complications from COVID-19. Salaam was a former pro boxer and his son’s head trainer throughout his boxing career. Now guiding the third-generation boxer is his Lloyd Harrison, Tony’s older brother who has run training camp for his upcoming Fox-televised headliner versus Bryant Perrella (17-3, 14KOs).
“That means the most, still being able to do this with my family," Harrison told BoxingScene.com. “My team is more focused. My brother has stepped in and has done an amazing job. Everyone is on the same page.”
Lloyd and Tony Harrison have always worked together even when the older brother didn’t take the lead in training.
Harrison (28-3, 21KOs) has always been about family, choosing to wait his turn after the pandemic rather than rushing into the ring following his father’s passing and while still sorting out the best course of action for his career. The 30-year-old Detroit native has not fought since an 11th round stoppage loss to Jermell Charlo in their thrilling Dec. 2019 rematch, giving up the WBC junior middleweight title he claimed in their first fight exactly 52 weeks prior. The extended time off worked to the benefit of the former titlist, adapting to a new style of training.
Lloyd Harrison grew up deeply immersed in boxing culture while gravitating toward basketball. He led a stellar college career at Clarion University, averaging 18.2 points 4.8 assists and 2.4 steals during his senior season while making the all-PSAC (Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference) before enjoying a pro career overseas.
His team these days is now spent preparing his brother for another title run, ensuring that a fresher and stronger version appears in the ring beginning this Saturday at Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall in Los Angeles. Fight night will ultimately tell the tale, though Harrison has already felt the physical differences during preparation for this weekend.
“It’s a bit more calculated in this camp,” Harrison notes. “With the advancement in training, we are taking advantage of technology around us. You could take the good and bad with my father. He was old school.
Harrison previously trained and fought as instructed by Salaam, both of whom were born into the game. Harrison’s grandfather was Henry Hank, a former middleweight and light heavyweight contender who amassed a ring record of 62-30-4 (40KOs) over the course of a 19-year career before retiring in 1972.
Ali Salaam briefly fought as a pro, going 11-7 (5KOs) as a welterweight from 1984-1989 before dedicating his life to his family and community. Salaam trained Harrison throughout his career as well as many other kids in the Detroit area, the later years spent at Harrison’s family-run SuperBad Boxing Gym which has provided a neighborhood service to many kids in search of something far better than what the streets have to offer.
That mentality was never lost on Harrison and his brother, always finding time to give back to the community.
“Our father raised us like that. I wasn’t just born with that gene,” Harrison notes. “My dad, my mom, they raised us to be that way. They were always community activists. I’m always going to be like that, my kids are going to be like that at least until the day I die but it’s going to stay with them, too. They are raised to know that things can always be worse and that we are always there to help out those in need.”
Of course, winning in the ring can only enhance the boxer’s standing.
Harrison reached the pinnacle of his career after claiming the WBC junior middleweight title in a 12-round unanimous decision over Charlo at Barclays Center in Dec. 2018. The bout served as part of the first show on Fox under a new output deal with Premier Boxing Champions (PBC), with their rematch one year later also headlining on the same platform. The aforementioned win came in Harrison’s second title bid, having suffered a 9th round knockout to Jarrett Hurd in their Feb. 2017 IBF title fight.
The loss to Hurd came after Harrison jumped out to an early lead, similar to how he was in control versus Willie Nelson before falling apart in a 9th round knockout loss in Aug. 2015. Harrison was also performing well versus Charlo in their Dec. 2019 rematch, overcoming a 2nd round knockdown and leading on one scorecard (95-94, 93-96, 93-96) heading into the 11th round where he suffered two more knockdowns before being deemed unfit to continue.
Training for this fight has been far different than any other camp for Harrison. Gone is the “work until you can’t” mindset that came with past camps, replaced by healthier and safer practices.
“I definitely feel the difference,” Harrison admits. “My dad was old school, so you took the good with the bad. The good always (outweighed) the bad, but one thing—they didn’t do too much with recovery, with the ice bags and all that. My brother being an athlete, he understands that I need the ice, the massages. He understands that you can do only so many miles before the body gives up and needs to recover.
“My dad had that old school mentality like when it’s time to go, you go. His way was, ‘It’s time to run a mile. Go run a mile, motherf-----.’ My body was shaking but I had to stick it out. Things were different this camp, there wasn’t any of that feeling. When it was time to rest, we rested.”
Saturday night will mark a new chapter for Harrison, though still with the same values and principles in place. Win for the family, win for the community. The effort this weekend will undoubtedly come in honor of his late father. Everything else about the night and all that comes after that will serve as a reminder to those that he and his family inspire that they are never alone.
“More than any championship, that’s the type of generational wealth that I want to keep my kids and to keep those things going,” notes Harrison.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox