They left the Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, Australia, changed men, versions of themselves that, if not quite recognizable before the opening chime, were undeniable in the aftermath. Middleweight juniors Tim Tszyu and Tony Harrison had a common goal, they pursued the same goal, but they did so on very divergent paths. And this discrepancy has been revealed after the fact. These separate trajectories intersected for nine rounds, about as many as Tszyu had predicted, as many as Harrison would probably be able to handle when the night belongs to the man on the other side of the ring.
For Harrison, 29-4-1 (21), this was to be the penultimate step in his return to the top. The winner of Saturday’s main event awaits Jermell Charlo, the unequivocal 154-pound champion. Harrison is responsible for the lone defeat in Charlo’s nearly flawless record, beating him by narrow decision in 2018. But he has been a scaled-down version of himself since Charlo stopped him in a rematch in 2019, since he lost his trainer and father, Ali Salaam, to Covid-19 in April 2020. At his best, Harrison has been a slick defensive fighter with enough firepower to lines win.
However, against the best, he lost many times, stopping in the championship rounds in each of his four defeats. Harrison has always had a charming kind of weakness, with his invariable late-round drama where he desperately clings to leads forged at a considerable price for himself. Coach and brother, LJ Harrison, attributes these partial – and all too often complete – breakdowns to a lack of focus. It’s a benevolent explanation of what’s going on with Harrison in the championship meltdown, and, from his coach, for good reason. Harsh words can help a fighter regain his focus, but no wise words between rounds will replenish his strength. When the latter abandons Harrison, his focus follows, and daylight soon follows.
Tszyu expected the same, his anticipation of round breaks in the middle and end of rounds was as rooted in the evidence as his ego. He almost gave the first round back to Harrison, using it to measure Harrison’s jab, Harrison’s clearly limited footwork (the salt cracker-sized ring contributed to this, but such are the dangers of road fighting). Tszyu looked a lot like his father that evening, his stance a bit angular, his guard temptingly wide – there was a hint of a counterattack in his pressure.
In preparation for the fight, Harrison correctly noted that his Detroit pedigree, reflected in the iconic red and gold shorts he wore in his professional debut, ensured that Tszyu would present nothing new, nothing innovative to the thirty-two-year-old. – old veteran. And really, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy or unique about Tszyu being a competent and skilled fighter.
But early in the fight, he countered Harrison’s cross with a rear uppercut for which Harrison didn’t seem ready for speed and accuracy. Thus went Harrison’s right hand, henceforth almost holstered, deemed uncalibrated by its replica. Harrison, reduced to his forward arsenal – and thus severely hampered by his ability to build up the edge he needed to withstand the inevitable relegation – was locked into the type of fight he would lose if he was fighting for the win. While he suffered enough blows to discolor his cheek, Tszyu, 22-0 (16), probably paid the price for securing his range. When Tszyu had that reach, when Harrison willingly stepped back to the ropes, the fight was almost over. He may not be an elite boxer, but Tszyu strikes – like his father, sharp, with icy precision – in a way designed to destroy. Tszyu is one of those fighters whose power seems to be enhanced by intention, and he works his body as if he were harvesting organs.
As the fatigue played with the pressure, the subtle movements that set Harrison apart in the millimeter game became exaggerated, and taking advantage of this new slovenliness, Tszyu broke him. In the ninth, a series of right hands took Harrison to the ropes where a second volley sent him to the canvas. When hurt, instead of holding, Harrison employs the same defensive moves that are so fundamental to his success. But when he crumbles, these slips, spins, parties do little but expose him to more punishment. He is who he is through good and bad. Harrison defeated the count, but referee Danrex Tapdasan, like Harrison, was unconvinced if he should continue.
Outside of Australia, Tszyu’s name doesn’t carry the same weight as Benn, Eubank or Hatton, and certainly not as much as Chavez. Kostya’s child is probably better in this regard: he had to earn more from what the sons of other warriors gave him. This is not to say that his road to Charlo was exceptionally demanding, that he established himself as a world-class player; indeed, Harrison is the best name on Tszyu’s record, and the version of Harrison that Tszyu chewed up looked already softened. If Charlo hadn’t broken his arm postponing his title defense on January 28 against Tszyu, the fight would have felt like just another defense by the champion surviving the division he defeated.
But Tzsyu made a statement against Harrison; perhaps not one that marked him as the man who would dethrone the champion, but one that made him worthy of a chance. And while that doesn’t affect why Tszyu got his chance with Charlo, it drastically adds to the intrigue in watching what he’ll do with it. Tszyu, unlike Harrison, is a fighter on the rise, and whether Charlo represents the threshold of his ascension is now, in a way not Friday, a question worth answering for reasons beyond those imposed by sanctioning bodies and destruction of the division.
“What’s my fucking name!?” Tszyu barked proudly to the adoring participants in the Qudos Bank Arena. They already knew that, of course, and so did everyone who tuned in. Strangely, this name now means less – it has to compensate for less. Now that this name is separated from Charlo’s by a hyphen, it means a warrior, not the father who bears it.