One key to a fighter's success that we don't often discuss is the fighter's ability to deal with the political aspects of the game. The wrangling with promoters and managers and the sanctioning bodies can take it out of a man's body just as efficiently as a Micky Ward body shot. Sure, it may take a bit longer to feel the effects, but the stream of BS a fighter has to put up with as he waits for his shot has ended many a promising career before the promise land is reached.
Vivian Harris isn't there yet. The 30-year-old junior welterweight was born in Guyana. These days, he's living in New Jersey, working under Tommy Brooks and biding his time until he gets that title crack that will give him that payoff payday which will make the years of toil in the red light district of the sports world worth it.
His Sept. 2007 fight against Junior Witter could have been a breakthrough event, a fight to announce that a player in the division is here, and must be dealt with. Instead, Witter knocked Harris off, via KO7. And frustration with the political side to the sport very nearly dealt an even more conclusive blow to Harris. The boxer spoke to TSS as he awaited word whether he'd get a chance to take down flavor of the month prospect Victor Ortiz, the 23-1 hitter who is being groomed as a potential heir to the Oscar De La Hoya throne. That vet vs. phenom scrap will go down, on March 7, as part of a tasty HBO double feature, along with James Kirkland vs. Joel Julio. Harris tried to hold it together, see things from a philosophical stance, but by the end of the interview, his frustration with the business side of the savage science was glaring.
He pointed out that his trip to England to fight Witter was handled poorly, and perhaps contributed to his showing.
“The promoter (Mick Hennessy) there wanted me to be there three days before the fight,” he said. “I wanted to be there longer. I got there five days before. When I fought, I was still on New York time. I had no money for food, even.”
Then, Harris pivots, and realizes that it sounds like he's talking sour grapes. “But, nobody put a gun to my head,” he says. “It's nobody's fault.”
After the Witter loss, Harris was off for more than a year. He was still in the gym, staying trim, waiting for that call that didn't come. He has a new manager, Mike Indri, who he says is a good dude, who seems like he truly cares for Harris' well being. Harris took a rust shedder fight against Octavio Narvaez in October and came away with a TKO6 win, but had to survive an early knockdown to do it. He almost snagged a fight with Timothy Bradley, who grabbed the WBC 140 pound title from Witter last May, but the WBC said they wanted Harris to take another fight first. Harris seemed to be accepting of this move, which seems arbitrary on the surface. Haven't a b-load of other solid vets been given title shots after taking plentiful time off?
Harris, who is working hard on looking on the bright side, isn't irked that he would be the designated steppingstone against Ortiz. “It's do or die for me,” he said.
Harris thinks the pairing with Brooks, who he says is mellow, not as prone to getting excited as former trainer Lennox Blackmoore, will pay dividends. Also, Harris said, Brooks will do some of the heavy lifting in prep work that he says hasn't been done before. Harris says most of the fights he's won, prior to now, came from a strategy he devised himself, after studying tapes.
When asked if revolving trainers (he was with Blackmoore, then Manny Steward, and then Blackmoore again) and promotional difficulties (he's felt that Main Events didn't push him like they could've/should've) have sapped his spirit, Harris said no. But the more he talked, the more it seemed to indicate that the out-of-the-ring BS has impacted Harris.
“It doesn't affect me at all,” he says. “God knows who's right and who's wrong. People can talk bad about me, but I'm not a bad person. But people know the boxing business is garbage. They know I have to be a certain way because the boxing industry is the way it is.”
By “a certain way,” Harris means “difficult.” He's been branded “difficult,” and that probably has kept him from getting some opportunities that 'go along to get along' guys receive.
When he talks about the raw deal that fighters get, frankly, he contributes to his rep. But the man speaks truth. Can you refute him?
“In other sports everyone is wealthy,” he says. “In this decade, fighters have to make it to 30 or 40 to make big money. Guys like Bernard Hopkins, and Winky Wright and Glen Johnson. They go through the BS and then they make money. That's the real talk.”
Harris is prepared, he says, to fight another 4 or 5 years, so he can make that late breaking moolah. “I'll stay focused til it happens,” he says. “That outside the ring stuff is BS, but you got to accept it. Now, I'm at a better place, accepting it for what it is.”
Harris talks that serene talk and then simply cannot help himself. He again launches into a lashout. “I'd rather be broke and make sure nobody makes money off me,” he says. “I'm not pointing fingers at anyone, I'm just talking about the boxing business.”
To Harris' way of thinking, if promises were nickels, he could've already cashed out and retired. If he beat Diosbelys Hurtado in 2002, he said, he was supposed to get a fight with Kostya Tszyu. He kayoed Hurtado, but didn't get the Tszyu gig. Jesse James Leija had the next crack at Tszyu instead. Still, that Hurtado win netted Harris the WBA junior welter crown. He knocked off unbeaten Souleymane M'baye in 2003 in his first defense, but was then dumped off to fight Oktay Urkal
twice in Germany. Out of sight, out of mind to American audiences. “What is that?” he says.
Then, Harris reverts back to his 'It Is What It Is' mindset. “I learned from Floyd Mayweather. He kept his mouth shut and made money.” Easier said than done, though…”I got to talk. I let a person know, you screw with me, I got to let you know that, straight up.”
Harris has been a professional since 1997, and he sounds at the end of his rope with all he's seen and been through. “Too many people who are supposed to be for you, they don't care about you. I'm going to do the best for me and my family.”
Harris' frustration shone through in the final stages of negotiation for the Ortiz fight. It looked like he'd get it. Money was specified by Golden Boy and communicated to Vivian's promoter, Gary Shaw. Now, those two haven't always seen eye to eye. In fact, at times they have communicated more by intermediary, and Harris' attorney, than in regular form. Indri thought the number was fair. Vivian, though, didn't care for the way the pie was to be sliced up. He nixed the terms as they
were offered. So instead, Mike Arnaoutis will be the name “steppingstone” as Ortiz takes two bounds up the ladder from prospect to contender.
Harris didn't want to delve into specifics on what went down and why and affix blame if it is there to be affixed. His contract with Shaw is up, he says, and he needs a letter from Shaw to attest to that, before he can look for a new promoter to propel his career.
“I don't want to put out any negative energy,” he told us. “It could make things worse. It wasn't anyone's fault. I wanted that fight. I hope it happens in the future.”
TSS tried twice to talk to Shaw to get his side of it, but calls weren't returned.
Indri, when reached by TSS, sounded bummed that the deal didn't get done. He recognizes, he told us, that the opportunities for an HBO fight aren't infinite, and that a win over Ortiz would pay humongous dividends for Harris. He understands Harris' fierce pride, and his desire to try and get a solid deal for himself, but now there is no deal, and Indri is worried that Harris might have to wait another spell before another solid opp his thrown his way. “There are always a lot more fighters than fights. I thought we were going to get it,” Indri said. “I guess I wish Vivian had said what he had to say in the ring. I'm hoping this doesn't stagnate him.”
So, where is the truth in this matter? Is Vivian Harris a problem child? Does he ask for too much? Does he speak up when it might be smarter to swallow his pride, and go with the flow? Have promoters done right by him, or has he been punished for his outspokenness, in this case and in others before like it? A lot of Americans, not only boxers, are struggling with this issue. They see bigwigs getting big chunks of the pie, and they look at their own plate, and the portion
seems comparatively meager. The President just slammed Wall Street honchos who made off with sacks full of cash, billions, while they ran their corporations into the ground. He called that behavior “shameful.” Harris has consistently spoken up for himself, and sadly he hasn't found many allies among his own brethren. In boxing, and seemingly everywhere these days, it is every man for himself. Harris didn't want the gig, but Mike Arnaoutis was OK with taking less for the shot. There is no boxer's union so the fighters could bargain en masse.
As I spoke to Harris on Tuesday in the late afternoon, he was leaning towards swallowing his pride. He is hopeful that he and Shaw can part ways, and he can get a fresh start with another promoter. He seems to be impressed with the cut of the Golden Boy jib. Maybe he'll land there, if Shaw agrees that Harris has met the terms of his contract, and lets him loose.
Once there, would Harris be able to change his ways, and swallow that fierce pride? Is he in the wrong business? Can he ever be comfortable with the concept of putting his life on the line, and then seeing the wages for his toil be disbursed in five different directions?
One question that will get answered sooner rather than later is, Is Victor Ortiz all that? And it will be Mike Arnaoutis who will be in the position to help us get an answer. It could have been Vivian Harris.
I fear that looking back in a few years, Harris may kick himself for the roads not taken. He will be able to look in the mirror, and know that he stood up for himself, but pride, and the fulfillment you receive when you give it back to The Man, does not pay the bills, and the rent, and the kids’ education. But I am just a fightwriter. Better to let Mark Twain remind us that:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do… Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”