It was Oct. 25, 2012 when Emanuel Steward left us. He’d been sick, rumors abounded, but his family kept things quiet. The sad rumors turned true. A pied piper of decency and good humor was lost to us. It hit us hard, in the way it does when a special one leaves, a person who makes everyone they come in contact feel like they have a special bond with the charismatic one….
It hit middleweight prospect Tony Harrison harder than a George Foreman hook followed by an Earnie Shavers uppercut.
“He was one of the realest people I’ve ever seen, in the neighborhood, he was a Robin Hood. He’d give it to you if you needed it. He helped everybody. It was surreal when he passed. I was just with him, at camp for Wladimir Klitschko. It just seemed unreal. It didn’t hit me until I went back to Detroit. I was on a flight alone, and there was no Manny in first class. I was at the airport in Cologne (and it hit me). I cried for about three days straight. The one person who did believe in me was gone.”
The emotions didn’t subside quickly. He’d wake up, open his eyes, and a fresh batch of pain would wash over him. “It took months,” Harrison told me. “Jim Lampley helped me. I talked to him and his wife, they were friends with Emanuel. I flew there and stayed with them a couple days in California. They just helped me out, get a better outlook, in that you can lose someone, but there’s always another good person in your corner. In the end, I moved past the sorrow, and realized, ‘You gotta get back to work.’
Got to. Landlord don’t accept tears in lieu of rent check. So Harrison (18-0, with 15 KOs) looks to lay the smack down on TBA on Dec. 20, on a card topped by Jesus MA Cuellar (25-1) vs. Ruben Tamayo (25-4-2), with an interim feather belt up for grabs. After talking to the kid for an hour, I went into my calender on my phone and set a reminder to make sure I checked out his performance. He made an impression on me, as he did Steward…
Tony Harrison has three brothers and four sisters and he came in last place in birth order.
The Detroit-based boxer, the former Emanuel Steward protégé who signed on with Al Haymon and has the sort of rumbling style that makes him a no brainer for main event gigs in the very near future, gave me some insight into what formed his way of fighting.
“It made me tougher than I was supposed to be,” the boxer, age 24, told me in a phoner. “Everyone was experimenting on me. I was the lab rat of the family. Pro wrestling came on the TV, they’d see a move, and they couldn’t try it on each other so they’d try it on me. Figure four, all the effed up moves!” Through glass tables, tossed off rooftops, lil Tony was the indestructible rat, and he believes that experience has, yes, left a few dents in his skull, but also helped him toughen up, so the in-the-ring battles aren’t quite as taxing as they’d otherwise be.
Don’t want to make it sound like it was every man for himself over there; mom and dad, Ali and Eisha Salaam, “are still together, and that’s rare.” But Detroit, it was an adult dose, an adult portion, and you saw and see stuff that will make you question man’s inhumanity to man. Such as when utilities are cut off on people down on their luck, while the cruel capitalist crowd plays it off like it’s tough love, say that all these folks are grifters, are just trying to be sneaky takers, and actually aren’t so without options that is why they aren’t paying their gas and electric or water bill.
“I was born here, grew up here, earned and hustled here,” he told me. “Sure, often it’s about a dollar. That love of the dollar matters too much when it’s 20 degrees and you cut someones’ electricity off, it’s too much, especially in cases where you you have adults with kids.”
So, talk to me, man. Are you a future star, or what?
“Oh, you found one for sure,” he said, without an unpleasant cockiness. “And why is that? Because I have a different mentality. I’m going into the fight win lose or draw, I’m coming to entertain. It’s not must win…it’s knock you out or you knock me out. I got to feed my family, you got to feed yours. Win, lose or draw, Arturo Gatti made money. It’s about my family eating. And it’s my job to inspire people, the people that come after me.”
Love it, love, love it. Music to my ears, in this era of boxer/businessmen. Here’s a throwback who gets it, and know what, it makes that much more sense when you know this kid was under Manny Steward’s wing. Manny came across Harrison when an 18-year-old Tony fought a Kronk kid, and lost to him. Maybe he didn’t lose, but he didn’t get the decision, and after, Manny told him he liked his way, that he should keep at it.
“My thinking was, eff Kronk. They had these nice jackets. It was before I really knew who Manny was. He told me I won the fight, against a guy with like 120 fights, and I had like 30. He invited me to his house, and asked if I wanted to turn pro.” Harrison wasn’t ready for that, and it took a few years for him to come back into the Steward orbit. He was sparring some guys at the Wild Card, like Paul Malignaggi, and promoters were sniffing around. Manny saw him at the WC, told him he’d call him, he did. Harrison was thinking about trying for the Olympics, but Manny set him straight about how far our amateur program had fallen. You might not even get the decision if you win, he said. It’s hard to be a minority and win at the Olympics, he said he told him. Turn pro on a Klitschko card, he promised. He got a passport, jetted to Hamburg and the rest was history. Of course, history took a turn when Manny got sick. The sting of his loss hurts worse than a million Micky Ward liver shots…
He’d have maybe been a bit sharper right now if he’d gone to camp with Wlad, as he usually does, Harrison tells me; he hops in with Wlad, shows speed, helps the big guy work on cutting off the ring, but a mouth issue kept him away from Germany this time around. Harrison said he’ll be in fine form on Dec. 20, though, and will again have his dad in his corner.
And check this out…you got to love this kid’s outlook. This is how he said he approaches his fights. “I’m coming out quick, it’s kill or be killed, it’s the only motto I have, I have always stressed it. Nobody wants to see ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ as Emanuel used to say.”
Me and Harrison share a chuckle as we fondly recall Steward’s penchant for profanity. I told Tony that I often find myself Tweeting out WWMD, 'what would Manny do,' during Wlad fights, and Tony laughed and said he could hear, in his head, Manny saying, “Emeffer, nobody wanna see this s—t, knock this emeffer out, you losing this crowd!”
“And so that’s me, in my fights, taking risks, trying to knock this emeffer out! When I miss, you feel the wind, in the crowd they see that and say, ‘that boy trying to knock him out, that’s what it’s about.’ People love to see Mike Tyson do his thing, no matter if it’s against an alley cat.”
Signing with Haymon was good, he said, because options were presented to him, work picked up, after the deal got signed. He told me he relies on a small circle of friends, among them fight photog Suzan Classen, who is married to the son of the late fighter Willie Classen, and offers Harrison her insight on how to negotiate life’s twists and turns. “She’s my home girl, that’s my homegirl till the end of the world. We met at an open workout at a gym in Manhattan last year and stayed in touch.”
Real people, and decency, is important to Harrison. He needed to find those people when his family was evicted from their residence when he was 16. “I lost everything, my clothes, shoes, everything. And my cousin, Graham Hester, he was 24, he said, ‘Stay with us.’ He had kids, and that stayed with me. And my mom, she’d be walking to work in the snow, sub zero, and the heat was turned off in the house. That’s when I decided, no more partying, no more clubbing. I grew up faster. Then my cousin, his landlord wasn’t paying the taxes, so he had to move, and we were staying at my other cousins. So, so many people have played a big part in my life, that’s why I am who I am. Money don’t make or break me. Loyalty is worth more than a hundred million dollars. My cousin believed, and I believe, I never lost faith, I’m never giving up on God. I know everything going to be alright, and that it was time to lose the itty bitty Spidey drawers and put the big boy boxers on.”
I can hear Manny chuckle, make a crack about the drawers, and I sense that he'd like if we kept eyeballs glued on this kid, because I think Steward saw something in him, something more than boxing skills, and I think I owe that to Steward, such an asset to the sport, to comply.