They left the Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, Australia, changed men, versions of themselves that, if not quite recognizable before the opening bell, were undeniable in the aftermath. Junior middleweights Tim Tszyu and Tony Harrison shared a common goal, pursued the same target, but were doing so on widely divergent paths. That divergence, too, was revealed ex post facto. Those distinct trajectories intersected for nine rounds, about as many as Tszyu had predicted, as many as Harrison is likely to manage when the night belongs to the man across the ring from him.
For Harrison, 29-4-1 (21), this was supposed to be the penultimate step in his return to the top. Awaiting the winner of Saturday’s main event is Jermell Charlo, the unequivocal all-everything 154-pound champion. Harrison is responsible for the lonely loss on Charlo’s near-spotless record, beating him via narrow decision in 2018. But he has been a diminished version of himself since Charlo stopped him in their 2019 rematch, since he lost his trainer and father, Ali Salaam, to Covid-19 in April 2020. At his best, Harrison was a deft defensive fighter with just enough firepower to tightrope to victory.
Against the best, however, he has repeatedly come up short, stopped in the championship rounds in each of his four losses. There has always been a charming sort of frailty to Harrison, with his invariable late-rounds drama, where he clings desperately to leads wrought at a considerable price to himself. Trainer and brother, L. J. Harrison, attributes these partial—and too often full—collapses to a lack of focus. That is a charitable explanation for what happens to Harrison in the championship crucible and, from the mouth of his trainer, one not without purpose. Stern words might help a fighter recover his focus—but no sage word between rounds will replenish his wind. When the latter abandons Harrison, his focus follows, and soon after that, his daylights.
Tszyu expected as much, his prediction of a mid-to-late rounds stoppage rooted as much in the evidence as his ego. He all but conceded the first round to Harrison, using it to get the measure of Harrison’s jab, of Harrison’s tellingly limited footwork (a ring the size of a saltine cracker contributed here, but such are the perils of fighting on the road). Tszyu looked very much like his father on this night, his stance a tad square, guard temptingly wide—a hint of the counterpuncher in his pressure.
In the lead-up to the fight, Harrison rightly pointed out that his Detroit pedigree, reflected in the iconic red and gold trunks he wore in his professional debut, guaranteed that Tszyu would present nothing new, nothing novel to the thirty-two-year-old veteran. And really, there is nothing particularly noteworthy or unique about Tszyu, who is a competent and talented fighter.
But early in the fight, he countered Harrison’s cross with a rear uppercut whose quickness and accuracy Harrison seemed anything but ready for. So went Harrison’s right hand, all but holstered henceforth, deemed outcalibered by its rejoinder. Harrison, reduced to his frontside arsenal—and thus severely hindered in his ability to build the kind of lead he needed to withstand his inevitable fade—was locked into the type of fight he would lose should he fight to win. While he suffered enough jabs to discolor his cheek, Tszyu, 22-0 (16), confidently paid this outlay for securing his range. Once Tszyu had that range, once Harrison willingly backed to the ropes, the fight was all but over. He may not be an elite puncher, but Tszyu places his punches—thrown, like his father’s, sharply, with icy precision—in a manner orchestrated for destruction. Tszyu is one of those fighters whose power seems augmented by intent, and he works the body like he is harvesting organs.
As fatigue conspired with pressure, the subtle movements that distinguish Harrison in a game of millimeters became exaggerated, and exploiting this new sloppiness, Tszyu broke him down. In the ninth, a series of right hands drove Harrrison to the ropes, where a second barrage sent him to the canvas. When hurt, rather than hold, Harrison employs the same defensive moves so foundational to his success. But while he crumbles, these slips, pivots, parties do little but open him to greater punishment. He is who he is for better and worse. Harrison beat the count, but referee, Danrex Tapdasan, like Harrison, was unconvinced he should continue.
Outside of Australia, the name Tszyu does not carry the same weight as Benn, Eubank, or Hatton, and certainly not as much as Chavez. Kostya’s kid is likely better for it: he has had to earn more of what the sons of other fighters have had bequeathed to them. This is not to suggest that his path to Charlo has been uniquely challenging, that he has established himself as a world-class fighter; indeed, Harrison is the best name on Tszyu’s record, and the version of Harrison that Tszyu chewed up looked already tenderized. Had Charlo not broken his hand, postponing his January 28 title defense against Tszyu, the fight would have felt like merely the next defense for a champion who had outlasted an overmatched division.
But Tzsyu made a statement against Harrison; perhaps not one that marked him as the man to dethrone the champion, but one that made him deserving of the opportunity. And while that has no bearing on why Tszyu got his chance at Charlo, it drastically increases the intrigue in watching what he’ll do with it. Tszyu is, unlike Harrison, a fighter on the rise, and whether Charlo represents the threshold of his ascension is now, in a way it was not Friday, a question worth answering for reasons beyond those imposed by sanctioning bodies and divisional attrition.
“What’s my motherfucking name!?” barked Tszyu, proudly, repeatedly to the adoring attendees in the Qudos Bank Arena. They already knew it, of course, as did anyone who tuned in. Strangely, that name now means less—it needs to compensate less. Now, when that name is separated from the name Charlo with a hyphen, it signifies the fighter, not the father, that bears it.