Detroit boxer Tony Harrison returns to ring after long layoff, family loss

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News
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He loves the smell of napalm.

Not the jelly-like concoction of gasoline and harmful chemicals that can reach over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and torch an entire village or wooded area in minutes.

He loves the iteration that's much older, and simpler.

Tony Harrison, left, last fought on Dec. 21, 2019, against Jermell Charlo.

Tony Harrison's idea of napalm is the spirit and thickness in the air where destruction has taken place as a result of fisticuffs. The former world champion can remember falling "in love" with it at the age of 8.

"I'm from Detroit, man," Harrison told The Detroit News. "Fighting was around the corner from me...I walked to the store, I find myself in a fight. It fascinated me because I did it so much."

He's excited to make it part of his life again.

Harrison on Saturday night will enter the boxing ring for the first time since December 2019, in the main event of Fox's Premier Boxing Champions Fight Night against Bryant Perrella.

The 154-pounder hasn't fought since since losing his WBC light middleweight title in a rematch with "hated" rival Jermell Charlo. The energy of his bouts with Charlo, Harrison said, brought out his "real west-side Detroit personality" and was a shot of energy "that this sport needed."

By rematch's end, one could argue that he channeled that energy a little too much.

"I got so comfortable, I got so in my zone," Harrison said. "It was almost like the boxing ring was my house. I was just chilling on the couch, but (Charlo) was still shooting 40-caliber bullets and I'm just sitting on the couch like nothing is happening."

Entering a new decade, Harrison (28-3, 21 KOs) hoped to bounce back but instead lost something else. His father, Ali Salaam, passed away from COVID-19.

It's been a long road back — 16 months, to be exact — and in an interview with DAZN, he said that it took the love of "everybody around me" to "rebirth me and rejuvenate the champion again."

Near the end of his training camp for Saturday's fight, Harrison said he felt much better than he did in either fight against Charlo. His timing is back, his speed is back, and his new avocado-heavy diet, inspired by Tom Brady, has him much more prepared to cut weight.

Consider him rejuvenated, though the city that he reps, the community he expected to be uplifted by — a proud boxing city, mind you — hardly deserves a thank-you note.

Tony Harrison, left, trains with his late father, Ali Salaam, back in 2019.

"That's the thing," Harrison said. "I think Detroit's gotta do a better job of supporting another Detroiter. I put my blood, sweat and tears in everything I do, and not only that, I represent the city every time I walk out.

"I don't think y'all (the media) do a good enough job, if I'm being honest. That's my honest opinion."

Harrison turns 31 in September, and in the latter stages of his career, has only a few more cracks at climbing the ladder for another title shot.

The limit to his opportunity is not lost on him, but Detroit's reluctance to boast what he's already accomplished is. It's tough for him to understand why a city that forged his combat mentality by the very nature of its existence would turn its back on him when he became one of the world's best.

"To build this up, it's built a chip on my shoulder," Harrison said. "Just keep busting the hut down brick by brick, and eventually they'll come around."

Saturday's fight with Perrella is more than a building block in this mission; it's a massive foundational piece. At this stage of his career, a second straight loss would set him back substantially.

But this is a different fight than the one that preceded it, Harrison admits. There's no hatred, no complexity of personal conflict.

It's simple: "Kill or be killed."

Just like it always has been.

nbianchi@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @nolanbianchi

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