No matter who wins this weekend in the clash between 32-year old former WBC super welterweight titlist Tony Harrison (29-3-1, 21 KO) and 28-year old Tim Tszyu (21-0, 15 KO), the sport of boxing will still come out ahead.
That doesn’t mean one can be sure where we’re headed. 154 pounds remains in the midst of one of its most enduring and entertaining eras. The era isn’t over yet but the victor this weekend, airing Saturday night in the US, (Showtime, 10:45 PM EST) could say a lot about how much longer this run can stretch out.
Harrison will travel to Tszyu’s turf in Australia for a battle that wasn’t originally planned and comes with high stakes for both men. For Harrison, it may be the best chance he’ll ever have to secure a rubber match with lineal and undisputed Jr. middleweight champion Jermell Charlo (35-1-1, 19 KO). The two split their first two affairs with Harrison winning a widely debated unanimous decision in 2018 and Charlo avenging his lone defeat with an eleventh-round knockout the following year.
In three fights since the second Harrison clash, Charlo has gone 2-0-1, scored two more knockouts, and unified every major title in the class. Until and unless he sees Harrison again, they will be forever tied in the official record books. Harrison can make people care a whole lot more about that with a win over Tszyu.
Tszyu could have taken an easier road than the one he’s on. He had a title shot at Charlo on the books before an injury set the contest back. The son of Kostya Tszyu, one of the greatest Jr. welterweights of all time, has worked his way into contention against veterans like former welterweight titlist Jeff Horn, Dennis Hogan, and US Olympian Terrell Gausha. The Gausha fight saw Tszyu come off the floor in round one and grind out the sort of victory suggesting he isn’t just another guy a famous name.
Facing Harrison while he waits for Charlo to recover could ultimately cost him a shot at the crown (putting aside a WBO interim tag this weekend). It could also make him a better, more serious contender with a win. Charlo was easily going to be Tszyu’s toughest professional opponent.
On paper, Harrison still fits that designation. This is a step-up, a challenge, and a risk for Tszyu. With a win, he will enter a Charlo fight as not just another mandatory but a truly worthy contender. He earned a shot playing within the framework of the sport. This weekend, he has a chance to deepen the merit of his claim to a title shot.
Boxing in 2023 is off to a hell of a start across all platforms. This fight looks like another win for the matchmakers.
So, besides just shaking up the possibilities for Charlo when he returns, how does this fight impact the endurance of this era at Jr. middleweight?
The calendar tells that tale.
At 32, Harrison is still near to prime at almost any weight these days but he’s got miles on him and likely less road ahead than Tszyu, or some of the other young guns forging ahead in the division. Jesus Ramos (19-0, 15 KO) is just 22. Sebastian Fundora (20-0-1, 13 KO) is 25. Magomed Kurbanov (24-0, 13 KO) is 27. Israel Madrimov (8-0-1, 6 KO) is 28.
All already have the sort of progression to make real claims as among the top ten in the class. Charlo-Harrison III would match two veterans with a grudge. Charlo-Tszyu could be the beginning of a reign, should Charlo elect to stay at Jr. middleweight, that saw a champion with complete control of a division standing down a series of young tigers. It could set the stage for a transition from golden era at junior middleweight to one of those sorts of title reigns that stand out from the rest.
If one of them knocked Charlo off along the way, the floodgates could open for a whole new round-robin. It’s not often we see a compelling new round-robin dovetail develop organically from the sort of action the class has provided since the mid 2010’s with a cast that has included Jermall Charlo, Julian Williams, Austin Trout, Jarrett Hurd, Erislandy Lara, Brian Castano, and others.
We might get that anyways, even were Tszyu to lose this weekend. A good loss, one that ultimately shows Tszyu to belong at the championship level with something to build on, wouldn’t be a bad result. He’d be more seasoned and still one of several sharks in the water.
But the possibility that there could be a youth movement ready to pick up the baton, already underway, is a lot of fun to consider.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]