Everybody loves a good boxing tournament. Some succeed, some spectacularly fail – most are made with good intentions.
To recap, in our last engagement we left journeyman heavyweight Maurice Harris bowing out of the 25th instalment of the Prizefighter tournament at the fists of Albert Sosnowski. That particular incarnation was labelled “International Heavyweights II”, representing the second occasion a select band of foreign heavies had been assembled for the British public’s viewing pleasure. Pre-tournament favourite Kevin Johnson was surprisingly outpointed in the final by Tor Hamer, a university graduate, who pocketed the $32,000 prize find and sailed off into the night.
As for Harris, one might have expected more from the New Jersey mover. Campaigning as a hit-and-miss operator throughout a 26-year career that was still going as recently 2018, Harris was at his most productive way back in 2002. Knocking out future WBO heavyweight champion Siarhei Liakhovich in round nine helped thrust “Moe Better” into the inaugural Thunderbox tournament. Taking place in Harris’ New Jersey homeland, Cedric Kushner promoted the “Fistful of Dollars” extravaganza, that found a home in the UK via Eurosport. The exact amount of dollars available to the winner was 100,000; not to be sniffed at, but not so easy to claim given the calibre of opposition.
Harris successfully negotiated his way through the opening round by outpointing Gerald Nobles, the bulky “Jedi Warrior”, a fast-handed, fast-talking talent who perhaps should’ve achieved more. In the other first-round bouts Puerto Rican southpaw Israel “King Kong” Garcia defeated faded former heavyweight king Tim Witherspoon, Derrick Jefferson stopped Ray Austin in the second round, and Tony “Tiger” Thompson drew with talented, yet erratic, heavy Jeremy Williams. Many tipped Williams to do something in the world of boxing (he had been set to box Ike Ibeabuchi for a world title before Ibeabuchi went seriously off the rails) and he fought hard against Thompson on this occasion but lost on a punches landed countback.
Queue two semi-final showdowns consisting of Harris-Garcia and Thompson-Jefferson. Many of these lower-ranking American heavies went on to serve themselves up as title reign fodder for the likes of the Klitschkos or other luminaries of the day. Heavy-handed Jefferson was negated by the size and reach of Thompson over three rounds, while Harris replicated the trick over tough Garcia.
Tony was perceived as the man on the rise, but Harris boxed to perfection over three rounds and claimed the big prize. Posing with an oversized cheque, next to an undersized promoter and some scantily clad ring card girls, Harris turned back the clock and bagged himself a few more paydays off the back of this win. Nearly 10 years later Tony Thompson gained revenge over Harris with a third-round KO in an IBF heavyweight title eliminator. That represented his last big chance, and Harris dropped into true journeyman mode after the rematch loss, trotting the globe for paydays including the 2012 Prizefighter opportunity. Thompson went on to twice challenge Wladimir Klitschko for versions of the world title: falling well short in his second try, after a commendable first effort.
Flawed, talented, yet capable of pulling off a shock or two, Maurice Harris never quite lived up to his potential, but he earned well. He also held the distinction of having claimed the first and only Thunderbox Heavyweight crown.