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Maurice Harris: Ready for the Unwilling


Last year, it seemed perennial heavyweight contender, Boxing 360’s Maurice Harris’ rebirth was moments away from being complete. In August of 2010, he had soundly beaten Nagy Aguilera for the vacant USBA heavyweight belt and a top ten ranking. Now ranked eighth in the world by the IBF, Harris is looking at March, coming and going, without a fight scheduled. Boxing 360 had recently won a purse bid to face Sam Peter for an even higher ranking but Peter’s camp declined and instead chose to fight Robert Helenius instead. I caught up with Harris this Sunday to get his thoughts on the situation. Some would expect a frustrated fighter to call out opponents and blame the sport of boxing for holding him down. Those people don’t know Maurice Harris, a fighter who came up in the hardest of ways in this sport, turning pro at 16 and being thrown to the wolves early on. A career such as the one the young “Mo” Harris had would have broken anyone else but to speak to the man, you’d think he was a 20-something prospect still excited about his chances.

 

“All I’ve been doing is staying ready,” Harris told me from his home in New Jersey. “That’s what I have been doing for the past six or seven months. I believe I am in a good place right now, ranked number eight [in the IBF rankings]. We’ve just been trying to get these guys in the ring and these guys have been turning me down. So the only thing I can do is keep the faith, stay strong, live a clean life and just pray that something happens, which I am sure is sometime soon. I’m just staying in shape, living a clean life, being a family man and being a full-time father as well as a full-time fighter and just being a husband and doing what I need to do.”


I asked Harris about proposed bouts with Sam Peter, Chris Arreola and Tomasz Adamek, who, according to Boxing 360, turned down a fight with him for various reasons. If there was a chance to do a call-out, something neither of us enjoy doing or writing, this might have been it but Harris declined.

 

“I have no idea,” said Harris. “I leave that up to [Boxing 360 CEO Dr.] Mario [Yagobi]. All I do- and I think I said this before- I take care of everything inside the ring and he takes care of everything outside the ring. I don’t get too involved in the business part of it. We sit down and talk; we share things about the game and whatnot but other than that, I don’t really go into the business side of it. When the fight is over, we sit down and talk business but for the most part, I leave it up to him.”

 

Harris’ record is 24-14-2 with 10 KOs. He is 35 years old with roughly 20 years of experience and patience and preparedness are his weapons of choice. When I asked him if he was worried about losing momentum or sitting on the shelf, Harris answered, “I don’t even worry about that. At this point in my career, I have been in there with the best. I’ve boxed against every heavyweight of this era just about. So it doesn’t really matter who I fight. I just worry about me. As long as I show up in good spirits, in great shape, I don’t really care about who I am in the ring with. They can pull out of the fight but they can’t really duck me because I am in the top ten. So I don’t really worry about that. Long as I am ready and my mind is there and focused, that’s all I am concerned with. I don’t really care who I get in the ring with at this point, whether it be Chris Arreola, Sam Peter or a Klitschko, it doesn’t matter because I am coming with everything I have.”

 

During his time away from the lights of the prizefighting ring, Harris was asked to give some sparring work to Denis Lebedev in Russia, as the latter prepared to face Marco Huck last December. It was the first time Harris had been overseas and he was excited do go. That feeling didn’t last long.

 

“That was a disaster, man” laughed Harris. “I didn’t really get over there in time to get acclimated to their time zone. They are like, eight hours ahead of us. Then you know, the food. As you know, I am Muslim; my religion is Islam and they just served a lot of pork, too. So I couldn’t really eat the food and I’d be real hungry and weak. So I didn’t really like that experience. It wasn’t a good experience for me. Then, I found out after I left, a couple weeks later they bombed the Moscow Airport. I was like, ‘Wow. I ain’t never going over there.’ Then I had problems trying to get out of the country, problems with my passport. It was just a real bad experience for me and I never want to go back there again. It couldn’t have gone worse. It was an experience but something I don’t want to experience again.”

 

Now back at home in Jersey, Harris, who blew up to a whopping 270 pounds during his near-three years away from the sport from 2007 to 2010, stays at a ready 235 by working out at a local gym dedicated to a fallen friend, former fighter Jamar Carter, who passed away some eight years ago in a house fire.

 

“Right now, I am working out in New Jersey at a club called Operation Turnaround,” said Harris. “It used to be called The Hall of Fame but they re-opened it and dedicated to him. It’s a gritty gym. It’s all business, small, just like I like it. It’s not state-of-the-art. It’s just a real hardcore gym. When you go in there, you go to work. You go in there and put it down. It keeps me grounded; I never get ahead of myself. That’s how I like it. I’m in there with all the amateurs. I don’t have closed training sessions. I do it just like I did when I started. I be in there with everybody. Everybody gets to see me workout. That’s how I like it. I like to keep it real and stay strong.”

 

Harris is the classic gym fighter. He’s sparred with Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, and every other fighter of note you can name in the last 20 years. So I asked him if he had seen any heavyweight on the horizon that caught his eye.

 

“Looking at the top, I mean there are a couple guys I don’t even know,” he said. “Like some guys I have never even heard of. But as far someone that has captured my eye, I haven’t even seen anybody impressive yet, like, ‘Wow, you need to look out for this guy.’ As far as boxing is concerned, I don’t really watch boxing as much as I used to. It’s like my mind is so tuned and so programmed to it, I can tell you what’s going to happen in each fight that I watch. If you watch a fight with me, like old fights, I watched boxing so much, I can tell you exactly what is going to happen. But there are not too many boxers that capture my eye these days.”

 

As for fighters avoiding a fight with a high-risk, low-reward fighter, all Harris can do is stay sharp and be ready for the moment of truth. The division is thin. Sam Peter has had his shot with both Klitschkos; Alexander Povetkin is not ready, according to his trainer, and the IBF is holding a box-off to decide who gets a shot at Vitali Klitschko, who just beat Odlanier Solis over the weekend. Beyond David Tua, who also won over the weekend, the heavyweight opposition is getting thin. Long wait or not, Harris, who two years ago, was out of boxing altogether, is not worried at all.

 

“They know what it is,” said Harris. “They know. I ain’t worried. You know why? I go back to two years ago when I had nothing, when I wasn’t nothing. I wasn’t in the game; I had nothing going for me. I had nothing at all. I didn’t have a pot to piss in nor a window to throw it out when it came to boxing. For me to be in this position now, this is the highest I have ever been in my career. So no, I’m not worried at all. I’m not stressing. When the Father upstairs, the Big Daddy upstairs is ready for me to step and take care of my business, that’s when I’m going to do it. In the meantime, I am going to stay prepared. You ain’t never going to catch me out of shape. I’m like a throwback fighter. I am always out of shape, so it doesn’t matter to me. My faith is strong and my belief is strong. I don’t really even look at it like me being on the shelf. I just look at it like these [fighters] don’t want to take the chance. To me, I call it scared. To me, that’s complimenting me and it makes me want to work harder. If these top guys don’t want to fight me, then it makes me say, ‘Well, if it is like that, that makes me want to work even harder. I changed my whole training regimen. I’m always on top of my game, so when it does come time to go in there, it’s like another day at the gym. Like another day. So whenever they ready, I’m already ready. I’m just waiting on you. And I’m not just saying this. I don’t have to be on the phone blowing smoke. This is really what it is. This is me. I don’t do interviews too much. I stay under the radar. My work speaks for itself. All you have to do is check the rankings. Those guys don’t want to fight then they have to get out the way. It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of when. All I’m doing is what God put me here to do. Stay ready, stay true to what I believe in and they cannot stop me.”

 

Looking back at the era he began in, with Holyfield, Tyson, Lewis and Bowe running the show and going at each other over the years, Harris said that today’s fighters- not just the heavyweights- can learn a thing or two from history.

 

“I don’t disrespect nobody in the game and I don’t want anybody disrespecting me,” Harris clarified, “but at the same time, this is a competitive sport. It’s competition. So if you feel your skills are better than mine, then let’s put it up against each other and let’s see who wins. Boxing used to be that way back in the day. Everybody fought everybody. Now everybody duck everybody. That’s why the sport is dying off because everybody wants to get that payday. It’s not about the love anymore. I do it out of love. When I fight, I fight with love. I don’t do it just to do it. I am very, very passionate about this thing. I’ll be the underdog. I’ll be that fly on the wall just sitting back and watching until my time come. And when my time come, I’ll just be ready for it. It feels good to be here. I’m healthy; I got a good team and a good family on my side. I’m straight. I couldn’t ask for much more.”

 

Before we got off the phone, I asked Harris one final question.

 

“Before you returned to the sport back in 2010, if someone said you’d be ranked number eight and would have top fighters avoiding matches with you, what would you say?” I asked.

 

“I don’t really know what to say to that, man,” the humble Harris laughed. “It feels good to be here, man. That’s all I got to say. It feels good to be here.” 

 

 Thoughts on the weekend…

 

Guillermo Rigondeaux looked solid in beating a guy no match for him in Willie Casey. I hope at least he showed Top Rank that he can be exciting or is willing to be. I’ll be doing an interview with his trainer, Ronnie Shields, later today about the fight and his other fighter, Erislandy Lara, who fights later this week.

 

According to report on Fightnews.com, Odlanier Solis did actually tear his knee apart. His ACL and meniscus were shorn, along with some other cartilage. I think it’s safe to say he should get his purse. Maybe this will show Solis that being in shape all the time is what fighters should do. Doing it for one fight only has its consequences. Looks like fans and Vitali overreacted. I was especially thrown by Vitali screaming at Solis, considering he has backed out of fights due to injury himself.

 

Is it odd that Lucian Bute and Mikkel Kessler seem in line to fight each other? I thought Kessler was out of the “Super Si” due to injury. I guess it’s not as odd as hearing that Andre Dirrell is coming on back to the sport as well.

 

I am hoping that the Andre Ward vs. Arthur Abraham fight as well as the 118-pound tourney coming to Southern California are trends rather than the exception. Vegas and the East Coast have been getting all the star fights but now we are getting the good fights here in L.A. It’s enough to remind me why I moved back here.

 

The Mailbag will return later this week in a Friday edition.

 

Have a great week, fight fans. 

 

You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him on each Monday’s episode of “The Next Round” with Steve Kim or tune into him live on Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST when he co-hosts the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com. Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.



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