TAMPA, Fla. -- The late, great trainer Emanuel Steward took junior middleweight prospect Tony Harrison under his wing and talked constantly about him before his untimely death. To hear Steward talk, Harrison would be a future world champion and a star.
Perhaps that might still happen but the path hit a major roadblock on Saturday night on the Keith Thurman-Luis Collazo undercard at the USF Sun Dome.
In an otherwise forgettable fight, Willie Nelson knocked out Harrison out of nowhere with a right hand in the ninth round to win the debut bout of Premier Boxing Champions on ESPN.
Harrison (21-1, 18 KOs), 24, of Detroit, was taking a big step up in competition and was winning a close but very dull fight when Nelson (24-2-1, 14 KOs), 28, of Cleveland, connected.
Harrison beat the count but was out of it -- he turned to face the corner rather than referee Frank Santore -- and Santore called off the fight at 2 minutes, 27 seconds.
"I just really took my time and was being patient," Nelson said. "I still have a lot to work [to do] on letting my hands go. I let him get punches off that I shouldn't have let him. I was walking around and I should have had my hands up. The plan was to take him into deep waters so that's why I was relaxing. I got the job done with two right hands. I listened to my coach who said go down and fake down and throw a right hand on top. And he buckled a little bit with another right hand.
"I continued to throw a barrage of punches and then he went down. It was the left uppercut that started the combination and then the right hand."
Nelson trailed 87-83 and 86-84 on two scorecards -- the third was 85-85 -- when he scored the knockout. It was a big rebound win for Nelson, who was coming off a competitive 10-round decision loss to Vanes Martirosyan in October.
"I let the anxiety get to me," Harrison said. "I just felt the anxiousness to knock him out. I went in reckless and got caught. I felt I was winning the whole fight with my game plan and I just switched it up. I just felt that I had to give Detroit something to look at. I let my city down tonight. [He was] a guy that I shouldn't have lost to. The shot was behind the head but no excuses. I got up and the ref did what he had to do."
Nelson, who seemed awfully amped up for the fight after a war of words with Harrison at Thursday's final news conference, where they engaged in some shoving and extended jawing, swung so hard and missed on a shot in the final seconds of the first round that he fell to the mat. But the fight had a bit of a slow pace even though Harrison got through with plenty of stiff jabs and body shots against the taller and longer Nelson
The crowd began to boo the lack of action in the sixth round and continued in the seventh and eighth rounds. There was way more posing from the fighters than punching and also some holding and grappling that made it frustrating to watch.
But at least Harrison connected on some right hands in the later rounds and threw combinations here and there - until Nelson turned out the lights.
"I want one of the world champs. Any of them will do," Nelson said. "I want to save the best one for last, Demetrius Andrade. That's my boy but we cool. You know, I could save him for last. I want 'K9' [Cornelius Bundrage], [Erislandy] Lara, whoever have a title. That's who I want. Since everyone is jumping on the Floyd Mayweather bandwagon, give me him too."
Cherry bombs out Cruz
Lightweight Edner Cherry goes by the nickname "Cherry Bomb" and landed one on Luis Cruz, knocking him out in spectacular fashion in the ninth round.
Cherry scored two knockdowns in the ninth round. He missed with a left hand but followed with an overhand right that caught Cruz on the chin and dropped him with a little over a minute left in the round.
Cruz survived that big shot, but not the next one, which came moments later as Cherry connected with a massive overhand right that seemed to short-circuit Cruz's body as he crumpled to the mat. Referee Santore waved off the fight at 2 minutes, 13 seconds without a count. Cruz was ahead on two of the three scorecards at the time of the knockout.
Cherry (34-6-2, 19 KOs), of Wauchula, Florida, controlled the fight. He came out fast in the fourth round and rocked Cruz with an uppercut and had him reeling after landing several other punches. He may still have been upset by the low blow Cruz landed at the end of the third round.
Cherry had his left hook working throughout the fight and rocked Cruz (21-4, 16 KOs), of Puerto Rico, with one on the button early in the fifth round. In the eighth round, Cherry nailed Cruz with a combination and then got head butted and tackled for his trouble.
• Orlando, Florida, junior middleweight Antonio Tarver Jr. (3-0, 2 KOs), the 27-year-old son of former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver, put on a highly entertaining four-round slugfest withOscar Gonzalez (9-12-1, 3 KOs) of Tampa. Tarver dominated to win 40-36 on all three scorecards.
Gonzaez accepted the bout on Friday after Julian Valerio (2-3, 1 KO) was scratched, but he was there to fight. Although Tarver, who had only eight amateur fights, knocked Gonzalez down in the third round, Gonzalez got up and went right after him, landing a few shots in an exciting exchange. The action continued in the fourth round but it was Tarver, whose father was in his corner, who rocked Gonzalez and was on the verge of a stoppage when the final bell rang.
• Washington, D.C., bantamweight Antonio Russell (3-0, 2 KOs), the younger brother of featherweight titlist Gary Russell Jr. -- who worked his corner - easily outboxed Jaxel Marrero (1-6-1, 0 KOs), of Puerto Rico, in a shutout decision that had zero drama. All three judges scored the fight 40-36 for Russell.
• In an upset, junior middleweight Carlos Garcia (8-14-1, 7 KOs), of Puerto Rico, edged hometown favorite Manny Woods (13-4-1, 5 KOs), of St. Petersburg, in a hard-fought six-rounder. Woods had a vocal cheering section but it was Garcia who got the close nod in a majority decision, 58-56 (twice) while one judge scored the fight 57-5.
• Welterweight Bruno Bredicean (1-0), of Cape Coral, Florida, made his pro debut with an easy shutout decision against Randy Hedderick (0-3), of Gulfport, Mississippi, winning 40-36 on all three scorecards.