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The Hauser Report: The Return of Curtis Harper

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  • The Hauser Report: The Return of Curtis Harper

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    By Thomas Hauser

    Curtis Harper is getting ready to fight again. The 250-pound journeyman heavyweight from Florida with a 13-6 (6 KOs, 3 KOs by) ring record is scheduled to fight Chazz Witherspoon in the main event on a September 21 fight card in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.

    Curtis Harper. Think hard and you'll remember the name. For most of his nine years as a professional boxer, he labored in obscurity. The high point of his ring career came on March 13, 2015, when he went eight barroom-brawl-type rounds before losing a close decision to Chris Arreola on a Premier Boxing Champions card.

    Harper has won one fight during the past five years, a third-round knockout of Andrew Greeley in 2017. Putting that victory in perspective, in thirty fights since April 2008, Greeley has emerged victorious one time. Nonetheless, most boxing fans are familiar with Harper because of an incident that occurred at the Minneapolis Armory on August 24, 2018.

    Harper was scheduled to fight Efe Ajagba on FS1. Ajagba - a heavyweight from Nigeria now living in Texas - is being groomed by PBC for bigger and better things. Prior to entering the ring to face Harper, he had five knockout victories in five fights with four of those knockouts coming in the first round.

    Ajagba and Harper (pictured on the right) entered the ring and were introduced by the ring announcer. The referee gave his final instructions. The fighters returned to their respective corners. The bell rang.

    Then Harper turned his back on Ajagba, stepped between the ring ropes, and walked away from the ring back to his dressing room. The walkout, he says, was the culmination of a series of incidents that left him feeling that he was being treated unfairly, contractually and otherwise, by the promotion. Asked by this writer last year when he decided he wasn't going to fight, Curtis answered, "I pretty much made up my mind in the dressing room, but I wasn't sure. Then, when we touched gloves and I saw one of the people who hadn't done right by me in the other corner, that was it."

    The fallout was quick in coming. Harper did what he did. Then he had to live with the consequences of his actions. In the five days after the incident, more than one million viewers watched him leave the ring on YouTube. His unceremonious departure was reported by most major news organizations and featured on CNN's home page. The commentary - virtually all of it from people who have never been punched in the face by a professional fighter - was overwhelmingly derisive and centered on the demeaning storyline that Curtis was terrified of his opponent.

    Harper was given a disciplinary suspension by the Minnesota Office of Combative Sports that has since been lifted. To make ends meet and stay in fighting shape, he has worked during the past year as a sparring partner for Murat Gassiev and Filip Hrgovic. Now he's planning to fight again.

    Witherspoon-Harper will be promoted by Chris Coyne of Northeast Boxing, listed by BoxRec.com as having promoted ten club fight cards since 2012, all of them in Pennsylvania.

    "It's not final yet," Greg Sirb (executive director of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission) told The Sweet Science on August 25. "I want to see bout contracts and talk with Curtis to see where he's at. But if everything is right, it should happen."

    Witherspoon (38-3, 26 KOs, 2 KOs by) will be 38 years old on September 16. He began boxing professionally in 2004 and ran his record to 23-0 against a series of no-hope opponents. Then, in 2008, he stepped up in class to fight Chris Arreola. Arreola knocked Witherspoon down twice, the second time at the bell ending round three. Chazz beat the count. But the referee ruled that his cornermen had entered the ring before the mandatory eight count concluded. Thus, Witherspoon was disqualified; a ruling softened by the likelihood that, had the bout continued, he would have been knocked out in round four.

    The other times that Witherspoon moved beyond the club-fight level, he was knocked out by Tony Thompson and Seth Mitchell. Witherspoon-Harper is a winnable bout for either man.

    Rick Glaser, who has spent almost three decades in boxing as an agent and consultant, represents Harper.

    "Look, I can understand why some people are upset by what Curtis did last year," Glaser acknowledges. "But he had his reasons. And either way, he paid the price for what happened. Now he's ready to move on."

    Harper seconds that theme, saying, "I understand the disappointment of fans and some people in the media. But they don't understand why I did what I did. I never intended to disrespect boxing. I love being part of boxing. It's a great sport, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to fight again."

    Beating Witherspoon would be the biggest victory in Curtis's ring career. It's hard to not root for him.

    "This is boxing," Harper says in closing. " You don't just quit. You get knocked down; you get back up."

    Thomas Hauser's email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – A Dangerous Journey; Another Year Inside Boxing – will be published this autumn by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

    Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

  • #2
    "This is boxing," Harper says in closing. " You don't just quit. You get knocked down; you get back up."

    Confusing, coming from him.

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    • #3
      I'm one of those who's never been hit in the face by a professional fighter. Hardly surprising, given that I'm not one. But Carter is, and I unhesitatingly and unapologetically condemn him for leaving the ring.

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