Harrison, 17, begins his senior year of high school this week, billed by his handlers as the youngest professional fighter in the United States. At 5 feet 11 and 147 pounds, he’s had two professional bouts, both wins, against fighters a combined 31 years older. Those fights followed 197 amateur bouts that included three junior national Golden Gloves championships.
But the two pro fights are now something of a problem for Harrison. Most states won’t allow fighters in the ring until they are 18 — California and Virginia recently denied him that chance when boxing officials discovered his age — and he can’t go back to amateur status because of the two paydays.
“A boxer must be 18 to fight in the state of Virginia and under no circumstances will a fighter under 18 be allowed to enter the ring in a professional fight, regardless of amateur experience,” a spokesman for the Virginia Athletic commission said. The commission canceled a fight of Harrison’s planned for Sept. 10 after a Washington Post reporter inquired about Harrison’s age.
California officials were questioning Harrison’s camp about the fighter’s age when a card scheduled for last Saturday in San Jose was canceled for other reasons.
“At 17, to me, they don’t have their man strength,” said Ray Rodgers, president of Golden Gloves. “A lot of guys are still getting stronger at 23, 24, 25 years old. Normally, by the time this kid is 30 years old, he’ll be punched out. . . . Your body can only take so many wars.”
Some experts contacted by The Post also expressed concern that absorbing blows to the head at a young age may have serious consequences for Harrison later in life. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Paediatric Society released a new joint policy statement Monday warning children and teens not to participate in boxing.
“We recommend young people participate in sports where the prime focus is not deliberate blows to the head,” the medical groups said in a news release.
Robert Cantu, co-director at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University’s School of Medicine, said that “brain development is related to how many total blows you’ve taken, not how many times you’ve been knocked out. It’s also related to over how long a time the boxer has taken those blows, and we don’t know with precise data how injurious it is to be taking blows at an early age.”
Harrison’s father, who trains him, said his son is so difficult to hit that he has taken much less punishment than other young fighters.