Q and A

Maurice Harris, 26-22-3, says he was “one of the greatest fighters ever”

(Action Images / Andrew Couldridge)
Heavyweight Maurice 'Mo Bettah' Harris explains to James Slater why he wasn't able to fulfil his undoubted potential on the big stage

Plenty of fighters have attempted to come back from knockout defeats, some successfully, others less so, but heavyweight Maurice Harris made a career out of it.

Turning pro as a light-heavyweight in 1992, after an amateur career that barely scratched the surface, “Mo Bettah” was quickly thrown in deep.

In his first 20 pro bouts, the first of which he lost via four-round decision, Harris was knocked out five times but showed his potential against name heavyweights Vaughn Bean, David Izon, Jimmy Thunder and, in July of 1997, Larry Holmes.

Exiting the Holmes fight with a 9-9-2 record, Harris could not take too much comfort in the fact that almost everyone who saw his fight with the former world champion felt he had clearly deserved the decision that went Holmes’ way.

Harris battled on until 2015, retiring with a 26-21-3 (11) ledger during which he was stopped some 14 times – perhaps the most famous defeat came at the hands of Derrick Jefferson, who damn near took Harris’ head clean off in round six.

Question: You were just 16 when you went pro?

Harris: Yeah, 16, 17, somewhere around there. I had a few [amateur] fights; I was 3-6. I needed money, cash – I needed it so bad. I was around people who had money – I am from the streets and I did everything I had to do to get by: selling drugs, everything – and I wanted what they had.

And the one thing I always knew I could do was fight, box. I feel today as though I could have been one of the greatest fighters ever. In fact, I was one of the greatest fighters ever.

I just got treated really bad. I was stolen from, I was used. I had so much bad stuff around me, happening to me. Promoters, managers… just so many bad people around me.

I tell the truth today and I’m so glad I’m doing this interview. In boxing, we are soldiers, and the soldier who is better prepared, he wins the fight. That’s it.

In the fights where I had time to be fully prepared, I beat up people. In the fights that I took for money, because I needed it, I took a fall.

I’ve been in there with some of the greatest fighters ever. Roy Jones, Lennox Lewis, I learned so much just by watching them. By actually working and sparring with those guys, I picked up the intelligence they had in the ring.

I’m so grateful to both those guys. In fact I have no ill feeling towards any single guy I ever fought. Boxing was just my job. It was my job and it was also a gamble.

Q: Your 1997 fight with an ageing but still clever Larry Holmes got you noticed. Most felt you won the 10-rounder that went his way by split decision.

Harris: That was the fight when I realised that if I was to win I had to knock guys out. But I couldn’t do it [against Holmes] because I was too nervous, I had too little time to get ready for the fight and it was also too early [in my career] for me.

Later, when I had got it down on how to do my thing, I was picking up the wins.

Holmes never wanted a rematch with me, no way. My dad took me to meet Larry, on his 53rd or 54th birthday, and I asked him to tell me honestly, did he think he’d really beaten me. He got real mad and he told me, “I don’t wanna hear that kind of s**t!” I met him again but I never said a word to him. I stopped asking for that rematch.

Q: You picked up good wins over Jimmy Thunder, Siarhei Liakhovich and Jeremy Williams, but you lost to a hard-hitter in Gerald Nobles?

Harris: Thunder, I had eight days’ notice. Williams, I had five days. And Liakhovich, that was a real nerve-shredding fight for me. Again, I knew I wasn’t at my best because I had had short notice, but I still beat those guys.

Nobles, oh, man – that was a scary dude! He was a real hard puncher, yes sir! But I got him back. I fought three guys on the same night in Atlantic City in a tournament (not listed on Harris’ official record, he beat Nobles, Israel Garcia and Tony Thompson in the “Thunderbox Heavyweight Tournament” in 2002). But at that time, I needed money and I was just taking fights.

Q: Your most famous fight is probably the classic slugfest you had with Derrick Jefferson in 1999.

Harris: Oh, gosh! That was a knockdown, drag-out fight. We both put our souls on the line. I knew that was a fight where it was I get him or he gets me. I’m so happy I got out of that fight alive, because he could have killed me – I could have killed him.

In the second round, we both got knocked down and that was the first time in a big heavyweight fight that that had happened.

Q: Jefferson tells us he is planning a comeback.

Harris: Well, if he still believes he can do it, anything is possible. I don’t like to use the word ‘can’t.’ He’s one dangerous guy and if he has looked after himself and if he feels he can still do it, I say okay.

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