Percy Harris may have been cheated of the opportunity this month to become the first American to fight in China, but the Baltimore middleweight has a chance to become the first fighter to defeat title contender Roy Jones, of Pensacola, Fla., on HBO, Dec. 5.
Harris had been scheduled to fight World Boxing Organization champion Gerald McClellan in Bejing on Oct. 16, but financial disagreements between the American promoter and the Chinese delegation forced a cancellation.
After rejecting television matches against Merqui Sosa and Tyrone Trice, Harris was approached by promoter Bob Arum, president of Top Rank Inc., to challenge Jones on the cable-TV tripleheader scheduled for the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, N.J.
The HBO show also will feature International Boxing Federation super-middleweight champion Iran Barkley of New York against Robert Folley of Hartford, Conn., and IBF middleweight king James Toney of Ann Arbor, Mich., against Doug DeWitt of Yonkers, N.Y., in non-title bouts.
L The Jones-Harris bout is scheduled for 12 rounds, Arum said.
"We'd like to make it for the vacant USBA title, if possible," he said.
Jones (16-0, 15 KOs) is No. 2 in the IBF world middleweight rankings, and Harris (15-3, 9 KOs) is fifth.
Although Jones, 22, a flamboyant boxer-puncher, is being hailed by boxing critics as the next Sugar Ray Leonard, his perfect pro record is filled with obscure victims, save for Argentina's Jorge Vaca, who extended him to the 10-round limit in June.
Jones, best remembered for losing a controversial decision to a South Korean boxer in the gold-medal bout of the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, and then being named the Games "outstanding boxer," recently ended his ring relationship with his father.
Roy Jones Sr., who also served as his trainer, had kept his son free of forming alliances with the leading fight promoters until Arum became involved.
"We've got a three-fight deal with Roy," said Arum, "and, if he wins thetitle in that time, we'll have three more fights together.
"I regard Jones as a tremendously talented athlete who could become boxing's next superstar. But we also consider Harris the toughest fight he has faced to date."
Arum was on hand in New York last April when Harris almost upset then-undefeated Lamar Parks at Madison Square Garden before tiring in the late rounds and being stopped in the 10th.
"Percy impressed me, and I know he took that fight on short notice," Arum said.
"This time, he's had a long time to get ready since he's been training hard for over three months."
Harris, who had been training at the "Triple Threat Gym" in Newark, N.J., was not available for comment.
But his former co-manager Frank Kane, who still helps negotiate his matches, said he believes this is the optimal time for Harris to challenge Jones.
"I thought Percy would have had an easier time of it against McClellan and Trice because of his size and boxing ability," said Kane, a Virginia sports agent, "but I see nothing but an upside in fighting Jones.
"On paper, this is a lot like fighting Parks. If Percy had boxed Parks, he probably would have won a decision, but he got too macho. I think he learned a lesson that night that he'll put to good use against Jones."
Much has been said recently about the HBO cablecast knocking out Don King's projected SET-KingVision pay-per-view show the same night, pitting World Boxing Council middleweight champion Terry Norris against former welterweight king Simon Brown. They had been scheduled to meet in September, but Brown became ill the day of the fight and withdrew.
King blamed HBO and Arum for the television conflict, but HBO had the date set and intended to showcase Barkley, Toney and Vinny Pazienza. When Pazienza dropped out, Arum was invited to promote the show.
"HBO had this date months ago," Arum said.
"I only got involved because of my ties with Barkley and Toney, and then I added Jones to the show. Originally, Norris wanted to fight Dec. 4, but that date wasn't available. They tried the fifth, but decided it was no sense banging heads with HBO."