Forgotten Classics: Derrick Jefferson vs Maurice Harris

By: Steve Gallegos

When was the last time you saw a good, knockdown, Heavyweight brawl. You might have to scratch your head and think hard about that one. How about we go back towards the end of the 20th century when two up-and-coming heavyweights slugged it out before having the fight come to a close with a spectacular ending. That fight was between DerrickD-TrainJefferson and MauriceMo BettahHarris.

In 1999, the Heavyweight division was in very good standing. The Heavyweight Championship of the World still ranked strong as one of the biggest titles in all of sports, if not the biggest. Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis were close to unifying all three major heavyweight titles and there were a class of young, up-and-coming heavyweights waiting for their chance in the spotlight. Michael Grant, Chris Byrd, David Tua, and Hasim Rahman were among that class; Derrick Jefferson and Maurice Harris were hoping to join that class as well.

Derrick Jefferson was a late bloomer in the sport as he began boxing at age 24. His main focus was on playing basketball as he stood at 6″5; however his basketball dreams were cut short after being shot in the leg. He then turned to boxing and had a successful 3 year amateur career in which he won a national title. Jefferson turned pro in 1995 and would go 21-0-1 in his first 22 bouts, 17 by KO. He was a fighter who loved to brawl and go for the KO, which made him a very fan friendly attraction.

Maurice Harris would take a much different path into the sport. He only had a handful of amateur bouts before turning pro at the very young age of 16. He was also a very tall fighter as he stood at 6″4. He turned pro in 1992 as a way to bring in some income and would learn his craft on the job the hard way, going 7-8-2 in his 1st 17 bouts. Harris improved though, and he would go on a very successful run from 1997-1999, winning nine out of ten bouts, including some big wins over James Thunder and Jeremy Williams. He also lost a very close, disputed split decision to the legendary, former Heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. He gained some valuable experience during this time as he regularly sparred with both Lennox Lewis and Roy Jones Jr. His record at the time he met up with Jefferson was 16-9-2 and Jim Lampley of HBO complimented Harris by saying there wasn’t a better 16-9 fighter out there.

Jefferson and Harris met on 11/06/99 at the Atlantic City Convention in Atlantic City, NJ as the co-feature of an HBO Boxing After Dark heavyweight doubleheader. The first round got off to a good start for both men as they stood toe to toe and both landed good hard shots. In the second, Jefferson put Harris down with a sensational left hook. Jefferson would go on the attack and would put Harris on the canvas again; however Harris would get up and turn the tide only seconds later as he dropped Jefferson with a right hand. The round would end with both men slugging it out on the ropes. Larry Merchant of HBO called that round the best round of Heavyweight boxing probably since Bowe vs Holyfield.

In the third, Harris controlled the pace of much of the round with a good body attack, as well as right hands up stairs; however Jefferson turned the tide towards the end of the round with a lethal right uppercut that knocked Harris‘ mouthpiece out. Harris was wobbled and almost out; however he caught a break when referee Steve Smoger called timeout to put the mouthpiece back in. The break saved Harris from a knockout.

The fourth and fifth rounds were fought at a slower pace as both men appeared to be winded after going all out in the first three rounds; however there were still some good moments of action. In the sixth, Jefferson began focusing strictly on the body and put Harris down again with a series of body shots. Harris once again got up and wobbled Jefferson in return; however in the middle of Harris‘ rally, Jefferson landed a lethal left hook that put Harris down for good. When the shot landed, it sent Harris‘ mouthpiece flying and Harris fell back just like a tree being chopped down. Referee Steve Smoger didn’t bother to count and the fight was officially ended at 2:52 of the sixth round and the fight was voted as Ring Magazine’s Knockout of 1999.

At the time of the KO, Larry Merchant yelled out “Derrick Jefferson, I love you”. Prior to the bout, Jefferson was determined to impress because he wanted to fight on HBO regularly and HBO would bring him back three times over the next two years; however those two years weren’t kind to him as he would lose all three fights by KO to David Izon, Oleg Maskaev, and Wladimir Klitschko. He would go 5-1 after the Klitschko fight before retiring in 2005 with a record of 28-4-1 with 21 KO’s.

Maurice Harris would continue fighting for the next eight years, still gaining national exposure from time to time based on his exciting fighting style. He would be inactive from 2007-2010 before making a comeback. He would go 9-7-1 from 2000-2012. His record as a professional stands at 25-17-2 with 11 KO’s. Jefferson and Harris put on the best heavyweight fight to end the 20th Century and there haven’t been many heavyweight fights that have come close to matching this one. It’s unfortunate that many heavyweights don’t possess the fire and willingness to give it their all and leave it all inside the ring like these two did.

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