"I thought these grapes were ripe, but I see now they are quite sour."
For junior middleweight Tony Harrison the truth came abruptly and disagreeably. One moment he was well on his way to his 22 consecutive victory and the next he was floundering around on the canvas, struggling to regain both his senses and equilibrium.
A pair of well-placed right hands delivered by Willie Nelson had Harrison so discombobulated that after regaining his feet, he turned sideways and staggered face-first into the turnbuckle padding. Referee Frank Santore had no alternative but to stop the fight at the 2:57 mark of the ninth round and award Nelson a TKO victory.
The biggest fight of Harrison's nascent career was over and the prefight crack he'd made about how he "would never lose to a guy named after a country singer" had a new punch line.
Harrison had garnered the coveted co-feature spot on Saturday's PBC on ESPN debut because a lot of folks clearly thought highly of him. Perhaps their faith will eventually be rewarded. But for now, he's just the latest heralded prospect to fall short of expectations. It's a boxing phenomenon as old as sore hands and bloody noses.
Junior welter Francisco Bojado and, more recently, heavyweights Seth Mitchell and David Price come immediately to mind. Remember how excited fans and media were about them?
Bojado drew comparisons to Roberto Duran and Julio Cesar Chavez, and Mitchell had some folks believing he was the American heavyweight who would lead us back to the promised land. Across the Atlantic a lot of our British cousins felt the same way about David Price.
Not a single one of them came anywhere close to being the genuine article.
Even fighters with far more impressive credentials than the aforementioned trio are often drastically overvalued. Paul Williams was hailed as the new Thomas Hearns, until Sergio Martinez pancaked him. True, Williams' career was cut short by a motorcycle accident, but his controversial majority decision over Erislandy Lara (in his next bout after Martinez) was further proof that he was nowhere near Hearns' level.
Despite overwhelming evidence of its futility, the rush to judgment appears to be virtually unavoidable where promising boxers are concerned.
Promoter, managers and television networks are basically in the business of selling a product, so they have a build-in financial motive. Boxing is a star-driven sport and even faux stars can briefly enhance the bottom line.
The sport's powerbrokers are, to a degree, aided and abetted by what passes today as the boxing media. The line between journalism and ballyhoo has become so blurred the media is frequently an enabler in this faulty star-making contrivance.
An uncomfortable number of writers and broadcasters lack the depth of knowledge required to accurately evaluate a fighter's potential. Overall, the lack of critical thinking is appalling.
The fighters' motives are easy to understand. Despite what they might say, they're in it for the money, and the bigger the fight the bigger the payday. They know that their careers will be short-lived and are eager to make as much money as fast as they can.
Besides, fighters are risk-takers by nature, and even if they don't believe they can win, they will usually take the fight anyway. What else can they do?
But what about the fans, why do they get sucked into the same whirlpool of hype and false hope? What's behind this obsessive and ceaseless search to find the so-called next big thing?
A large part of it stems from our want for heroes.
According to Temple University psychology professor Frank Farley, most heroes, regardless of how their heroism manifests itself, have T-type personalities -- habitual thrill-seekers who don't hesitate to place themselves in personal peril to accomplish a goal.
Since many people don't take huge risks, they admire this quality in others who do, and are even drawn to follow him or her. Or, as Santa Clara University ethic scholar Scott LaBarge put it, "We need heroes because they define the limits of our aspirations and symbolize the qualities we'd like to possess."
Fight fans are willing, albeit begrudgingly, to suffer through hundreds of bad and mediocre fights, confident in the knowledge that they will eventually be rewarded with something truly special. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that when a capable young fighter comes along there is a tendency to become excessively enthusiastic.
A kind of psychological projection takes place, in which fans transfer their hopes and dreams to the fighter in question, regardless of whether he has proven worthy of such belief.
Sometimes, of course, this blind faith is rewarded and the fighter turns out to be everything fans desire and the business craves, but that sort of outcome is relatively rare.
Keith Thurman, who stopped Luis Collazo in the main event of the card that saw Harrison suffer his first defeat, is currently somewhere in between contender and star status. Fortunately, it's the sort of limbo he can fight your way out of.
The charismatic young Floridian has certainly captured the boxing public's imagination, winning his first 26 pro fights, 22 by knockout, including last Saturday's eighth-round TKO of Collazo. Even so, it's premature to anoint him heir apparent to the likes of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, both of who are winding down Hall of Fame careers.
Arguably the most important factor in true greatness is longevity at the top, and Thurman isn't even at the top of his division yet. Yes, the potential is there, but to quote novelist Margaret Atwood, "Potential has a shelf life."
While Thurman's commendable attributes were on display against Collazo, he also came perilously close to going down in the fifth round when his crafty opponent sunk a left hook deep into the right side of Keith's body, just below the ribcage. It was the sort of liver shot that usually momentarily paralyzes the recipient and ends the fight -- but not this time.
Thurman winced and sagged noticeably. But he stayed on his feet and survived the crisis. Afterward, he was widely praised for his resiliency, and rightly so, but there's always more than one way of looking at such things.
If a prohibitive underdog such as Collazo almost caved in Thurman, you can't help but wonder what would have happened if a fresher, harder-punching adversary had delivered the blow. Furthermore, why was he so vulnerable to such a crippling punch in the first place?
The answer to that is simple. Thurman's motto is "KO for Life," which, like the "One Time" nickname, encapsulates Keith's fighting philosophy. He's there to knock the other guy out. Every time. And we love him for it.
But when you fight that way, even a shopworn 34-year-old veteran has a chance to hurt you.
Regardless of what you read and hear, Thurman is not in any way unique, just one of the leading understudies jostling for position while the older generation of stars play out the strings of their careers and take their final bows.
Transitions always take a while, some longer than others. But somebody always comes along to take their place. That's just the way boxing works.
We don't yet know who that somebody will be, and although it's fun to speculate, anything beyond that is sheer folly. Saturday's doubleheader at the SFU Sun Dome in Tampa, Florida, was just a test run, not a coronation -- and should be treated accordingly.
In the meantime, there's no reason to make hasty conclusions. Resist the urge to deal in absolutes because there is no such thing in boxing. It's all subject to abrupt and unforeseen change.
Tony Harrison knows all about it.