After suffering their first defeats, junior middleweight contenders Tony Harrison and Sergey Rabchenko both won their next two fights to punch their way into the position they now occupy -- having a spot in a world-title-elimination bout.
They will meet on Saturday night (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET with preliminary bouts on Showtime Extreme beginning at 7 p.m. ET/PT) on a deep card headlined by featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz’s defense against Carl Frampton at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
The Rabchenko-Harrison winner will move a step closer to a mandatory shot at the 154-pound belt held by Jermall Charlo, whose immediate mandatory fight is due against Julian “J Rock” Williams. They are expected to meet in September or October.
The 25-year-old Harrison (23-1, 19 KOs), of Detroit, was as hot as any prospect could be when he ran into Willie Nelson last July and got upset in a ninth-round knockout loss.
He won his next two fights against pedestrian opposition and is stepping back up in competition against Rabchenko. He said he is ready to pass the test this time.
"It was a very long camp. I'm in great shape and ready mentally,” Harrison said. “I have a lot to prove in this fight and I'm excited to get in there. I watched a 15-second clip of him and then I shut the video off. I don't want to make adjustments off of him. I want him to adjust to me. I know that he's a tough competitor. You can't take anything away from his record.
"I just want to get the respect that I deserve. That's what I'm coming for. They call me for a fight and I say yes. I think I'm at my best right now. I'm starting to peak. I'm starting to find my grown-man strength and my second wind in the ring. When I'm going in late rounds I feel comfortable.”
Rabchenko’s loss in November 2014 was not nearly as dramatic as Harrison’s defeat. Rabchenko traveled to Australia and lost a highly disputed split decision to hometown fighter Anthony Mundine.
Rabchenko (27-1, 20 KOs), 30, of Belarus, has also beaten two lesser opponents since and will be boxing in the United States for the first time.
"It's the most important fight of my life. I think it's a very interesting fight, with it being my first time in America,” Rabchenko said. “I've enjoyed it a lot so far. New York never sleeps.”
Rabchenko hopes he will have an advantage because of his trainer, former two-division titleholder Ricky Hatton, one of the biggest boxing starts ever from England.
"Having Ricky Hatton as my trainer helps me because of his great experience,” Rabchenko said. “He's been in many big fights and he's a great trainer. I'm very comfortable working with him. I am aiming for a knockout, but I'm ready for 12 rounds. It's boxing though, so anything can happen. It could be over very quickly. This is a big chance in my life. It's a big step and I'm ready to take advantage of it."
Said Hatton: “I've fulfilled my dreams and now I'm here trying to help other fighters fulfill their dreams. I get nervous but I'm confident in him. Sergey has been a pleasure to train. I think he's going to be a world champion. I really do.
“He's been a European champion and he's overcome his loss. I think this is the best he's ever been. We'll hope that it translates to Saturday night because he certainly has the potential to be a world champion.”
However the fight goes, Harrison said fans should expect fireworks. He said it would be like one of this year’s most exciting fights, the June 25 welterweight title battle between Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter, who also fought at Barclays Center.
"This is going to be a fan-friendly fight,” he said. “This is going to be like Thurman versus Porter. The styles are just perfect for this fight. I'm going to be at my best on fight night.”