Curtis Harper has more than overcome the infamous moment he and his team refused to allow to define him.
Four years after Harper walked out of the ring as soon as his televised fight against Efe Ajagba began, the 34-year-old heavyweight is fresh off an upset of an unbeaten German prospect four months ago. The Jacksonville native will attempt to knock off another undefeated prospect, 2021 Olympic gold medalist Bakhodir Jalolov, on the pay-per-view portion of the Regis Prograis-Jose Zepeda undercard Saturday night at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California (9 p.m. ET; 6 p.m. PT; $59.99).
“He’s just another step up from who I’ve already fought,” Harper told BoxingScene.com. “He’s a former Olympic gold medalist. It gives me a chance to show the world what I really can do.”
Harper (14-8, 9 KOs) dropped Christian Thun (8-1, 6 KOs) in the third round and upset the 6-foot-8½, 278-pound prospect by majority decision in their eight-rounder July 9 at Whitesands Event Center in Plant City, Florida. That marked Harper’s first win since August 2017, a year before his dissatisfaction with his contract to box Ajagba (then 5-0, 5 KOs) caused him to stunningly walk out of the ring as soon as the bell rang, up a ramp toward his dressing room at The Armory in Minneapolis and into uncertainty.
“It made my wife [Sandra] very happy,” Harper said of his win against Thun. “She finally saw what I could do after being with me for five years. She’s had my back, been my best friend and my support to get me where I am now.”
Harper also acknowledged his manager, Rick Glaser, for helping him secure the type of fights he needs to change the course of his career. He’ll face an undefeated opponent in a fifth straight fight when he battles Jalolov.
Nevertheless, Uzbekistan’s Jalolov (11-0, 11 KOs), who stands 6-foot-7 and weighed 251 pounds for his last fight, is listed by DraftKings sportsbook as a 100-1 favorite to beat Harper in their 10-rounder.
“I’m proud of who he is and what he’s accomplished,” Harper said, “that he came to America to fight for what he wants, ‘The American Dream.’ But I’m still gonna go toe-to-toe with him and do my best to take him down. [Beating Jalolov] would be phenomenal. It would skyrocket me to where I need to be.”
Harper has been stopped inside the distance three times in 22 professional bouts, most recently in the first round by huge Chinese southpaw Zhang Zhilei (24-1-1, 19 KOs) in May 2017 in Boca Raton, Florida. After all he has endured, the 6-foot-2, 262-pound Harper is just thankful, particularly this week, that his disqualification defeat against Ajagba didn’t destroy his career.
“Honestly, I didn’t understand how people were so upset about it,” Harper said. “I thought they understood that the contract wasn’t what I needed and signed by my opponent. So, it didn’t make sense, and I thought they understood that. And now I have a loss on my record for not even fighting. It really hurt me after that. [Coming back from that] meant something, because the ring is my home and I wanna be there.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.