1990s heavyweight contender Derrick Jefferson, 28-4-1(21), gave us an epic knockdown/drag-out slugfest when he met Maurice Harris on November 6, 1999. Much like the Fury-Wilder III classic, where both guys took turns hitting one another and also hitting the canvas, the Harris fight, won by Jefferson, thrilled millions.
Jefferson kindly looks back on his most famous fight here, as well as recalling his very serious battle with COVID-19.
Q: It’s great to speak with you again, champ. Did you watch the fight on Saturday, Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder? It was a classic slugfest, like your amazing up and down war with Maurice Harris!
Derrick Jefferson: “Yeah, I caught the fight. It was a good action fight. I can’t hardly believe my fight with Harris is coming up 22 years ago! That was a defining fight. Any time two big men like that are slugging that makes for a great fight. The heavyweights rule the sport, and a lot of people come to the fight to see a knockout. I think our fight, me and Maurice, was better than Fury-Wilder because we had skills; we were not just swinging wild. Our punches were sharper; we had better boxing skills.”
Q: No doubt, your fight with Harris is right up there with Foreman-Lyle, Moorer-Bert Cooper, all the great heavyweight slugfests.
D.J: “Yeah, I remember Bert Cooper; he nearly beat Evander [Holyfield]. He was tough.”
Q: Was the Harris win your best ever fight?
D.J: “Yeah, that was actually my best win, certainly in terms of best win in the public eye. I had a lot of good fights, Obed Sullivan, that was a good win, but that wasn’t televised. That win pushed me up in the rankings, into the top-10. The Maurice Harris fight that was seen by the world, so that was my best fight. It was live on HBO, baby!”
Q: It’s a YouTube favorite. When you’re in a great one like that, do you know you’re in a classic, or is there just too much going on?
D.J: “Yeah, you just don’t know until you see how game he is, and you know how game you are. He showed heart in that fight. When he went down twice, I thought he was gonna stay down, but that shows you the kind of condition he was in. I watched the fight [on tape] maybe two days later, and that’s when I was like, ‘Wow, we were really going at it!’ That’s when you see it: the action, the crowd response, how they’re really into it. That’s when you know [it was a great fight]. I think the fans appreciate our courage, our desire, our heart.”
Q: What’s your all-time favorite fight?
D.J: “James Toney against Vassiliy Jirov. That’s such a good fight, man. Jirov looked like he was maybe winning the fight, and in the 12th round, Toney came out, and he had him down. That’s probably my favorite fight.”
Q: What do you think of the heavyweight division today?
D.J: “I think there’s some good fighters out there – Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury, Wilder and [Oleksandr] Usyk, who of course beat Joshua. But I don’t think the division is as competitive as it was in the 1990s, the 1970s. Outside of those giants, you know, there are not too many great fights. Back in my day, there was Lennox Lewis, Klitschko, Tim Witherspoon, Razor Ruddock, Tyson, Holyfield; I could go on and on. Even [Ike] Ibeabuchi (laughs). And they were all fighting at the same time. I think the heavyweight division today, it still needs a rebuild. All those guys were tough; they were even tough to watch!”
Q: You’ve been in a knockdown/drag-out fight. Can Wilder come back, in your opinion, after all the punishment he took against Fury?
D.J: “Well, Fury took a lot of shots as well. Unfortunately, Wilder was on the end of a bad one with that last knockdown. But I do still think he could make for another exciting fight if Wilder were to come back; they could even match him up with Joshua. I still like that fight. Wilder showed a lot of heart and courage, and people would still pay to see him.”
Q: Going back a year-and-a-half, you had COVID, and it hit you pretty bad?
D.J: “I was maybe one of the first patients in Michigan to have it, I think (laughs). I had a cough I couldn’t shake, and my momma told me to go to the hospital to get it checked. So they tested me for pneumonia and some other things. Anyway, they gave me a shot, and I woke up a month later. I didn’t know they were gonna put me in a coma. My oxygen levels were real low. At one point, when I was in a coma, they called my mother, and they told her, her son might die, that they were gonna turn off the ventilator. My momma told them, no, to give me more time. I’m not gonna say I heard her, but the next day I woke up.”
Q: It’s an amazing story, and of course, we’re all so pleased you pulled through.
D.J: “Yeah, I lost a lot of weight, and I’m still building myself back up, getting my strength back fully. And I’m getting ready for an exhibition bout with James Toney.”
Q: Isn’t Toney boxing Jeremy Williams in an exhibition this month?
D.J: “Yeah, he’s doing that on October 29th. We’re doing it for The Derrick Jefferson Foundation, and we’re gonna try and do it in March. I’m looking to come in at around 250 pounds, solid. Neither of us will be looking to move too much; we’ll be making it fun for the fans. We’ll go toe-to-toe in the middle of the ring. I want to stand in the middle of the ring, and he wants to stand in the middle of the ring. We’ll stay there and trade some punches the whole night. That’s why I picked him.”
Q: You and Toney would have been a great one back in the day, but I guess he was a cruiserweight when you were a heavyweight – but James did go up, didn’t he, beating Holyfield?
D.J: “Yeah, he went up, and he beat Holyfield. You know, he’s probably one of the best-skilled boxers, without question. People still want to see the big names in action, and we can show that at age 53, 54, we can still get out there and put on a good show.”