Ryan Songalia

Tim Witherspoon Jr. seeks to make his own name on FNF

Carrying his father's famous name in the very same profession that he made it, Tim Witherspoon Jr. knew the comparisons would come immediately.

The resemblances don't end in name or profession. The father and son are practically Doppelgängers for the other facially, though at 147 pounds, Jr. won't be mistaken too readily for his two-time heavyweight titleholder Dad, who fought at 220 pounds during his physical peak.

Both rely on the overhand right as their preferred power punch, but it's Jr.'s ability to carry his father's cross-arm defensive posture that seems to evoke the most familial pride.

"I learned that defense before the regular one," said Tim Witherspoon Jr. (10-3-1, 2 knockouts). "I think we both have the same defense, but other then that we both just love to fight."

Witherspoon, 29, will have the opportunity to show the world who the fighter is behind the name when he faces Dusty Harrison (19-0, 11 KOs) at the Richard J. Codey Arena in West Orange, N.J. on ESPN2's Friday Night Fights.

Witherspoon still has his father in his corner, aged 56, and why not? It was his father who first introduced him to the sport. Witherspoon was still in utero for his father's entire first run as WBC champ in 1984, and was just a shade over one when his dad won the WBA belt in 1986.

It was his father who allowed him to stand on the weigh-in podium prior to his '95 fight with Al "Ice" Cole to let his son get in the newspapers, and it was his decision to allow him to lead the ring walk for his bout with Ray Mercer at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City in 1996.

Still, despite the amount of boxing that surrounded him as a child, Witherspoon says it was a higher calling that led him to boxing.

"Might sound a bit corny but I believe it was my destiny; I was just meant to be a fighter," said Witherspoon Jr., who like his father is from Philadelphia, Pa.

"My father's success wasn't really an influence for me. I knew he was a fighter but didn't really understand until my adult hood how much he achieved. He was just the guy that went to work then came home and took care of me and my sisters."

Witherspoon Sr., who had raised his children primarily as a single father, didn't want his son to follow in his footsteps. But at 8, Witherspoon Jr. decided he was ready to start his own pugilistic journey.

"After begging and begging my dad to let me train he finally sent me away with my uncle in Williamsport, Pa. to start training since he was still fighting at the time," remembers Witherspoon. "He really didn't want me to do it but he had no choice."

There, Witherspoon's boxing dalliance was fleeting. From age 8 to 20 Witherspoon had about 15 fights, he estimates, taking time off from the boxing ring to compete in football. When Witherspoon finally went back to the ring, he won the Pennsylvania novice Golden Gloves and decided the paid ranks were where he could best flourish.

Things didn't go as planned for Witherspoon in his pro debut. Witherspoon lost a decision in his first pro fight, and didn't find again for three years. Witherspoon then went 6-0-1 before losing a decision to begin 2012 and another one to bookend the year.

Witherspoon has now won two straight and says that fighting at 147 pounds instead of 140 will mean a healthier fighter, and consequently, a more powerful one.

"It was me fighting to make the low weight in every one of those losses," said Witherspoon. "I'm much better then all three of the opponent's I loss to I believe but didn't have to strength to show my ability. I've since moved up to 147 and feel I'm a 100 percent better fighter now. I have two shutouts at the weight."

How much of his father's style can we expect to see in his television debut?

"You will have to watch it on ESPN to see," said Witherspoon.

 

 

Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at ryan@ryansongalia.com. An archive of his work can be found at ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.

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