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Local boxer will fight in honor of fallen son

Cornell Harris Sr. has fought the pain like he fought opposing boxers.

It was 3 a.m., and Harris suddenly finds himself wide awake lying in bed, dealing with the pain he’s felt since March. It feels worse than a combination punch to the ribs and the chin. It’s something similar to a knockout blow.

But Harris, 44, continues to battle the pain of losing his son and namesake, Cornell Harris Jr., to a fatal gunshot wound March 7. Robbers invaded his home and gunned down the younger Harris, an aspiring boxer on the cusp of making his professional debut.

“It took something deeply out of me,” Harris said. “It’s real deep. It eats me up sometimes. When I think about him in that casket, sometimes I just pop up in sweats. My son used to call me and we’d talk, and he’d ask me questions. We’d talk about everything.”

The night of March 6, Harris Jr. cut their conversation short and told his father he would call him back.

He never did. Cornell Jr. was dead at 21 years old.

So Cornell Sr., also known as Short Dog, will head back into the boxing ring for the first time since 2004 when he fights on the under card of the The Big House Brawl on Aug. 8 at the Back Lot in Sarasota.

The event is sponsored by The Big House Promotions owner Tommy Pettiti, a good friend of Short Dog’s.

Some of the proceeds from the event will go toward a college scholarship fund for Cornell Jr.’s son, Cornell III, who’s 3.

As I talked to Cornell Sr. over the phone, I could hear the pain and agony in his voice. His voice cracked several times.

One cannot start to imagine the sorrow of burying a child unless you’ve traveled the same path as Cornell Sr.

Short Dog, all of 5-foot-3, 122 pounds, has a 5-10-1 career record, but it’s not about him. It’s not about bettering his ledger.

Heck, the elder Harris doesn’t even know who he’ll face. Cornell Sr. is battling to keep the memory of Cornell “Pickle” Harris Jr. alive.

“I’m fighting for Pickle,” said Harris, who graduated from Southeast High in the 1980s. “I’m fighting for my son to let people know where he came from.”

Harris paused.

“There’s a lot of frustration in me,” he continued. “It’s not about me. It’s about him, but I feel like I just got to fight.

“My son told me, ‘Daddy, I will call you back.’ And I never got that call.”

Cornell Jr.’s murderer is still at large.

Pickle and his father were virtually identical in facial features and stature. The younger Harris possessed the same quick feet, quick hands and toughness as his dad does.

Pettiti, who’s known Short Dog and his family for 22 years, hopes this bout can bring Harris comfort.

“Watching him go through that was very heart wrenching,” Pettiti said. “It still hurts me to even think about it. Every time I look at him, I can see the pain in his face. I know this will do something for my friend, and I think it will make his life a lot better.”

Ending his grief is what Harris is searching for.

“A part of me died with him,” Harris said. “When you lose a son, it’s something that will always hurt. I will always think about him. This will make me fight harder, and I’ll probably get some closure.”

Ryan T. Boyd, sports writer, can be reached at 745-7017.