Seldom has the announcement of a fighter’s return to the ring been received with less aplomb than Audley Harrison’s declaration that he intends to resume his “assault” on the world heavyweight title this April.
Audley’s in his eleventh year as a professional, after pulling up trees as an amateur (and walking off with an Olympic gold), and it’s fair to say that after 32 contests, and five losses, he’s become something of a laughing stock.
Having used up all his favours back in November 2010, when he talked the talk in the build-up to his challenge for David Haye’s WBA title, and then performed like a startled rabbit for three embarrassing rounds before wilting under the Hayemaker’s punches, Harrison has been trying to worm his way back into the British public’s imagination by dancing on reality TV. In the event he merely managed to prove that he’s a better boxer than he is a dancer, which is saying very little.
Despite Harrison’s rumba, he’s singularly failed to repair his reputation, to the extent that the British press has largely ignored his ring return, and it’s clear that he’s burnt all his bridges with the UK’s mainstream promoters, most of whom have taken a punt on him at some point in the last decade and ended up disappointed. British broadcasters too have had their fill of Audley, and have turned a blind eye to his fistic endeavours, so that this latest renaissance will be off-camera. A far cry from the over-hyped opening to the big man’s paid career, when in 2001 the BBC lavished a fortune on the “A-Force” in heady anticipation of a quick and unhindered ascension to the world crown then worn proudly by Lennox Lewis.
Harrison did, in fact, race to 19 wins, but the level of opposition, together with the level of performance, left much to be desired, and even before Audley suffered his first loss, to Danny Williams in 2005, he had come to be seen as a fighter with more mouth than trousers. In that fight Harrison showed a bit of grit, but clearly he’d been derailed, and he lost his next fight by decision to journeyman Dominick Guinn over in the States.
Still Audley droned on about winning titles, and realising his “dream”, but when Michael Sprott, an efficient but workmanlike British heavyweight who had been around the block a few times, blasted Harrison out in three rounds in 2007, the journey seemed to have finally come to an end. Harrison boxed on, but it was clear that Sprott’s debilitating punch had robbed him of what the old bare-knucklers used to call bottom, and he was even more gun-shy than before. Despite reversing the Sprott loss in April 2010, and gritting his teeth to do so, Harrison moved from there to the Haye fight, where he made a fool of himself in front of the whole world.
So on April 14th Harrison rolls up at a leisure centre out in the provinces, pitting his wits against a novice who’s on the books of little known promoter Steve Goodwin. Ali Adams (13-5, 5 KOs), is largely unknown in the UK, despite racking up a few wins against lower class opposition. In fact, Adams has only boxed three fighters with winning records, and he lost one of those (when he stepped way over his pay-grade as part of the Prizefighter tournament and lost to Matt Skelton). Adams has of course spied an opportunity to make a name for himself by putting a full stop to Harrison’s stuttering career, but it will still be a huge surprise if he pulls it off.
Now past 40, Harrison has always had the skills to put paid to the likes of Ali Adams out in the backwaters – it’s just that he’s never been able to cope with the big stage and the big pressure, and the huge expectations he and others created for him when he achieved that gold medal in Seoul.
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