Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Boxing: Harrison hype shows division is on its knees

Here we go again. After six years stuck in parking gear, then written off as a latter-day Walter Mitty, Audley Harrison is back and being hailed as a world champion in waiting.

One swallow never makes a summer, but try convincing TV pundits of that.

By beating a lumbering, overweight Danny Williams for his first win against meaningful opposition in 23 professional fights, Harrison did a good job of seducing critics who risked bursting a blood vessel to tell us what a changed man he was.

Waiting for the former Olympic champion to shake off an impotent, punch-shy game-plan was like waiting for a London bus.

You hoped it would arrive before darkness fell on a career that flattered to deceive.

In height, reach, weight and timing, he looked the archetypal 21st century heavyweight, but there was something missing.

Did he have the will, or heart, for trench warfare?

It was in December last year that this 18-stone Goliath of a man was outsmarted by Williams, sleep-walking through a 12-round title match that bored a nation, and left boxing with egg on its face.

It was a catatonic performance by an ordinary Audley, who was ridiculed by everybody, Americans especially.

"Typical Brit," sniffed one long-in-the-tooth New Yorker.

"The big guy didn't want to fight." To which Barney Eastwood added this blunt postscript: "The heavyweight division is a desert, a bad joke. Harrison has a salesman's gift for self-promotion, but his trumpet has a cracked mouthpiece. I fear he will be beaten again next time out."

And so he was, this time by an American journeyman called Dominic Guinn.

If ever a fighter's reputation was in swift need of repair, it was Audley's.

To the surprise of many, Buddy McGirt offered to help him, but first he must learn to talk less, and listen more, insisted Miami's former world welterweight champion.

For too long, Harrison had been his own boss. He didn't need a manager or promoter, he said, and would be his own matchmaker and trainer.

Which, in mountaineering terms, is like climbing Everest without the help of a Sherpa. It was doomed to failure.

McGirt was bluntly honest with his new recruit. Do things my way, or take the highway, he told the 35-year-old Las Vegas-based Londoner.

"It beats me how a fighter of his build and power can be so negative," mused Buddy. "Make no mistake, he has the tools and talent for the job, but the problem could be in his head. He's reluctant to let the punches flow because of the risk of getting hit himself!"

It was after looting the last shabby remnants of the Mike Tyson myth, as Hugh McIlvanney so eloquently put it, that Williams climbed into the heavyweight rankings, but he wasn't there long.

Vitali Klitschko saw to that. It was brave of Danny-boy to step in for the injured Skelton last weekend at short notice, but need I say more?

He was slow and cumbersome, punching recklessly as if on roller-skates, and at no time posed more than a token threat to Harrison, who, for once, tried to boss the fight.

Suddenly, Audley's Olympic flame was flickering again, but let's keep things in perspective. All he did was work up a sweat against a ponderous, ill-prepared Williams who looked sadly over the hill, and couldn't have hurt a flea.

For Harrison, revenge for that gutless exhibition against Danny of a year ago must have tasted sweet, but how can anybody seriously elevate him to the role of a world title contender on the strength of this win?

Arguably, boxing's top four heavyweights right now all talk with Russian accents. That's how devalued the game's most visible weight class has become since Lennox Lewis hung up his gloves to get married.

While lighter divisions prosper from a constant trickle of new talent, the heavyweight cupboard is almost bare and crying out for somebody to stoke the ashes of mediocrity.

Harrison still looks promising, probably on the same plateau as Kevin McBride was after belting a shop-soiled Tyson into oblivion 18 months ago. And the ageing Irishman has had only one contest since then. Any two-bit heavyweight can throw a punch, but how does big-guy Harrison take one?

That will always be the 64-dollar question until Audley fights somebody of real merit.

Like a top-20 pick from the current ranking list - he'll do!

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