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Even Audley Harrison must see the dream is over

By Kevin Garside

So farewell to Audley Harrison and the great career that never was, nor could ever have been. It was difficult to feel anything other than pity for Harrison as he lay spread-eagled on a Liverpool floor. It should never have come to this.

Any man is entitled to dream, especially an Olympian with super-heavyweight gold around his neck. But 12 years on from Sydney, and at 40 years old, Harrison was no longer dreaming. He was hallucinating, seeing things that were never there. In this deluded state someone close to him should have said 'no'. They never do.

Some saw this as a meaningful contest, the best British heavyweight title fight for years. Where was the evidence for that? Harrison has demonstrated on too many occasions his unsuitability to a prize-fighting career. All that talent, all that bulk, all that musculature, all those magnificent advantages bestowed by nature, were utterly neutered by a mentality at odds with the demand. Harrison was never up for the professional fight. The excuses, the reasons poured forth to explain the bad wins as well as the bad losses add up to a mountain of denial.

The best for which we can hope is that there are no long-term consequences for his health resulting from the damaging vision that led him into a ring with David Price. It takes a weird kind of courage to enter a ring against a hungry heavyweight with a murderous right hand, knowing that deep, deep inside this business really isn't for you. Somewhere between the level of appearances and that private quarter in a distant recess containing thoughts never shared, Harrison gets his wires painfully crossed, and thus has he been engaged in a grand delusion throughout his boxing career.

A cursory glance at his website tells you that. His victory in Sydney was seen by him as an elevation of messianic proportions, proof that he was a special case engaged on a unique journey orchestrated by a higher authority, which he refers to as God or the universe. In fact it was a win engineered in a competition foreshortened by amateur rules that mitigate against the test of fire imposed by the paid ranks. From the divine starting point it is easy to talk of destinies and "pathways", another of the preferred terms that litter the Harrison lexicon, leading to a glorious outcome that was, by definition, foretold.

In other walks of life it is possible to philosophise without penalty, maybe even prosper as a result of wacky views held. The untestable premise is at the heart of most religious doctrine and ideas about God are underpinned by faith. The rules of evidence are rather more prosaic in the ring, where the truth of a claim meets a rigorous and violent test. Sadly, in Harrison's case, there was no need of further verification. Before he was slam-dunked by David Haye, Harrison was beaten by Danny Williams, Dominick Guinn, Michael Sprott and Martin Rogan.

Even in victory he failed to convince, yet this was not allowed to derail the idea that Harrison was engaged on some higher journey. The fantasy reached its high point before the Haye encounter. At his Big Bear training camp high in the San Bernardino mountains to the east of Los Angeles, Harrison threw open his door to a small cabal of British sportswriters who had followed his journey from Sydney. He had with him during this brief window his wife Raychel and daughter Ariella, who bounced about the gym happily as her father went through a few stretches and speedball routines. The contrast between domestic bliss and violent trade could not have been greater, begging the question why, after four defeats to, Guinn apart, domestic opposition and 10 years on from Sydney he was putting himself through this.

The fervour with which he delivered his answer was characteristic of a sermon. The defeats didn't matter, he said. They were all part of the journey, challenges to overcome en route to the light, which now he could finally see. The hidden thread of a golden destiny knowable only to him was propelling him inexorably towards the meeting with Haye. It was meant to be. The outcome was written. It was all so plausible. There he sat, his massive bulk squeezed into a tiny seat at the far side of dining-table. He looked like the Incredible Hulk about to put his fist through a brick wall.

In this environment, surrounded by family who love him, trainers who are paid to love him, and a television production crew hired to showcase a belligerent threat, there was not a dissenting voice to be heard. It was an experience made all the more dispiriting by the growing number of believers snared by the fallacy. Haye put a flaming torch to all that madness. And now, two years later, it is Price standing over Harrison's prone carcass.

A hospital visit denied us a post-fight lament. Harrison is allowed to believe what he wants. For everybody else involved in boxing, and his career, the time has come for compassion and honesty. It's over, Audley. Finished. Done.

Belfast Telegraph


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