Boxing: Diaz the latest fall guy for Harrison

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The Independent Online

Audley Harrison continued with his unabashed game plan of putting bums on seats in an American odyssey which he insists will lead him to the world heavyweight championship. His defeat of a near-novice Argentine in Las Vegas on Friday night followed a familiar pattern, with the 31-year-old Olympic champion overpowering an opponent who had little to offer, least of all a reputation. Harrison won on a TKO 90 seconds from the end of the fourth round on the undercard to Jameel McLine's 10-round stoppage of Cedric Boswell.

His 13th fall guy was Argentine Lisandro Diaz but in terms of furthering his career it might just as well have been Cameron Diaz. Harrison's decision to campaign in the less-critical United States in the wake of scepticism here about the quality of his opposition may slot into his current strategy but there is a danger that he will fall victim to apathy in his homeland. Out of sight, out of mind.

Already relegated to graveyard slots by the BBC following the end of their £1m 10-fight deal, Harrison needs to take more meaningful bouts if he is not to become a back number in the eyes of British fans.

Diaz, who has lost more than half his dozen fights, was the third choice in less than a week, following one opponent who was refused a licence by the Nevada Commission and another who failed an eye test. Not that Harrison's predictable demolition job could be faulted. He dominated the fight, ending it with a combination cluster of left hooks to the body followed by uppercuts and an overhand left to the head which left a dazed Diaz collapsed on the canvas. He rose but could not continue.

"I was feeling my way through the first two rounds and turned it up in the third when I started using my jab," said Harrison. "It just took me some time to figure him out as he was a late sub. I felt like I waited a bit much trying to adjust to his rushes. Once I figured it out, I found my range."

Harrison, who sportingly donated £1,000 of his purse to mental health charities as a gesture to Frank Bruno, plans two more fights this year.

Both are likely to be in America, as there are doubts about the BBC's future in boxing. It was a sport they returned to on the back of Harrison but he is no longer a prime-time attraction. With a hugely expensive year ahead, including Euro 2004, and the Olympic Games, plus their massive outlay in recapturing Premiership football, boxing could be the victim of budget cuts, especially as director general Greg Dyke, albeit a fight fan, apparently now questions the value of the Harrison investment.

It is unlikely that ITV will plug the gap though I understand Sky, who screen boxing's major talents, might be interested in using Harrison - but at their price, not his.