Boxing: Francis' ring craft exposes Harrison's lack of punch

It was a late night in Bristol on Saturday when Audley Harrison, after 12 long and often repetitive rounds, finally beat Julius Francis to retain his World Boxing Foundation heavyweight title.

There was no surprise when after three rounds the lively crowd started to boo the relatively slow and predictable fight and from that point, until the final round, there were sporadic murmurs of discontent from a crowd looking for a fight and not a boxing match.

In many ways it was a dreadful event and the crowd's discontent understandable because it looked like Harrison had the necessary skill and power to stop Francis at any point after the opening bell. But boxing is a deceptive business, and the heavyweight division is never as simple to understand as it first appears.

Francis is an old man at 39, but he is an old man with an extremely wise head on his shoulders and he used every ounce of boxing knowledge here. It was only during the last minute of round 11 and the final three minutes of round 12 that cracks started to appear in his previously perfect defence.

It was disturbing to watch his features change and swell during what was just the last four minutes of the fight, and the slow and painful beating he took during that time was possibly the only positive thing that Harrison can take from the long night.

With less than 30 seconds left, Harrison connected with a short left cross and Francis, who was standing square on at that time, was sent heavily to the canvas. He beat the count and stumbled up at eight but there was a look of genuine hurt in his swollen face.

There was not enough time left for Harrison to finish the job that in truth he had started far too late in a fight nobody expected him to lose. The decision was unanimous and clear and all three judges agreed that Francis had managed to win just one round during a night that will not have hurt his appeal as an opponent for other rising heavyweights.

For Harrison the post mortem and the future looks far more uncertain, but then again perhaps he is just a victim of his own success, his own large mouth and the claims of his handlers. He fought with far too much caution and seemed reluctant to step in behind his jab and connect with a left.

Both fighters were predictably polite to each other in the aftermath but, once they were separated, far more truthful appraisals started to creep out. Harrison insisted that Francis had come to survive and make him look bad, and Francis claimed that Harrison is a long way short of the top and that he will probably never get there. The truth is probably somewhere in between for both of them.

Now Harrison must decide whether he needs another long and physical encounter or if he would prefer a far more flashy, but actually far less meaningful, encounter when he fights once again on the BBC on 19 June.

Francis will just sit at home in Woolwich and wait for the phone to ring and an offer at the right price to come in. Harrison has a short list of opponents, which has probably grown following this fight and no doubt there will be promoters with boxers they feel can push, extend and ultimately beat Harrison if the price is right.

The fight that Harrison wants - and one that he is keen to assist in the making of - is a long overdue meeting with the British heavyweight champion, Matt Skelton. Back in February Skelton beat Francis on points over 10 rounds and, according to Francis, he would do the same thing to Harrison.

Hopefully Harrison and Skelton can agree to fight by the end of this year. When they do it will undoubtedly be better than Saturday's often dismal spectacle.

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