Boxing: Harrison confronts critics with title fight

Audley Harrison finally silenced his last remaining critics yesterday when he announced that, on 20 March at the Wembley Arena, he will challenge the unbeaten Dutchman Richel Hersisia for the World Boxing Foundation heavyweight title.

It will be Harrison's 15th fight as a professional since winning his Olympic gold medal in Sydney and it is a clear - and potentially hazardous - step up in class. Hersisia is unbeaten in 21 fights and has stopped or knocked out 16 of his opponents.

"This is not about titles, this is about fighters and this is a good fight," said Harrison, whose company, A-Force, will co-promote the fight, which is likely to be shown live on the BBC. "I wanted to fight Danny Williams for the British title but he went running to Sky and then he lost his title to Michael Sprott and if I want to fight for the British title now, I know I will have to wait six months or more. I'm not prepared to do that."

During the last three years, Harrison has spoken boldly about fighting for a title and even winning a world championship, but yesterday he was quick to dismiss doubters who were eager to ridicule the WBF's position as a sanctioning body in a confused sport.

"I look at this fight as a method to get closer to the European title and the fact that Hersisia is the WBF champion is just a bonus," Harrison insisted.

The Dutchman, who was born in the Dutch Antilles, has never stepped above European level and, even though he is younger, has a better record on paper and will enter the ring as a champion, he will also enter the ring as the underdog. Harrison, for once, has picked an opponent perfectly.

"This is just the latest fight in my learning curve, the same learning curve that I have been talking about since I turned professional, and I just don't see how anybody could complain about this fight,'' Harrison said.

Howard Eastman defends his European middleweight title for the second time in what should be a difficult fight against the classy Russian Sergei Tatevosyan at the Goresbrook Leisure Centre in Dagenham tonight.

The Spaniard Jorge Sendra was due to challenge Eastman but has sustained a chest injury.

Eastman has been one fight away from a world title for most of the last six years or so but when he did get his chance in November 2001, he lost a narrow and controversial decision to William Joppy for the World Boxing Association version in Las Vegas.

Eastman, however, only has himself to blame for ruining his big chance and he is determined not to make the same lazy mistakes in the future.

If Eastman can overcome Tatevosyan, and there is an element of doubt involved in this potentially classic match-up, then he will, in theory, get a belated second world title fight against the undisputed champion, Bernard Hopkins. However, Hopkins has spoken openly of moving up in weight and fighting a variety of men in lucrative encounters and he is clearly not interested in giving Eastman a chance that he deserves. An Eastman win tonight will move him closer, but the real question is: closer to what?

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