Boxing: Harrison finally lets his fists do the talking
Monday 11 December 2006
The record books will show that Audley Harrison won in three rounds and that Amir Khan went 10 rounds for the first time. But the record books only tell part of the story.
On Saturday night, at the ExCel Arena in London, two fights took place that will remain in the memory for a very long time. In the first, Harrison, the Olympic champion from Sydney and once the darling of Britain's sports-mad public, finally delivered a performance in the ring that resembled the ones that his mouth had been promising.
In front of almost 9,000 fans, Harrison met Brixton's Danny Williams in a re-match of their tedious encounter last December and once the first bell sounded it was obvious that there would be a totally different outcome in a fight that was so different that it was almost impossible to recognise the two lumbering heavyweights.
In the opening 30 seconds, Harrison connected sweetly with a straight southpaw left-cross to slice open and damage the bridge of Williams' nose. It also staggered Williams and naturally inspired Harrison to be less negative than he has been in so many of his dull encounters. By the middle of round two, the pair had thrown and taken far more punches than they did throughout their 12-round fight last year, but it was Williams who looked hurt and was showing visible signs of damage.
The referee, Richie Davies, stopped proceedings briefly near the end of round two so a pair of doctors could examine the wounds on Williams' face. It looked like the medics would call a halt but they allowed it to continue, with one of them adding "just one or two more rounds".
The proximity to defeat inspired Williams, who, having accepted the fight at eight days' notice, was in dreadful shape. He trapped Harrison in his corner. However, Harrison is a big lump and he held on until the bell brought a 60-second break.
All was not well in Williams' corner, and he looked a forlorn figure as he trudged forward for round three of a fight that his experience would have told him he had no chance of winning. Still, he tried, and for about two minutes the pair, whose combined weight topped 37 stone, were involved in the type of slugfest generally restricted to Rocky films.
The fight came to an end when Harrison connected with a stunning left upper-cut and Williams' body jerked to the side before tumbling over. He regained his feet, but was rescued a few seconds later by Davies, whose shirt had turned a rather bizarre pink.
Once it was over, the pair, who had scuffled at the weigh-in, kissed and made up and Harrison started talking boldly about his world title plans and carefully avoided any mention of his original opponent, Matt Skelton.
The promoter Frank Warren is keen to put Skelton and Harrison in the same ring in what would be the biggest domestic heavyweight fight since Frank Bruno and Lennox Lewis met in 1993. It remains to be seen if Harrison fancies a night in the ring with Skelton, but on Saturday he finally looked like the fighter he had promised for so long.
It was, thankfully, the end for Williams who, through tears, announced that after 11 years in the ring he was retiring to concentrate on being a husband and father.
And so, at about 11:30pm, it was the turn of Khan, still only 20, to fight for his first title in a bout for the vacant International Boxing Federation intercontinental light-welterweight belt.
Khan was never less than excellent as he went 10 rounds for the first time in his fledgling boxing career.
Khan's opponent was France's Rachid Drilzane and he made the 10-rounder entertaining. But the truth is that he was hit again and again by Khan. There was a degree of drama in round seven when Khan touched down after slipping a punch and the veteran referee, Paul Thomas, decided it was a knock-down. It meant that, technically, Khan lost the round but both he and Drilzane were laughing when the fight continued.
* Oleg Maskaev, of Russia, successfully defended his World Boxing Council heavyweight title in Moscow's Olympic arena last night with a 12-round unanimous decision over Uganda's Peter Okhello.
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