Boxing: Harrison has to make the long march

Audley Harrison scratched an 11-year itch last night when he comprehensively defeated the old stager of British heavyweight boxing, Julius Francis, over 12 rounds at Bristol's Whitchurch Sports Centre.

Audley Harrison scratched an 11-year itch last night when he comprehensively defeated the old stager of British heavyweight boxing, Julius Francis, over 12 rounds at Bristol's Whitchurch Sports Centre.

Back in 1993, as a 21-year-old, he suffered his first defeat to Francis in the London ABA Championships. Revenge was somewhat sweeter than his performance, which saw him win comfortably if unimaginatively in an undistinguished bout in the first defence of his World Boxing Foundation (WBF) belt. Harrison was made to save his best until last in what was the longest bout of his 16-fight professional career. Not until the last few seconds of the final round did he manage seriously to penetrate Francis's defence, sending him crashing for an eight count with a six-punch combination culminating in a splendid left hook.

Francis was stunned but he is a survivor and was back on his feet for the remaining moments of a contest which he took at only nine days' notice. Francis had lost his previous six fights and won only one of the last nine and, nudging 40, he hardly seemed a fitting opponent for the man who was introduced into the ring as "the future heavyweight champion''.

Maybe Harrison will one day assume that status but for most of last night's encounter it seemed as if he did not know quite as much as he thought he did. We knew Francis would be obstinate and durable but for a good three-quarters of the bout Harrison lacked the snap and urgency we saw when he acquired this bauble of a belt by defeating the Dutchman Richel Hersisia.

These days Francis relies heavily on his past experience, doing his best to nullify the punches that come his way, he did well to absorb Harrison's southpaw jab and Harrison's overall performance obviously pleased himself more than it did the crowd. In February, Francis had also gone the distance, albeit over 10 rounds with the undefeated Matt Skelton, now the new British champion.

Logically Skelton and Harrison should meet, but this seemed out of the question in view of the sport's politics and their commitment to different TV channels. However last night Harrison revealed that he had had a "good meeting'' with Skelton's promoter, Frank Warren, and hinted that a pairing might be possible, perhaps as early as 19 June when he is next due to fight. "I'm not chasing anyone,'' he said. "It is about money and negotiation, but I don't rule it out.'' It is certainly time he started flexing his fists against some meaningful opposition for at 32 he is no colt.

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