Boxing: Harrison out to grab world 'bauble'

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The Independent Online

Audley Harrison has touched a raw nerve and infuriated purists by trying, in just his 15th professional fight, to win something called the World Boxing Foundation's heavyweight title tonight at Wembley Arena.

Audley Harrison has touched a raw nerve and infuriated purists by trying, in just his 15th professional fight, to win something called the World Boxing Foundation's heavyweight title tonight at Wembley Arena.

Harrison is not ready for a hard world title fight and this is certainly not a hard world title fight, but in the modern business of boxing the lines between quality, reality and ability are blurred beyond recognition. At present 20 British boxers hold versions of a world title, more than the combined total of British world champions in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.

The diamond-encrusted bauble from the WBF is simply a bonus lump of bling-bling for Harrison when he meets the unbeaten Dutchman Richel Hersisia at the same venue where he launched his career against a part-time detective in May 2001. That night was a great success with a crowd of 6,000 in attendance and a live audience on the BBC of more than five million viewers. The Miami detective Mike Middleton sustained a broken nose and fell over inside one round in a fight that was big news.

Since that night Harrison appears to have worked hard at alienating the people who paid to watch him, the people who paid him and the fans that decided free sport on a Saturday night was a nice way to spend the evening. The consequence was a dreadful dip in popularity and people refused to go to the fights and refused to watch on television, but that has been reversed. Away from the critics Harrison was steadily learning a trade, altering his body and acquiring a degree of savvy on both sides of the ropes that too many have ignored. A year ago he left for Las Vegas, and tonight's fight follows three wins against reliable American opposition.

When Harrison returned briefly in January to announce the fight with Hersisia, he had also found a sense of humour and a degree of humility, which had been lacking since he left the podium in Sydney with Britain's first Olympic boxing gold medal for 32 years.

Hersisia against Harrison is by no means the worst world title fight this year involving a British boxer. I can think of six or seven that have featured fighters with no chance of ever moving on to the elusive platform that is referred to as the "world stage", which is where Harrison is now firmly settled. Tonight's fight is high profile because Harrison, for all his faults, remains the most recognisable boxer in Britain.

In Harrison's last fight he looked terrific when he stopped Brian Nix in three rounds, and just a few months earlier it had taken the controversial Polish boxer Andrew Golota seven rounds to beat Nix. Next month Golota fights Chris Byrd for the highly respectable International Boxing Federation heavyweight title at Madison Square Garden. Nix was called a "test" against Golota but he was a "bum" against Harrison.

The threat for Harrison tonight is the draining effect he will experience if he has to take his body beyond eight rounds for the first time. He is a big man and, like all big men, stamina is an unknown until the bell for round nine sounds and the man in the other corner starts throwing punches. If Hersisia, who is unbeaten in 21 fights, can somehow survive a few rounds he will make Harrison answer some searching questions.

Quick perusals of the 15th fight of any decent heavyweight reveals that Hersisia is better than most hand-picked victims. Frank Bruno stopped a statue called Scott Le Doux in three and Vladimir Klitschko, arguably the best in the world, stopped Ladislav Husarik, who had won four out of 17 fights. Hopefully, Harrison will celebrate sans bauble tonight and keep everybody happy.

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