Boxing: Harrison slims down to fill up York Hall

At the start he talked too much, weighed too much and fought too little, but that, thankfully, was in the bad old days.

Tonight Audley Harrison will enter a truly sold-out York Hall for what is essentially a belated homecoming for the boxer who took gold in Sydney, but then was helpless to halt the freefall of his popularity.

Harrison, now 31, is unbeaten in 10 fights, but his initial deal with the BBC has not been renewed and when he walks in front of precisely 1,168 fans to enter the dirty ring and fight Blackpool's Matt Ellis it could very well be the most important night's work of his life.

Ellis is a nice guy with a decent record, but a history of under-performing at crucial times and if that was not enough he will be more than two stones lighter and six inches shorter than Harrison.

However, Ellis compares favourably with the three duds that filled the role of victim No 11 in the careers of Frank Bruno, Gary Mason and Lennox Lewis. The trio easily took care of bad opposition and in that respect Harrison has selected a far more difficult opponent.

During the last six months and three fights, a slimmer and far more controlled Harrison has suddenly started to look like the man he has been speaking about since that glorious night at the Sydney Olympics.

His professional career had been a disaster in many ways because whenever he selected an opponent, picked a venue and then went through the motions he was severely criticised. But the assaults have at last begun to tail off. His last wins have silenced the knowledgeable and the idiots have taken their cue and also kept their mouths shut.

Ellis will not beat Harrison, but if he decides to risk it all instead of trying to survive eight rounds it will certainly be the most memorable encounter of Harrison's so far predictable career.

The days when a sloppy and flabby Harrison wound his way from the back of an arena to the ring and then proceeded to declare that he was in perfect shape have ended. Tonight he will be slimmer than ever and that is one more reason why Ellis will most certainly fall victim to a left-hand punch of some description by about round four.

However, even before the pair enter the ring the negotiations will have continued at ringside and in the changing room and the various corridors at the back of York Hall. The BBC is still insisting that they want more say in Harrison's future opponents and Harrison is doggedly holding out for more power and more money. It is a classic boxing stand-off and one that an impressive blow-out this evening could finally end.

Viewing figures for Harrison's last two fights finally started to climb after an indifferent year in 2002 and in many ways the figures have added to the degrees of grudging respect that the boxer is now picking up. It is easy to call him a chancer, a bum and a fraud if there is just a million people watching, but a lot harder when nearly three million are sitting down with their cocoa late on a Saturday night.

The journey may be far from over, but it is clear now that there will be some type of fistic expedition led by Harrison instead of the sleazy, money grabbing sideshows that typified his early fights.

A quick win against Ellis will not suddenly make Harrison the best heavyweight in the world, but it would show that he can make the gentle step up in class that he has promised for so long.

It should be remembered that just 14 months ago Frank Warren, the promoter and the president of the unofficial "Audley is a bum" club, offered Harrison £500,000 to fight Ellis. Shortly after Warren made his extraordinary offer Ellis was stopped by a slugger from Russia and then hastily released from his match contract with Warren.

Between 10.10 and 10.25 this evening Harrison will inevitably move a little bit closer to whatever title he fancies this week and Ellis, like the brave and often dangerous fighter than he can be, will play his part in the show.

When it is over there is a possibility of a serious verbal confrontation at ringside when former double world champion Herbie Hide and his anarchic sidekick Crocodile arrive to challenge Harrison to a fight.

Harrison will get his new BBC deal, his viewing figures will continue to increase and one day during the next six months he will finally beat somebody that nobody can criticise. Ellis is not that somebody, but neither is he a nobody and that is what will make the fight such good fun while it lasts. This is Harrison's true homecoming and in many ways this is the start of his real professional career.

News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links