Audley Harrison's dream of world heavyweight domination was left in tatters last night when he was floored and outpointed by Brixton's Danny Williams. That it was a split decision was thanks only to the generosity of one of the ringside judges.
There were times when the 34-year-old Harrison looked as if he regretted taking a bout that was designed to answer some of the lingering questions about the Olympic superheavyweight champion. It turned out to be one of the least inspiring contests seen, thanks largely to Harrison's negativity for which he paid the ultimate penalty.
The fight came alive only in the last three rounds, by which time some of the capacity 15,000 crowd had walked out. In the 10th round Harrison was sent crashing to his knees by a right hand from Williams, the former British champion. He rose at nine and only then did he show the sort of retaliation that would be required at a much higher level than this.
Williams, who claimed to have twisted an ankle after three rounds, did not seem to have the finishing power and was badly jolted by a desperate Harrison in the next round but there surely could have been no question about the result.
One of the ringside judges astonishingly scored it to Harrison by one point (114-113). The arithmetic of the other two (116-113 and 116-112) was more realistic.
Williams, 32, walked away with the Commonwealth title but this meant little in comparison to putting Harrison's notch on his belt. Harrison, who suffered a graze around his left eye early in the fight, was finally exposed as still very much an amateur.
For two thirds of the fight, the boxers endured a hail of boos and jeers. Harrison seemed disinclined to make much of a fight of it and most of the aggression came from Williams. There was little snap in Harrison's punches nor any sparkle in a performance which saw his first defeat in 20 fights.
It was a memorable night, especially for Frank Warren, celebrating his 25th anniversary as a promoter, but the main event was a forgettable fight before those final three rounds. It was Warren who first labelled Audley "Ordinary''. Last night, he certainly was.
"He was a joke,'' Williams said of Harrison. "He didn't seem to want to fight. I know it wasn't a very good fight. I couldn't get my distance and he was scared. He didn't want to get hit. But at least this showed I can dust myself off [after his battering by Vitali Klitschko] and come back.''
Can Harrison come back? He promises he will. He left the ring chastened, as you might expect after all the talk. "Danny Williams was the better man on the night,'' he admitted. "But Audley Harrison has had good fights before and he'll have good fights again. It's back to the drawing board but I will be back.''
It was a night which saw Amir Khan, 19 last week, produce a two-round win over Sheffield's Daniel Thorpe,which was described by Naseem Hamed, who was at ringside, as a "spectacular, wicked performance'', and Matt Skelton, the British heavyweight champion, issued a challenge to Williams - who failed to turn up to meet him a few months ago - after stopping John McDermott in a title defence in less than two minutes.
Khan needs workouts not walkovers and that was exactly what Thorpe provided to bring out the best in the Olympic silver medallist.
The Bolton lightweight produced the most impressive performance of his four bouts so far to stop Thorpe three seconds from the end of the second round with a dazzling array of punches.
Although he had been on the losing end in 45 of his 65 contests, the 28-year-old Thorpe used all the tricks in a vain attempt to stave off Khan. He tried to unsettle boxing's brightest starlet but came unstuck when he suffered knockdowns in the first and second rounds. The second time he was floored with a superb double right jab.
"He was very experienced, he came on to me and was fighting back all the time, it was what I needed,'' Khan said. His next appearance will be in February. Before then he will take a break and return to his amateur roots, helping out with the preparation of the England Commonwealth Games team at squad sessions at Crystal Palace.
Ex-kick boxer Skelton, a late developer in the glove game at 38, acquired a Lonsdale belt with a swift defence of his British heavyweight title, stopping McDermott, from Essex, in just 79 seconds. In that time McDermott was on the floor four times, though once from a push.
Ross Minter, of Crawley, the 23-year-old son of the former world middleweight champion Alan Minter, took a pace towards following in father's footsteps when he won the welterweight championship of England with a fifth-round stoppage of Londoner Brett James.