Boxing: Harrison's ring education to end with Wembley test

The first part of Audley Harrison's professional career started with the comic disappearance of a former Walt Disney undercover detective and will end tomorrow with the inevitable bloody battering of a Balkan heavyweight champion, Ratko Draskovic, at the Wembley Conference Centre. It is the 10th and final fight of Harrison's present contract with the BBC.

It all started so long ago, back in May 2001 when over 7,000 people and seven million BBC viewers watched as Mike Middleton, a nice guy from Florida, fell over in round one at Wembley Arena. Two days earlier Middleton had packed pillows under the sheets and given his minders the slip and vanished from a cheap Wembley motel only to emerge the following day at the Hertfordshire offices of the promoter Frank Warren.

Middleton claimed he was owed some money and he eventually increased his agreed purse of $5,000 (£2,950) to over $35,000 because of an unfortunate oversight by Harrison's guardians in the original fight contract. Thankfully, Harrison laughed off the episode. "It got personal against Middleton and Frank Warren and his merry men got involved, but I just took care of business in the ring.''

Harrison's next fight was delayed because of a broken rib and, when he eventually fought, both the crowd and, more alarmingly, the television audience were very disappointing. However, in the Newcastle ring, he easily outpointed Kettering's trial horse Derek McCafferty over six decently competitive rounds. A month later a sickening body shot dropped an overweight Polish bouncer, Piotr Jurczyk, for the full count in round two in Glasgow and once again the attendance, which was less than 300, and the TV figures for the Olympic champion's third fight were unimpressive.

After Jurczyk, Harrison injured his shoulder taking part in a charity event and he was out until April last year when he knocked out the American Julius Long, who like Middleton was clueless under fire. Long entered the ring with a run of six wins all by knock-out, but he was truly hopeless and had difficulty standing up. Harrison obliged and he was soon on his back. Once again a small crowd watched the win and for his next fight Harrison was switched from Saturday night to a midweek slot.

In May 2002, Harrison out-pointed the Chesterfield butcher Mark Krence in London's Docklands and, in July, he was back at Wembley for six difficult rounds against the East End hard man Dominic Negus. The Krence and Negus fights were ideal for Harrison's ring education but the poor attendance and negative publicity that followed each contest cast doubt over his ring progress. Most disturbing of all was that Harrison and his camp continued to claim that all was going to plan when it was obvious that his popularity was in free-fall.

In October last year, an American called Wade Lewis, a club fighter with a few reasonable names on his record, was outboxed and dumped on the canvas in round two in front of 1,000 fans in Liverpool. The cheeky crowd enjoyed the one-sided spectacle but again the TV figures were poor. It was rumoured that crisis meetings were scheduled between Harrison's supporters and disgruntled executives at the BBC.

In November last year, Harrison fought in Atlantic City and connected with a beautiful short punch to knock out Shawn Robinson in one round. Once again Harrison's size was important as he took control before sending the part-time carpenter to dreamland. It was a good win but most of the British press ignored Harrison's first professional fight in America and it was shown the following day on BBC Grandstand. However, Harrison correctly defended the impressive win by comparing the way he beat Robinson with the way that the current British heavyweight champion, Danny Williams, did the same thing.

In February, Harrison went back to a live slot on the BBC on a Saturday night and boxed sensibly to halt America's Rob Galloway after four rounds. It was without doubt his best performance, but it lacked the ferocity that most boxing fans now require of heavyweights.

Tomorrow's opponent, Draskovic, has never been stopped and, even at the age of 37, should still prove a test until the accurate and powerful punching that few of Harrison's critics are prepared to admit exists takes its toll.

Harrison's next fight will be with the BBC. A new deal looks guaranteed, but the battle will be over how much. Last time Harrison received £1m, this time he will want more.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific