Boxing: Questions for Danny, answers for Audley

Discovery night at last for heavies who crave respect
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The Independent Online

Big-fight promoters love a label. It may have been dreaming up "The Rumble in the Jungle" and "The Thrilla in Manila" which made Don King's hair stand on end. When Joe Calzaghe takes on Jeff Lacy in a world super-middleweight unification bout next March it will be, according to Frank Warren, "Judgement Day".

Yet Warren did not need to be particularly innovative to catch the eye with a poster tagline for the heavyweight contest between Audley Harrison and Danny Williams which marks his silver jubilee as Britain's ringmaster on Saturday. It reads simply: "At Last..."

However, this has now been superimposed with "Sold Out". All 15,000 tickets for the long-awaited testing of Harrison's heart and chin at London's Excel Centre have gone, evidence not just that there is curiosity over the credibility of the former Olympic champion but that however much the heavyweight division is derided these days, it is still the big boys who put bums on seats. And Harrison has certainly done his share of that in the ring, too.

In fact, for "At Last..." you might read "Question Time". For as Warren says: "This fight is all about Audley Harrison. We know all there is about Danny Williams, but this is about Audley answering questions. He is going to have to get into the trenches and dig deep. For the first time in his professional career he's in a real fight."

Well, let's hope so, for there are actually questions to be asked about Williams, too. Which one will turn up? The one who freezes or the one who fights? The one who dumped the shell of Mike Tyson on the scrapheap? The one who suffered a serious dose of GBH against Vitali Klitschko? Or the one who didn't turn up at all to fight Matt Skelton? Will he be psyched up for it or psyched out of it?

Harrison craves respect, Williams seeks redemption. The former British champion urges us to believe that the going-over by Klitschko has made him a better fighter. One doubts this, but he certainly seems in decent shape physically and mentally, and is so keen on atonement that he has been getting out of bed at 3am and opening up a local gym for an hour in addition to his normal daily routine.

"Technically, he's good but I don't think he has the heart or hunger for the game," says Williams, 32, of Harrison. "He is not a true warrior. He is a celebrity boxer who has conned the public and surrounded himself with yes men.

"Julius Francis [who was beaten on points by Harrison 18 months ago] told me he punches like a girl. He has made a big mistake in thinking I am shop-soiled goods. I have the same inner calm that I had before the Tyson fight."

Harrison's rapprochement with Warren, with whom he said he would never do business, is born out of mutual necessity, and Harrison knows the value of some timely exposure on ITV after his fall-out with the BBC. "Basically, they screwed me. I got closed out because I wouldn't play their game. They wanted me to give up my independence and fight for people who promote in leisure centres."

So he took himself off in a huff to the United States for seven fights, but finally responded to Warren's heavy financial overtures, though he insists it is likely to be a one-night stand, not a long-term romance, "Everything is set up for me next year to fight for a world title. This is just a nice little Christmas bonus.

"Williams is irrelevant. He's an underachiever while I have a proven pedigree. The L plates are off. I am no longer a prospect, I am a contender. There isn't a heavyweight in the world who does not take me seriously.

"I know what people are saying. They want to see me get hit on the whiskers. 'Can he take a punch? Has he got the heart?' I hope after this fight I'm given the respect and credit I deserve. I don't want anyone saying Williams was a shot fighter. This could be my easiest fight or it could be my toughest, but the result is already written."

At least it is in Harrison's notebook, with a shameless touch of the Ali doggerel: "Bet on me, but not in 11, Danny Williams will fall in seven." As ever, Harrison is full of himself, but he could just be right. At last...

The Olympic silver medallist Amir Khan kicks off the ITV1 fight night at 8.55pm, against the Sheffield lightweight Daniel Thorpe, who is something of an habitual loser (45 defeats in 65 fights), in his fourth professional bout. However, Thorpe, 28, did have a sound win recently over the Commonwealth Games champion, Haider Ali.

After the main event the screen action switches to ITV4 for a British heavyweight title fight in which the holder Matt Skelton, 38, should be too busy for his 25-year-old London challenger, John McDermott, an accomplished sculptor.

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