Boxing: Reluctant idol finally ready to reward fans

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The Independent Online

Harrison's on-and-off reign as the World Boxing Organisation's featherweight champion and his equally turbulent relationship with his fans continues tonight at the Braehead Arena in Renfrew, on the outskirts of Glasgow, when he meets Australia's Nedal Hussein over 12 rounds.

It will be Harrison's 10th WBO fight at his local venue, but, surprisingly, it is the first sell-out crowd of 6,000 since the March 2003 defence against Belfast's Wayne McCullough. Harrison won easily that night and has returned to the same ring in front of far fewer spectators six times.

Earlier this year Harrison was banned from all pubs and clubs in East Kilbride after a lurid encounter with a delegation of bouncers at one of the town's night clubs. The ban was lifted this week and Harrison insists the incident was blown out of proportion by people jealous of his success.

There was talk of moving with his family to Spain to avoid the envious acts of his detractors and, at the same time, his manager, Frank Maloney, talked about taking Harrison's fights away from Scotland unless box office support increased.

Harrison and Maloney appear united in their appreciation of the fans who are expected at tonight's fight. It has, however, been a difficult year for the quiet man of British boxing who quite correctly believes he has never received the recognition that he is due.

Part of the problem is that Harrison has difficult fights at the wrong times and the blemishes on his record in the last two years have slowed down his progress. Harrison, Maloney and the promoter Frank Warren have talked intermittently since 2002 of an elusive and lucrative fight in America, but that still appears to be some way off.

Harrison has admitted that the wait for a unification fight has been frustrating and this in turn has denied him the necessary motivation. That is clearly not the case this evening when it looks like Harrison will treat his fans to what they expect for their £50.

Hussein enters the ring with the type of mouth old-fashioned teachers used soap to clean and that has clearly helped to shift a few extra tickets. Hussein can also fight a bit, but he appears to have upset Harrison and that is a dumb pre-fight tactic. The noisy Australian has lost just twice in 41 fights, is younger than Harrison by one year at 27, taller by two inches and a proven puncher, but, oddly, he looks like a man ready to lose.

Another possible reason for the enhanced ticket sales is the appearance on the bill of Amir Khan in his third professional fight. Khan meets Walsall's Steve Gethin, a survivor from boxing's forgotten world who has managed just two wins from his last 15 fights but has only been stopped three times in 18 defeats. A Khan and Harrison double looks inevitable.