Boxing: Requiem for a featherweight

"I know exactly what I've done wrong and I'm working to put all of my mistakes right." Scott Harrison's words, spoken before his late withdrawal from this weekend's world title fight, have a hollow ring now. Steve Bunce on a fighter whose biggest battles have always been outside the ring - and whose career is now in tatters
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It no longer matters if drink, food or anything more sinister is responsible for his latest very public meltdown. All that matters is that, at 29, Scott Harrison's career is in jeopardy and his defence of the World Boxing Organisation featherweight title tomorrow night is off.

It is difficult to remain positive following the latest blot in Harrison's life and it is equally difficult to find the truth about this new disaster in a career that has been slowly spinning out of control for a long time.

Harrison withdrew from tomorrow's fight on medical advice after failing to get anywhere near the featherweight limit of 9st. He now plans to resume his career at super-featherweight, but the weight-making problem is clearly a smokescreen to deflect scrutiny of Harrison's portfolio of decline.

There was a story about a crack house in Glasgow's East End, one about wild escapes from clinics and an addiction to booze that had left the little boxer skint. There was also a story about knocking out a policeman, trying to steal his car and spending nearly six weeks in the maximum-security Alhaurin de la Torre jail in Spain, a home to many of Britain's least successful exiled drug dealers.

Harrison insists that there has been a lot of exaggerated stories during the past 12 months but hidden somewhere between his truth and the reality of his actions is a true story of a boxer in turmoil. He is undoubtedly right about the half-truths, but there remain enough confirmed tales of errors and mistakes to make his life a disturbing story of a modern sporting champion.

However, the fight had been relegated to a side issue because of Harrison's recent past, which in turn has been illuminated by two years of chaos in the life of a boxer who has been involved in 11 world title fights since 2002.

"You see these stories. Well, most of them are just not true," Harrison said. "I know what I have been doing wrong - I know exactly what I've done wrong and I'm working to put all of my mistakes right." He knows that, like all addicts, he remains in denial.

Last year the rumours about his troubled life started when he was arrested after a brawl in a bar involving seven doormen. He was banned for six months from drinking in any pub, club or hotel in East Kilbride. "They should have made it longer," he admitted at the time. A few weeks earlier he had avoided prison when he was charged with assaulting a Scottish policeman in the back of a taxi after another lengthy drinking session. "It was a misunderstanding," he said.

In the same year Harrison retained his WBO title three times, including a grudge match with Manchester's Michael Brodie, but away from the 36 minutes of action under the neon lights it was obvious to a small circle that his life was in free fall.

It would be disingenuous of me not to point out that many people in the business feared for his health each time he pushed his body to increasingly painful limits, somehow to shrink his frame to the featherweight division's poundage. His weight-making problems, which are potentially lethal to all boxers, created a rift with his long-term manager, Frank Maloney, that never fully healed and Maloney was jettisoned this summer. Maloney had been banging on about the weight-making difficulties for a couple of years, but Harrison had always denied there was a serious problem. "It has never been easy," Harrison said. "I've had a lot of proper fights and there has never been a long enough break. It's a lot of pressure and I've clearly not dealt with it very well."

Harrison last fought in November 2005, when a capacity crowd of more than 5,000 packed the Braehead Arena in Glasgow to watch him dismantle the Australian Nedal Hussein. It was a quality performance in many ways, especially when Harrison's state of mind is considered. "I have not approached all my fights with the right attitude. That's no secret," Harrison said. "Some I have been right for and in others I have not been right. I realise that now."

In 2006 Harrison was meant to leave Scotland and start fighting in Las Vegas against the other leading featherweights. The plan, which was simple at the time, was for Harrison to get one more defence in Scotland and then head off for some type of unification meeting.

Last April Harrison and two other men had to be coaxed out of a Glasgow pub by police, who used tear gas, and he was arrested once again. The British Boxing Board of Control insisted that he take a full medical to make sure that he had not suffered any ill effects from the incident. After that arrest the plan was back on but it never worked out, and against a backdrop of increasingly dark rumours Harrison crashed and burned in May when he was arrested at the Lomond Park Hotel in Scotland a week before a scheduled defence in Belfast against Gairy St Clair. The fight was postponed but in the fallout there was some good news when a charge for "suspicion of possession of drugs" was dropped.

"Scott does lack some life skills, there is no denying that. In many ways his toughest fights are the ones he has away from the ring," said the boxer's father and trainer, Peter.

It was after the collapse of the fight in Belfast and the two arrests in the six-week period that the true horror of Harrison's problems became public: he was suffering from depression and he was an alcoholic. He briefly checked into the Priory Hospital in Glasgowbut he was soon back on the street. There was an attempt to settle him at a similar clinic in London but that ended in failure and, by the end of the summer, it looked like his career was over. "It was a disastrous time but I knew that I had to get back in the ring. I'm a fighter, a warrior - it's what I do and it's what I need to do," Harrison insisted. But the people surrounding him, like his father and his new manager, Barry Hughes, knew, as the boxer knew himself, that he needed to fight. A similar thing happened to Frank Bruno towards the end of his career, when it was obvious that the training regime and the fighting were keeping Big Frank sane.

"Scott, Peter and I spoke at length last night and Scott assured me he wants to fight and I know that is what he needs," Hughes said yesterday.

In late September it was announced that Harrison would meet Cook tomorrow at the ExCel Arena. But many refused to believe the fight would take place. Harrison went to Spain to train but on 6 October he was arrested after an incident outside a restaurant, which he insists was another misunderstanding. He was incarcerated until 11 November and charged with assault. The fight, which had been called off on 8 November by the promoter Frank Warren, was back on but only briefly, because the brutal fact remains that Harrison was not right.

Now the plan is for Cook to fight a replacement over 10 rounds - but it is unlikely that his head and heart will be in the right place. Harrison will remain in Scotland and continue to believe in a career that has probably gone for good. Everybody involved has lost.