Harrison needs to find Saturday night fever

Alan Hubbard says Olympic super-heavyweight champion must be mean to Mr Nice Guy McCafferty next weekend
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The Independent Online

Like the England football team, Audley Harrison doesn't feel the need for Wembley, preferring to display his talents in the provinces while plotting his path towards qualification for a world championship. So Newcastle, host to Sven Goran Eriksson's foot-soldiers, becomes the thumping ground this week for the Olympic super-heavyweight champion in an engagement which sees him with the gloves on and the vest off for only the second time on a Saturday night.

It is coming up for a year since Harrison struck gold in Sydney, and in that time he has been in action for less than three minutes, dispatch-ing a totally inadequate, podgy Gulf War veteran by the name of Mike Middleton at Wembley Arena in May.

No doubt the £100 ringside customers at Newcastle's Telewest Centre, not to mention the BBC, anxious to avoid another Mismatch of the Day, will be hoping that Derek McCafferty, at 33 the same vintage as the hapless Middleton, will provide less farcical fare. Actually, he might.

"This certainly isn't a foregone conclusion," the 29-year-old Harrison, in ticket-selling mode, insisted from his Cornwall training camp last week. "I believe this guy has a lot of heart, and I'm expecting to be tested. One big right hand could make all the difference, and if it all goes pear-shaped I could end up doing six twos [two rounds] in Cleethorpes."

Instead of six threes as top of the bill in Liverpool, Coventry or Manchester, or wherever the Harrison caravan next rests on its round-Britain tour.

True, strange things do happen when big right hands land on unsuspecting chins. Ask Lennox Lewis. But McCafferty's best hope seems to be to stay out of the way of Harrison's and see whether the giant southpaw has the stamina to go with his aspirations.

A Scot living in Kettering, McCafferty says he resents being labelled as another hand-picked patsy. He was one of the two British fighters on standby and warming up in the dressing room while the dispute was going go backstage at Wembley over Middleton's purse. Interestingly, there is a return clause in the contract.

"I was ready to fight him then and I'm even more so now," he said. "He certainly doesn't scare me. I've seen him fight and I've sparred with him once. He was brilliant in the Olympics but I don't think he is the next Lennox Lewis."

McCafferty, the manager of a plastics moulding factory, is a homely sort of heavyweight who spends a lot of time on the golf course (he plays off three and once dreamed of being a golf pro but "didn't have the oomph"). He hasn't fought for 18 months, going into a sort of self-imposed retirement because he felt he was only getting short-notice fights, losing three out of five.

After defeats against Britons Mike Holden and Mark Potter he took the former world amateur super-heavyweight champion Georgi Kandelaki the full eight rounds. He says he has trained solidly for 10 weeks for a bout that was post-poned when Harrison cried off with an injured rib.

"He's a nice man, a bit too nice really," says his manager and trainer, Kevin Saunders. "But he's changed for this fight. He's really up for it. He'll go out to have a row with Harrison and I believe it will go the full six rounds, though we know there'll only be one winner."

McCafferty may not have much of a boxing pedigree (though he won 19 of his 28 amateur bouts, represented Scotland and reached the ABA semi-finals), but Saunders certainly has. Former world champions Nigel Benn and Lloyd Honeyghan are among those he has worked with.

"Derek won't bottle it," Saunders promises. Indeed, Harrison may find that McCafferty provides a decent test at this stage of the game, but in the race for what he terms his "globalisation", unless the Olympic champion engages in a meaningful match soon he is in danger of being dwarfed by Danny Williams, the current British heavyweight champion, who last week threw in his lot with Don King. While it may be a case of wish him luck as you wave him goodbye, there is no doubt that by the end of the year Williams will have been well projected in the United States, where real fame and fortune lie. Harrison may be a big noise in Britain, but his name means little there.

The Americans are far more intent on building up their own heavyweight hopes, among them Calvin Brock, a university graduate like Harrison, who although eliminated in his opening bout in Sydney has subsequently had seven professional contests.

It is Harrison's lack of action which has boxing's sages shaking their heads.

"Two fights in 12 months is simply not enough for a boxer on the first rung of the professional ladder," says the former world featherweight champion Barry McGuigan. "I don't believe Harrison has been nearly busy enough. I am not as cynical as some. But it is easy to see how his desire might be questioned. What we need to know is how much Audley really wants it."

Harrison himself admits that the long line of noughts on the BBC's cheque for his first 10 fights have relieved him of any financial worries, and to make it in heavyweight boxing these days it is no longer enough to be just a hungry fighter; you have to be a positively ravenous one.

One wonders whether, now that he is already in the comfort zone, Harrison has that sort of appetite. If McCafferty doesn't tell us, time certainly will.