James Lawton on Boxing: Harrison was pitiful, but biggest scandal is that anyone should be at all surprised
Tuesday 13 December 2005
Forgive me if I don't join in the wave of derision now pouring over Audley Harrison after his pitiful attempt to look like a serious fighter against the marginally less hapless Danny Williams. That T-shirt was acquired some time ago, and if there is any contempt to be truly directed in the wake of Saturday's larcenous assault on the British public it is best applied to all those who gave the dismal affair two pennyworth of credence.
Outrage at Harrison's performance has been amazingly intense. You might be almost be excused thinking it carried any element of surprise.
The list of the guilty stretches beyond the desultory occupants of the corner stools. The heaviest indictment is surely against the BBC for the preposterous relaunching of the sport on a terrestrial channel after Harrison's 2000 Olympic super-heavyweight gold in a field considered so intrinsically feeble American television scouts, the paymasters of the sport, didn't even bother to show up.
How did the BBC return to boxing? By handing Harrison over a million pounds' worth of licence-fee payer's money for a series of fights so ludicrously uncompetitive they were actively insulting to anyone who knew the first thing about the sport.
At the time the promoter of Saturday's fight, Frank Warren, was witheringly and legitimately critical of the BBC. He said it was a national sports scandal, as it surely was.
However, times and circumstances change. Suddenly we were told via the promoter's office, and with copious aiding and abetting by Harrison's latest backers ITV - and some members of the media who should now be taking a look in the mirror - that Harrison and Williams had become, in some massive attack of amnesia, the most significant heavyweight fight in Britain for 12 years.
That was one risible way of putting it. The more honest view of it would have been that the British heavyweight division had slid through the floor the moment Lennox Lewis, who spent much of his career under a ludicrous weight of doubt here that he was indeed one of the outstanding heavies in the history of the game, elected to walk away in good health and comfortable means.
The projection of the Harrison-Williams fight was nothing less than grotesque, as were suggestions that the winner had some right to dispute with even the battered remnants of the division a title once owned by men like Ali and Louis and Dempsey.
Williams has a single significant line in the history of boxing. It is that he happened to be the man in the ring in Louisville, Kentucky, the night when Mike Tyson's own long deceit that he was still a heavyweight of anything more than memory was finally exposed. Williams' reward last year was the opportunity to fight for a world title against Vitali Klitschko, the big, powerful but terminally uninspiring Ukrainian. Klitschko, as anticipated by anyone who bothered to think about the matter for more than a nanosecond, won so easily it was embarrassing.
Williams came in heavy and hopeless. He was as bad against Klitschko, as Harrison was on Saturday night, and in the same, wretchedly passive way. So what could you say back then in Las Vegas? Only that in a career marked more than anything by painful, self-admitted irresolution, he had experienced a striking piece of good fortune that he was utterly unable to exploit. To move from that to the re invention of him as a potential world heavyweight champion, on the basis of his defeat of Harrison, is, even in today's heavyweight wasteland, surely beyond both reason and conscience.
That it has happened, and even that some commentators have expressed surprise at the direness of Saturday's fight, surely represents the nadir of any appreciation of fighting in this country.
The public have been taken for idiots, and on their behalf now the best you can do is speculate that many who filled the ExCel Centre had been drawn not by absurd suggestions that it was a fight of any potential merit, but to confirm their suspicions of a long drawn out, fraudulent hype; that they came not for serious pugilism but a bonfire of some of those untruths which have regularly marked much of the recent history of British boxing.
In this quarter the worst case will always be the selling of Naseem Hamed, the man who was allowed, without any Biblical outpouring of wrath, to claim that he was an inheritor of the Muhammad Ali tradition, that his frightful, jiggling, march over a series of abject opponents somehow put him into the highest level of ring activity.
It was true he had formidable power for a featherweight, but his refusal to learn to fight properly, his arrogant faith in a notably hard punch, his yelping self-advertisements, were always going to be exposed when he stepped in with a serious opponent. It happened five years ago when Marco Antonio Barrera came into sight, and the years of cheap braggadocio went straight through the window.
That of Harrison went the same way on Saturday night. One account mused, "Perhaps it would be unnecessarily harsh to dismiss Audley Harrison as a charlatan." Maybe it would. One difficulty after the so easily forseeable scandal at the ExCel Centre, would be finding someone with the moral right to point the finger.
No reason to salute these posturing footballers
Any predisposition to take Robbie Savage seriously is always hovering on the point of ridicule, and we were reminded of this when Blackburn goalkeeper Brad Friedel wearied of the reproaches of his team- mate and gave him a body charge worthy of an ice hockey goon fuelled on red meat and corn whiskey.
The Welsh international's already precarious hard-man image melted like prairie snow in the spring. Savage can be infuriating and surprisingly peripheral when the action gets serious but at least any malignancy of his spirit tends to be fleeting.
This is does not appear to be in the case with Paolo Di Canio, another footballer who acquired hero status in England despite the fact that he generally disappeared from sight when his West Ham United ventured further north than Milton Keynes.
Di Canio's undoubted talent was hardly enough compensation, though, for those who believed the entire sum of his natural loyalty to team-mates and manager could be comfortably accommodated on the head of a pin.
He has been brought to mind again by reports of his habit of throwing up a fascist salute at times of stress. Apparently he has been at it again, this time in Livorno, a Tuscan club noted for its left-leaning support. Di Canio has a tattoo of Benito Mussolini on his shoulder. Di Canio sometimes seems to forget that his hero finished up dangling, head first, from a Milan lamp-post. Not that you want to give anyone ideas.
Keane realities emphasise the madness in Madrid
Roy Keane's possible move to Real Madrid might seem like still another rebuke to Sir Alex Ferguson. But it shouldn't. More likely it will provide further evidence that Real's despotic president, Florentino Perez, is drifting ever further from football reality.
Keane might have made sense in the middle of Perez's galacticos splurge. Then the Irishman might have been strong, enough, young enough to lead the playboy stars by example out where it mattered, on the field.
Now, if the Irishman does sign up at Bernabeu, it is hard to imagine what significant impact he could make. For a start he would have to rewrite the entire Real Madrid value system, and without either Spanish or a modicum of diplomacy the odds against his success seem hugely prohibitive. Perez's interest is doubly inexplicable in view of his casual acceptance that Claude Makelele should be shipped out to Chelsea two years ago.
The absence of the durable Frenchman is a void Real have not begun to fill. Asking Keane to tackle the job at this stage of his career has to be seen as the last word in optimism.
Soon enough, and even at £70,000 a week, he is likely to find himself yearning for the old certainties of Old Trafford. There, or somewhere like Juventus or Milan, some of football's old values still remain. At Madrid it is the Florentino Perez show. At Old Trafford Keane had to deal with mere crisis. At Bernabeu the problem is unending, certifable madness.
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