Boxing: Big Audley finds God in his corner but screen goes blank

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The Independent Online

Eight years ago this summer, Audley Harrison posed on the podium in Sydney with the world in his fists. The Olympic super-heavyweight champion, Britain's first boxing gold medallist in 32 years, vowed that soon he would convert that gold into much bigger bullion as a pro, by winning the world heavyweight title. Alas, as another anniversary of that Olympian achievement looms, it still has not happened. Beaten in three of his last six fights, Harrison is not even a contender.

That, he says, is about to change. Big Audley is born-again, having found God – and Frank Warren.

Back in Sydney he talked such a good fight we called him Muhammad Audley. But it was not long before Warren, with whom he declined to do business, preferring self-promotion in every sense, had rechristened him Fraudley. Now the square ring has turned full circle and there is a curious irony in that while two of the promoter's prize fighters, Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe, have elected to go it alone, and other top boxers such as David Haye are joining the DIY club, Harrison has bucked the trend and finally thrown in his lot with Warren.

He admits there has been a huge swallowing of pride. "I've had to give up my goals and my principles. Things change. You have to be adaptable in this life. I've had to lick my wounds. I was on the road to becoming the next Don King orthe next Frank Warren but I've given that up because I realised it was not my remit. God said, 'Go back to the beginning. Go back to what you've done best, to educate and entertain.' That's my God-given purpose now. I believe Frank will help me achieve it."

That is why next Saturday night should have found Harrison boxing under the Sports Network banner at Birmingham's Aston Events Centre against Martin Rogan, a rumbustious Ulsterman last seen winning a novice competition at London's York Hall called The Prizefighter. But a hitch over the televising of the fight has caused Warren to postpone the show. He says he hopes it will be rescheduled "in a couple of weeks".

Setanta were unhappy that Enzo Maccarinelli, who was originally due to be featured on the bill, is now not fighting. Promoter and network have not been on the happiest of terms recently, and this latest spat seems unlikely to help Setanta secure the services of Amir Khan, who has a new deal with Warren.

Sky are believed to have offered a six-fight deal and the BBC are also interested.Warren says: "I am talking to everybody."

Neither Harrison nor Rogan are best pleased about the delay. "I'm totallygutted," Rogan said yester-day. "I am in thebest shape of my life. This is a big kick in the teeth for me."

Rogan is an engaging bloke, a cabbie and bit-part actor who has screen-doubled for Vinnie Jones. He can bang a bit, but at 37 he is a year older than Harrison and he has only boxed 30 rounds in his 10 winning fights.

Harrison, of course, is more used to boxing's ups and downs. Splattered in three rounds on his previous appearance in this country, by his former spar-mate Michael Sprott, the A Force is quickly becoming C list. But to his credit he is still affable and approachable and more than willing to talk, which he does volubly and at length. If only Harrison bashed opponents' noses as fiercely as he does our ears he would be fighting Wladimir Klitschko, not Martin Rogan.

Yet he insists: "I'm not that far away from a title shot. I'm still a world-class fighter. It's just a question of getting into position. That's why I've teamed up with Frank. I've been down in the valley but I'm coming up again. The journey's not over yet. Too many people give up when the chips are down. This is not about hope. Hope is what happens when people play the Lottery. This is a journey of perseverance. It is not about ego, and it's not about money. It's about my dreams and aspirations and I won't give them up."

Harrison speaks of "an epiphany, a life-changing event which knocked me for six in 2004". He says: "I lost my confidence and my self-belief. I was unbeaten, 19 and zero. But things started to unravel. I got knocked off track into the wilderness. I won't say what it was until I retire because I don't want to sound like I'm making excuses. But I'm now ready to do what I was born to do with my God-given talent. I want the world title so bad I can taste it.

"OK, you're not wrong if you're saying, 'Yeah, yeah yeah, here goes Audley again, talking the talk but not walking the walk. How many times have we heard this before?' But the bottom line is I can back up my talk."

The last of Harrison's 25 fights was on the Calzaghe-Hopkins bill in Las Vegas, an inauspicious win over Jason Barnett. Danny Will-iams, against whom Harrison avenged one of his losses, has resurrected his own career, regaining the British title which he will defend against John McDermott in Dagenham on Friday. Williams believes the rough-edged Rogan can beat Harrison, whom he disses as "the Julian Clary of boxing". Williams, 34, who destroyed a shot Mike Tyson, still aspires to a second crack at the world title.

Joe Calzaghe and Roy Jones Jnr will split the purse 50-50 when they meet at Madison Square Garden on 20 September.