Boxing: Farewell to Audley Harrison, a fighter who lacked a brutality gene

 

Audley Harrison was retired a long time ago, not by his own agency but that of others raining punches. Harrison was a boxer who was distinctly uncomfortable in the upper echelons of the paid ranks. This makes him a failure on his own terms, for it was he who spoke about destiny and world titles, but not in the wider sense of a man turning his life around through sport and achieving what none could for 32 years in a British boxing vest: claiming Olympic gold.

That it did not develop into a world heavyweight crown dented the 41-year-old Harrison's pride but not necessarily his contribution to the gaiety of British sporting life. He did not lack courage. No fighter who crosses the ropes ever does. He simply lacked an instinct for the game he excelled at as an amateur.

Any who confuses the amateur and professional codes should make a case study of Harrison's career. In the heavily regulated environment of amateur boxing, where participants contest bouts of only three rounds in protective gear, Harrison was spared prolonged exposure to the more visceral elements of the game.

He was a technical fighter who used his reach to great effect in amateur combat. The risks were simply not as great as those to which he was exposed when the money poured in. Harrison prospered to a degree in the Prizefighter setting of foreshortened, three-round bouts against modest, often domestic opposition.

He entered this ring knowing there would be no prolonged assault on his senses. He could cope with that, but not the brutal exposure to heavyweight muscle and murderous intent higher up the food chain.

At 6ft 6in and 18st, Harrison was an impressive lump. He had quick hands, a great jab and serious power. Somewhere in the deep recesses of his mind there is probably an explanation accounting for his failure to detonate his skilled bulk. Maybe he was just too well-adjusted as a human being to care enough about beating another member of the species to a bloody pulp? Perhaps his aversion to risk was just too great.

These are fine attributes in civilian life but of little value in a boxing ring when the other bloke is trying to take your head off. Harrison can take to his grave that golden evening in Sydney, where he danced to Olympic glory, winning super-heavyweight gold and the praise of the watching Evander Holyfield. He sang a lovely ditty of his own composing afterwards in a sweet voice and then convinced the BBC to chuck a million quid his way. It is a pity Harrison, immensely likeable and generous of spirit, attracted so much negative commentary as a pro. It might have been different had he set out with more humility and less hubris. He knows now what he failed to recognise then, that talent alone is not enough to conquer the world.

For that you need hunger, desire, a ruthless streak and sometimes anger – qualities he had too little of in the post-Sydney years. His journey was done then.

 



Audley or Fraudley? Tales of the tape

* Audley Harrison became the first British boxer to win Olympic gold in the super-heavyweight division at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

* He signed a £1m contract with the BBC for his first 10 professional fights, and was unbeaten in his first 19 before defeat in 2005 by fellow Briton Danny Williams.

* He beat Michael Sprott in 2010 to win European heavyweight crown. But his only shot at a world title, in 2010, was against David Haye for the WBA belt. He was knocked out in the third round.

Fights: 38; Won 31; KOs 23; Lost 7.

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