It started in tiny halls, it reached a peak in front of millions at the Olympics in Sydney 10 years ago and tonight it could all end for Audley Harrison at Alexandra Palace when he walks to the ring for a fight that will be his last if he loses.
Harrison, who is 38, insists that quitting the ring is not part of his plan, but he is honest enough to admit that a second defeat to Michael Sprott will leave him with nowhere to go. In 2007 Sprott caught Harrison cold in round two. "That was just one of the many obstacles that I've had to overcome in the boxing business," Harrison said. "I left Britain after that fight with my head hidden, did some serious thinking and all I've wanted since that night is revenge."
The vacant European heavyweight title is the main bauble tonight, but redemption for Harrison, recognition for Sprott and a world title fight for the winner before the end of the year combine to eclipse the tiny blue belt. "In history the European heavyweight champion gets a world title fight," continued Harrison, who was considered the future of the heavyweight division when he was unbeaten in 17 fights back in 2004. "This is the fight, this is the last chance – I feel like a skier at the Winter Olympics; the man has waited four years for his moment and it all comes down to just one run. That is like my boxing career right now: It is all down to this one fight, forget everything else."
Sprott has been in and out of proper title fights for nearly a decade, with wins and defeats against the best heavyweights of his generation including Danny Williams and Matt Skelton, both of whom fought for world titles. Since beating Harrison he has lost four, won twice and shared the ring as a hired sparring partner for Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko. Fears that his mentality has shifted from contender to contented appear justified.
"I know that people have been listening to me for a long time, but I refuse to change my plans and each time I suffer a setback it leaves me more determined to achieve my goal, the same goal that I left Sydney with – I will be the heavyweight champion of the world," added Harrison, who has lost 4 of his 30 fights.
It is too easy to laugh at Harrison's relentless assertions and his often tortured hyping, and simply dismiss him as a deluded fighter. However, he set the agenda for other fighters when he took control of every aspect of his career from the start. He was the unpopular pioneer and Ricky Hatton, Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and David Haye have all done the same. "They followed me and that makes me proud. Now, it's my turn to get the title," insisted Harrison, who should stop Sprott in four or five rounds.