By Clive Bernath:
Much has been documented lately about, not only Audley Harrison's choice of opponents and ability but also the BBC's coverage since they decided to launch themselves as a main boxing broadcaster again, following years in the boxing wilderness.
With Harrison having signed a reported £1 million 10 fight deal with the terrestrial broadcaster, the two parties have come in for severe criticism, mainly I might add from certain sections of the boxing press and one or two opportunist promoters. But is all the criticism justified?
The 2000 Olympic super-heavyweight champion knocked out inept American Wade Lewis in the second round at the Liverpool Olympia, on October 5, to extended his unbeaten record to seven. Alright, Lewis did not bring much to the table and I can understand to some extent why Harrison has been labelled by certain sections of the press as 'Fraudly'.
On the Monday following Harrison's latest win, a proportion of the national papers, while admitting Harrison looked in good nick in bombing out Lewis impressively, quite rightly wanted to see him in with a top domestic name.
Harrison will be 31 at the end of October and certainly does not have time on his side but I fail to see what all the fuss is about. All I have heard since the Lewis win is newspapers commenting, 'Lennox Lewis beat so and so in his fifth fight, Frank Bruno had 10 knockouts out of 10.' Of course they are right and both Lewis and Bruno were considerably younger than Harrison.
But let me explain why I do not think there is cause to panic, just yet!
In defence of our Olympic hero, he was plagued by injury in the lead up to his first three professional fights. Forget his debut against American private eye Michael Middleton, that was an event, a coming home party.
The second fight against Kettering tough guy Derek McCafferty was far from ideal. He laboured badly to a clear and unimpressive points victory. And yes, Polish bouncer Piotr Jurczyk was not much better, as he was bombed out in two rounds.
Going on those results the criticism, I believe was totally justified but again, to be fair Harrison carried genuine injuries, in either before or after all three contests. The last one, a torn chest muscle kept him out of action for six months and he has a nasty three inch scar between his shoulder and chest to prove it.
But since then, he has been injury free. So lets judge him on his last four fights.
First up was giant American Julius Long in April 2002. Of course the former basketball player was not up to much but Audley took care of business easy enough and looked good doing it. It was only his fourth fight and how many other 'prospects’ would have risked a fight with a 7ft 2inch puncher so early?
Almost a month to the day later on May 21, Harrison, out-pointed the previously unbeaten Mark Krence over six. Harrison did get wobbled a few times by a non puncher but hung in there to win comfortably’ish on points. His stamina was questioned after the fight and I admittedly commented to Harrison’s manager Colin McMillan immediately after the fight that ‘he looked awful, his stamina and punch resistance were a big problem’.
Next up was Dominic Negus on July 10. I’m the first to admit Negus was only a blown up cruiserweight but Harrison’s stamina was much improved for this fight and he did the six rounds far easier than two months previously.
Then of course there was the latest fight, the destruction of Wade Lewis. After two points wins, Lewis was brought in for the knockout and a much needed confidence booster. Any good manager would have done the same thing.
So far this year Harrison has fought four times. He goes again in November, though no date as yet. Talk of a fight in America is rumoured. He is also scheduled to fight again in December. That means he will have fought six times since April 2002. If he does fight twice more, he will be in to his ninth fight of the BBC contract.
If all the above goes to plan then his last fight should happen in either January or February 2003. That is when I believe he should be judged. That is when he should be matched with the top domestic opposition, Mark Potter, Michael Holden, Michael Sprott or Pele Reid. Any one of those should he win, over eight rounds, would satisfy me at this stage of his career that he is on course and capable of making it to the next level.
Three of four fights at that same level then a 10 rounder or championship fight by the end of 2003 should be his target and within his grasp. If he continues to fight at the rate he is now, then barring injuries, his condition will improve dramatically. By then he will be approaching 32 and knocking on the door at European/good class American journeyman level.
Regarding the BBC’s re-emergence as a main boxing broadcaster to rival Sky, they have taken some flak in parallel with Audley. That too I feel is unjust. The Beeb has come in for criticism, mainly on the way the shows are presented and their lack of knowledge.
I can remember when Sky first started to broadcast boxing following ITV’s departure. They had a fella presenting by the name of Gary Norman. Those of you that can remember that far back will know that he was absolutely awful And the way in which the show was put together was not much better. That was more than 10 years ago. Today, they have a very professional and knowledge team in place and provide an excellent service to the fan. We must also not forget that without Sky’s investment, our sport may not exist in the present format it does today.
What I’m trying to say is the BBC have been back in the sport now for a little over 18 months and the quality of shows and presentation has improved dramatically. That I feel was evident with the quality of the Liverpool show on October 5 when Damaen Kelly, Peter Culshaw and Nicky Cook featured in competitive and entertaining bouts.
They have now appointed a Boxing Editor in the shape of Jim Bentley and commentators Jim Neily and former WBC super-middleweight champion Richie Woodhall make up a strong knowledge team. As I am employed as a statistician for the BBC I could be accused of exercising some bias but I genuinely believe the standard of boxing and presentation has improved and will continue to do so.
Bentley, too is a very knowledgeable and genuine fight fan. He knows the game and is committed to putting on the very best fights. The fact that Bentley has been appointed as Boxing editor indicates the BBC’s commitment to boxing and that they are serious players. And that can only be a good thing for, not only the sport in Britain but also for the millions of viewers that tune in.