By Clive Bernath:
As Olympic super-heavyweight champion Audley Harrison continues his quest for world glory, against giant American Julius Long at the Wembley Conference Centre on April 20, SecondsOut assistant editor Clive Bernath asks, are we expecting too much too early from our Olympic hero?
Heavyweight hope Audley Harrison was the toast of Britain when he brought home the country’s first boxing Olympic Gold for 32 years. Not since Chris Finnegan’s triumph in the middleweight division at the 1968 Mexico Games, had a Britain taken centre spot on the podium. And the fact that Harrison claimed the super-heavyweight crown, made victory all the sweeter.
All should have gone smoothly as Harrison embarked on a professional career that he hopes will eventually end with him emulating former Olympic champions Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Lennox Lewis, in becoming heavyweight champion of the world. But no sooner had he signed to fight American Micheal Middleton on his debut on May 19, 2001, that the negative publicity started and has continued ever since.
Just about every aspect of Harrison’s career, from the inexperience of the team around him to the choice of opponents and his lack of conditioning, has been scrutinised by an increasingly sceptical press, not to mention knowledgeable fight fans. The reason for this cynicism to a certain extent, to be fair, has been brought on by himself.
And of course his insistence on topping the bill in a six rounder on prime time terrestrial television has only added fuel to the fire. I have to admit that I am one of those cynics that believe he should conduct his early career buried at the bottom of the undercard. We must also not forget that at 30 and after just three pro fights, Harrison has very little time to achieve his goal of winning sport’s richest prize.
What also grates the critics is that on the back of the Olympic triumph, Harrison signed a lucrative 10-fight deal with the BBC and an even better one with spread betting company Cantor Index. Those self same critics have insinuated that neither has received value for money for their investments.
But aside from topping the bill at this fledgling stage of his career, is he doing much wrong? Both Lennox Lewis and especially Frank Bruno took similar paths in the early stages of their career, on their way to winning the world crown. The only difference is that Harrison is in complete control of his own destiny, he can’t be blamed for that. The North Londoner negotiated two very lucrative deals for himself, he can’t be blamed for that, either. Most of the bad press, not all, has come from certain big name promoters jumping on the bandwagon and riding on the back of his publicity.
Up until now, I must agree that Harrison has not performed up to the standard, and to the satisfaction of most experts and fans alike but last year he did carry numerous injuries, and by his own admission, was basking in the glory of being Olympic champion whilst putting his team together.
At a press luncheon last weekend, the Olympic champion held court, to selected members of the press, to explain a few wrongs and put a few things right. For instance he did admit to making a few mistakes up until now but like all new ventures (and that is what his promotional company A Force, is) they do sometimes provide teething troubles.
Harrison, knows deep down that he has not exactly handled the PR side of his career too well since Sydney 2000 but he is now trying to put the first year of his professional career behind.
That may all be about to change. For the record, Audley, wearing an all white tracksuit did look in tremendous shape. He also made a point of telling the assembled few he is in his best shape since striking Olympic Gold. And if I can let you into a little secret, that is no idle boast. An independent source close the Harrison camp has confided that he has ‘come on in leaps and bounds’ since last year and ‘has plenty in the tank’ after a hard six rounds sparring.
So when he does climb into the ring on April 20, against the giant aptly named Julius Long, who at 7ft 2inches will dwarf our Audley by some 7 inches, there will be no excuses. Unlike the previous three, Long, who has a 6-1 record with six stoppages, is a very creditable opponent. If Audley blasts him out early it would prove to be a very creditable win indeed and would be the perfect platform to progress to a higher level.
We in Britain should be proud of what Audley achieved in the Olympics and we should all support him now as he embarks on the long lonely path towards the heavyweight championship of the world. We must also not forget that because of Audley’s success at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the BBC has returned to big time boxing. That means a higher profile for our sport in Britain and plenty more work and exposure for countless others, hoping to become household names. It is also worth mentioning that amateur boxing will make up part of the show that will feature Harrison vs Long, on the BBC on April 20
So the next time you read an article somewhere, insinuating that Harrison does not give value for money, just remember how many more boxers are benefiting from Britain’s first boxing Olympic Gold, for 32 years.
Do you have an opinion on how you think Audley’s career will progress? If so please email Assistant Editor Clive Bernath at email address: clivetumcoclivetumcohotmail.com , stating your name and where you come from, and we will print the best reply’s.