Iain Hepburn | July 24, 2012
The moment Audley Harrison struck gold by striking Michael Macquae in the finals of the Olympic superheavyweight competition at Sydney 12 years ago, the hype began.
The likeable 28-year-old southpaw was seen as a likely successor to Lennox Lewis – a man who could carry British dreams of heavyweight dominance in the pro-ranks on his broad shoulders.
Twelve years and a seemingly never-ending succession of disappointing fights, mediocre performances and failed comebacks, Harrison is having yet another crack at trying to end his career with a modicum of glory – this time facing fellow Olympian David Price in Liverpool in October for Price’s British and Commonwealth titles.
This time Harrison has vowed to ‘show up’, admitting he hasn’t always done his career a service with his in-ring performances.
For a fight fan, there are few things sadder than seeing a boxer who should have hung up the gloves still trying to eke out a career. The sweet science, while not necessarily a young man’s game, is still a sport where optimal performances come from contenders in optimal condition. At 40 years old, with a track record of injuries and a fight schedule in recent years interrupted by Strictly Come Dancing, you have to question whether Audley is in just a condition.
And it’s a question you could ask of him at any point over the last few years.
Calls for Harrison to retire have been regular and loud since his capitulation to David Haye 19 months ago. The pantomime-esque feud between the two men in the lead-up to the fight – dignity never being particularly high in Haye’s promotional tactics – was followed by a one-sided humiliation of Harrison that thankfully lasted less than three rounds, and saw the gold medalist land just one punch on target during that time.
But the signs that A-Force was a spent force have been there long before the humilation of the Haye defeat.
Harrison rarely shone on TV – despite his seven-figure, ten fight deal with the BBC – but his ponderous performance against Danny Williams, a likeable boxer for whom the word journeyman was pretty much invented, was a lowlight. Admittedly Harrison took the fight at short notice, but both the live crowd and the audience left at home were groaning as Harrison all but turtled up for the bulk of the fight. An exercise in prolonged mauling masquerading as a heavyweight contest, it seemed to mark a turning point in Harrison’s career and his status in the public affection.
Defeats to Dominic Gunn, Michael Sproutt and Martin Rogan followed, and Harrison never looked the same man who had impressed at amateur level in Sydney. Success in the controversial Prizefighter contest in 2009 gave him a brief glimmer of a comeback, but the Haye loss stopped that momentum like a bollard in the road.
Harrison never quite deserved the Fraudley tag hung on him by his most fierce critics – capable of displays of speed and power on his day, he showed he had the physical tools to be a contender, and his sporadic title reigns emphasised he could beat the right man at the right time.
Indeed, at times it seemed less like a physical issue with Harrison than a mental one. Too often he looked content to coast through a fight and avoid damage rather than going on the front foot. The image of Harrison leaning back on the ropes, avoiding a swinging Wiliams, with a wall of disapproving crowd noise behind him, is hard to shake.
At 40, it must be tempting to have one more crack at glory. But with a gold medal on the mantlepiece there’s little Harrison can gain by facing Price – who took bronze in 2008 – and plenty more he can lose. It’s hard to imagine even Harrison thinks he can rebuild a career aged 40, even if he does take Price’s titles. Bowing out with the belts might give him a degree of closure, but it will do little else for his reputation.