By Paul McCreath -- In September of 2000 in the Olympic Games at Sydney Australia Audley Harrison won the gold medal in the superheavyweight division for his home country the United Kingdom. Throughout the boxing world and especially in the United Kingdom fans were excitedly looking forward to seeing Audley turn pro and win similar honors in the paid ranks. Many expected him to become another Lennox Lewis. After all this 6 foot 4 and 1/2 inch 250 pound giant who would turn 30 the next month seemed to have all the physical tools.
Today there would be very few fans who would not agree that Audley has been the biggest flop in the past 50 years. Just this past weekend he was outpointed by a 10 fight novice Martin Rogan who is much smaller than Harrison. It is surely over now but what went wrong?
As with most things that don't turn out as expected there are numerous reasons for the way things ended up.. The first signs of trouble began immediately after the Olympics. While many other Olympians were signing pro contracts and getting their paid careers started, Audley who was older than most and had less time to play with was fiddling around and waiting about 8 months before finally making his debut. From the beginning it appeared that it was more about the money than wanting to fight.
Another bad sign was the fact that Harrison did not sign with a major promoter as nearly all top amateur stars do. He also remained self managed under a company he founded under the name "A" Force. I am reminded of an old saying that a lawyer who represents himself in court has a fool for a client. That theory might also apply to a boxer managing himself at the beginning of his career. It is true that a few established champions have done well on their own later in their careers but none started that way that I can recall. Audley was thought by many to be arrogant and unwilling to listen to experienced people who could have helped him build his career.
Harrison then also placed a lot more pressure on himself by signing a one million pound deal with the BBC to televise his first 10 fights. This may have taken care of the money end but it did little to advance his development as a boxer. This deal raised expectations as to the level of his competition because he was fighting main events from the start. As he failed to meet meaningful foes and looked rather ordinary against the easier ones the British fans more and more turned against Audley thus creating even more pressure.
Perhaps hopes were too high in the first place. For many years the Olympic champions were considered almost a sure thing to have great success in the pro ranks but things are different now. Beginning in 1992 when computer scoring was introduced to the Olympic Games the amateur sport has become more and more separated from the pro game as far as the skills required are concerned.
In the amateurs it is all about scoring points.As a pro while there is a scoring system it is more about hurting your opponent. The simon pure game is no longer the ideal training ground for the pros. Audley did not help himself either by proclaiming that he would win the British title by his 5th pro fight. This became his first failure.
One of the things that hurt Audley the most was the calibre of his opponents in his early days. Several were nothing more than overblown cruisers who were outweighed by as much as 40 pounds. Others like Tomasz Bonin and Richel Hersisia had inflated records but little real talent. We all know that no manager or promoter is going to pick opponents for his fighter who are likely to win but ideally they should be bad enough to lose and good enough to extend the house fighter and make him work hard. Audley's foes seldom did enough to teach him anything and this opportunity to gain valuable experience was lost.
Audley missed a lot of ring time due to injuries either suffered in training or in fights or in one case a car accident. It might be argued that this caused him to grow old before he had time to develop completely. Since most heavies last into their late thirties I don't subscribe to that idea.
When Audley finally stepped up against better class fighters we saw for sure what was often hinted at in his earlier fights. While he has pretty good technical skills and good punching power he does not like to fight. He was never willing to get down in the trenches and slug it out when needed. Whether this was a physical inability to do so or the lack of the mental makeup necessary I guess we will never know. At least he is gone now for sure but I hope he will not be forgotten because there are lessons to be learned here.
Audley has provided other young hopefuls with a clear blueprint for how not to proceed with your pro career. He made a lot of mistakes but maybe he just didn't have it in the first place.