Two Olympic Gold Medallists; a Study in Contrasts
06.04.05 - By Frank Maloney: In the summer of 1988, a British super heavyweight won a gold medal at the Seoul Olympic Games while wearing the vest of his adopted country of Canada. With many high profile promoters and managers chasing him, he stunned the boxing world by signing with little old me, a small-time promoter and manager from the back streets of London.. Eventually, over a period of 12 years under my management, that fighter became the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.
Article posted on 06.04.2005
Fast forward to the summer of 2000 in Sydney when another British super heavyweight put himself at the top of the amateur game by winning a Gold Medal. This British fighter was wearing an English vest, however and just like the 1988 Gold Medallist, went around talking to all concerned in the business of professional boxing. Frank Warren and myself were some of the people who spoke with this fighter at that time.
By now it should be readily apparent that the two fighters I'm speaking about are Lennox Lewis, the 1988 Gold Medallist, and Audley Harrison, who won it all 12 years later in Australia.
After the 2000 Olympics Frank Warren and I met with Audley Harrison at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London, proposing what I believe was a first class deal. Forgetting for a moment the money on the table, consider the experience that was being offered to Audley. One of the worlds's leading promoters and a man who had already taken an English fighter to the undisputed heavyweight title of the world.
Audley declined the offers that Frank and I made, as well as those made by other intrested parties. Instead he decided that he knew what was best and ran his own career. Harrison then set a precedent by brokering a deal with a TV company, the BBC, directly. This sort of agreement had never been pulled off before in Britain and it gave Audley Harrison complete control of his career. He did actually take on a manager, former world featherweight champion Colin Macmillan, who unfortunately had no previous experience handling the careers of other fighters. But right from the word go, you knew who the boss was and who was making the decisions.
Now consider Lennox Lewis. Because he had worn a Canadian vest in the Olympics, he started his pro career at a disadvantage and his popularity in Britain had to be built from the ground up. With Audley Harrison, as soon as he stepped off the plane, he was loved and adored by the British public.
Even though Lennox had a unique contract that gave him the final decision on everything, he seemed to listen to reason and sensibility, unlike Harrison. In the 12 years I worked with Lennox there was only one fight that he said no to, which I had brought to him as I thought it would benefit his career. There were a number of reasons why he turned that fight down but at the end of the day Lennox always went with what he thought was sensible for his career movement and it's my belief that there weren't many mistakes made.
Audley, from what we are led to believe, made decisions on everything from the price of tickets, to where people sat on the arena, even as to who was on the bill. The other difference was that from day one, Audley wanted to be headlining his shows. Lennox Lewis, although the fight card was built around him, wasn't at the top of the bill at his professional debut. He fought a 6 rounder at the Albert Hall and we brought in Gary Jacobs, former British and European Welterweight champion to headline on a very good card.
You only have to look at the caliber of opponents that were picked by and fought by Audley Harrison. His first fight was a fiasco over the TV contract and the purse that was offered to his opponent was increased considerably on the night when legal people got involved. After 17 pro fights he hasn't even fought for the British title yet, although he did win some fringe alphabet title which he was either stripped of or vacated this week. To date, I don't know of one person who can recall any of Audley's opponents.
Lennox Lewis on the other hand fought for the European title and won it in his thirteenth pro fight. The level of the competition he went on to face was very high level indeed and he became the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. At the end of his career Lennox obviously changed things by taking on other advisors who had no boxing experience and in my opinion that's why his popularity faded, but he retired highly respected and will always go down in the history books as one of Britain's most accomplished fighters.
Audley Harrison, who has not even reached the first hurdle of his career, no longer has a television deal in Britain and it's claimed that he no longer even lives in the country. Furthermore, he's become the butt of many jokes on Internet fan forums; only this week I read a topic on who the fans thought would win in a contest pitting Audley Harrison against Butterbean. Perhaps this will be Audley's comeback fight?
No matter what people want to say about them, a good manager and a good promoter are worth their weight in gold to a fighter. They can navigate the dangerous political minefields in boxing and guide a fighter's career in the right direction. There are a number of fighters who have had the talent but haven't had the right people around them and they unfortunately missed out when their careers were derailed.
There is a silver lining to all of this however, as I believe that young Amir Khan, who is tipped to go professional soon, will not make the same mistakes as Audley Harrison, who just may have drawn the blueprint for other great amateurs not to follow.
- Frank Maloney, www.frankmaloney.com
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