Audley Harrison Failing to Maintain the Olympic Standard

22.08.05 - By Peter Cameron: Time is running out for Audley Harrison. The Sydney 2000 Olympic champion, now 33, spent most of last week declaring he was ready to beat the best, calling out the likes of Samuel Peter and Calvin Brock. Yet nothing in his performance against Robert Wiggins on Thursday night, nor his 18 other victories, suggests he is anything like ready to fulfil his proclamations. Harrison's talent is hard to quantify. Physically, he has the tools required, and has looked great in short spurts. Yet the boxing world is still unconvinced, citing a lack of desire and questionable fitness as stumbling blocks to his hopes of world domination.

Harrison made his professional debut on 19th May 2001, and has 19 victories to his name in the four years and three months since that day. Although hampered by serious injuries, his progress his still been staggeringly slow since leaving the amateur ranks. His record does not compare well with other Olympic champions of the past.

George Foreman won Olympic gold at the 1968 Mexico Olympics and completed his first 19 fights in the pro-ranks in just over ten months, often fighting twice or even three times a month. His opponents were certainly no weaker than those Harrison has so far faced. Four years into his career and Foreman had already become World Heavyweight Champion, dismantling Joe Frazier in two terrifyingly brutal rounds to take his undefeated record to 38 wins, 35 by knockout.

Frazier himself had won gold at Tokyo in 1964. Turning pro on 16th August 1965, Frazier completed his first 19 fights within two and a half years, fighting credible opponents such as Oscar Bonavena and George Chuvalo along the way. Four years into his career and Frazier was one fight away from becoming unified world heavyweight champion, having already
beaten Jerry Quary in Ring Magazine's 1969 Fight of the Year.

Lennox Lewis was the Seoul Olympics Super-Heavyweight Champion in 1988. Although his progress was not as quick as Foreman or Frazier, Lewis's first 19 fights were completed in just over two and a half years, during which time he picked up the British and European titles. Within four years Lewis was WBC World Heavyweight Champion, albeit by default after Riddick Bowe had been stripped of the belt for refusing to fight him.

Of course not every Olympic Heavyweight Champion has been a success as a professional. Henry Tillman, the 1984 winner, started his pro career as a cruiserweight and lost his 11th fight to Bert Cooper, two years after he had claimed gold. Tillman never made the cut as a professional, and was famously annihilated by Mike Tyson, ironically the man he had beaten to a place in the US Olympic team. Other gold medallists, such as Ray Mercer and Wladimir Klitschko, did not come to dominate the professional ranks but still hold respectable records.

However, what all these Olympians have in common is a willingness to fight the best. Sadly Harrison is not, as yet, continuing this trend. His professional career has been the slowest and least exciting of any former Olympic champion. He has shown no interest at all in putting himself at risk in the ring. He could by now have taken on the challenge of Matt Skelton or Danny Williams for the British title, but has instead chosen to continue fighting bums.

Harrison now has a serious problem. In talking up his talent, in claiming he is close to conquering the division, he now has no choice but to take a huge step up in class. Yet nothing in his recent performances indicate he could compete with Brock or Peter, let alone more experienced heads like Brewster and the Klitschkos. Harrison has backed himself into a corner by saying "I'll take on all comers because I know I am the best the division has to offer". Boxing fans won't accept this kind of declaration unless he backs it up with results in the ring.

Harrison's next choice of opponent may reveal his true intentions. If he steps up a level and fights an opponent of the calibre of Jameel McCline, Charles Shufford or Sinan Samil Sam, then this will represent significant progress at last for the giant Briton. Samil Sam beat Harrison in the 1999 World Amateur Championships, but has already lost twice in 26 professional fights. Any of these three men would be a good test for Harrison who, despite his declarations, is nowhere near ready to share a ring with the major players right now. If, however, Harrison chooses to tackle yet another journeyman, then he will risk even his most devoted fans finally running out of patience. He simply must step up in class if he wants to retain any credibility.

Since the retirement of Lennox Lewis in 2003, the heavyweight division has struggled to create excitement, and a series of dull, limited fighters currently saturate the division in mediocrity. Yet 2006 could see a changing of the guard and the division spark back to life. Calvin Brock and Samuel Peter could make their breakthroughs whilst Audley Harrison, if he decides, could well join them. Harrison actually beat Peter in the amateur ranks, and Peter left the Sydney Olympics after a 14 - 3 defeat to Italy's Paolo Vidoz, whom Harrison knocked out in the semi-final. Yet since then, Peter's stock has continued to rise and rise whilst Harrison has become something of a joke. It is still not too late for Harrison to propel himself to the top of the division, but one suspects the next 6 months are make-or-break for A-Force Audley.

Article posted on 22.08.2005

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