Audley Harrison: The Heavyweight Champion Who Might Have Been

Rob Lancaster@RobLancs79Featured ColumnistMarch 31, 2015

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - APRIL 24:  Audley Harrison during a media workout at the English Institute of Sport on April 24, 2013 in Sheffield, England.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

When Audley Harrison won gold at the 2000 Olympic Games, it seemed a British boxing star had been born.

The Londoner’s success in Sydney paved the way for him to move into the professional ranks. He was viewed as a sure thing to go on and become a world champion.

He quickly became a household name, a boxer who transcended into the mainstream by bringing home an Olympic medal. Tall, eloquent and with a broad smile, the British public were quickly intrigued by him.

ALISTAIR FULLER/Associated Press

Such was his popularity, the BBC signed him to a lucrative, seven-figure deal to allow them to broadcast his first 10 pro fights.

Before he had thrown a punch in the paid ranks, Harrison had already earned plenty. The potential was there for all to see, it was surely just a matter of time until he reached the top.

As his Wikipedia profile points out, Ring Magazine even predicted in 2003 he would follow in the footsteps of Lennox Lewis, an Olympic champion who had gone on to become the best heavyweight on the planet.

Move forward to 2015 and Harrison announced his retirement. Beset by financial problems and having discovered some worrying health issues, the star from Sydney had finally faded out.

He never did win that world title, at least not one from a recognised body (apologies to the World Boxing Federation).

There had, however, been some harrowing losses, both in the ring and out of it.

In his one and only shot at becoming a world champion, he was badly beaten by David Haye. The pair, who had once been close before their friendship turned sour, did well to sell their 2010 fight, billed as Best of Enemies.

The action on the night, however, was a major disappointment. It was a pay-per-view event that left many wanting their money back.

In his fight report for The Telegraph, Gareth A. Davies wrote: “Haye did everything he had to do. Harrison did nothing.”

Harrison actually did do something—he landed one jab during the three rounds the bout lasted for.

It was tough to watch, particularly when you took into account he had both a height and reach advantage over reigning World Boxing Association champion Haye.

The British Boxing Board of Control were so perturbed by the performance, or lack of one, from A-Force that it considered withholding some of his purse before being convinced otherwise.

That seemed the time for Harrison to call it a day, yet he picked himself up, dusted himself down and carried on.

His bid to win the British and Commonwealth belts from Liverpudlian David Price in 2012 was short and not so sweet, the bout all over in a mere 82 seconds.

His 38th and final outing came in April of 2013, with American Deontay Wilder needing just over a minute to beat a gun-shy Harrison in Sheffield, England. 

At the time the defeats were painful for his career prospects.

However, in a statement released on his own website to announce he was hanging up his gloves, the 43-year-old revealed tests had uncovered some concerning results to do with his health. 

He admitted to having suffered with symptoms connected with traumatic brain injuries, saying: “I looked at the latest research into concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). After years of denial and sticking to my guns, I'm finally getting out of my own way.”

Harrison wanted to be checked out ahead of a planned return to the ring.

Instead, he now has to focus on another huge fight: dealing with the Inland Revenue.

JON SUPER/Associated Press

Harrison—who is now living in the United States—had a desire to build an “empire like Tony Montana” while he was still boxing.

Now, due to his “reckless” spending, he is set to file for bankruptcy in his homeland, according to his statement. His financial situation has somewhat mirrored his professional boxing career: He's gone from boom to bust.

While he tries to sort out his future now that his fighting days are over, the Englishman wants to try and help young boxers make sure they don’t make the same mistakes.

In his retirement statement, he confirmed his intention to apply for a trainer’s license, stating: “If I'm to achieve my goal of becoming a world champion it will now have to be as a trainer and manager to a bright young star, who will hopefully learn from my mistakes, rather than learning from his or her own.”

He may not quite have made it to the very top as a professional, but it should not be forgotten that he did achieve something special by winning an Olympic gold.

As Steve Bunce pointed out in his column for The Independent, Harrison’s victory in Sydney paved the way for others to follow. Bunce noted: “It is a debt that too many of his abusers forgot too easily.”

His triumph in the super heavyweight category was Great Britain’s first gold in the ring at any weight since Chris Finnegan in Mexico City in 1968. Since 2000, Team GB has won four more.

There were moments as a pro when he threatened to make a breakthrough.

He gained revenge for an earlier loss to Michael Sprott in stunning fashion in 2010, knocking his opponent out in the final round despite being hampered by a shoulder injury he suffered in the early stages.

Yet his probing jab, a punch which allowed him to set up his powerful left hand, and his ability to fight at long range meant he was better suited to the shorter format of the amateur game.

It is no coincidence that he twice won the Prizefighter Series, a winner-takes-all, eight-man knockout competition that sees each fight held over three rounds. It was professional boxing done with an amateur twist, making it the perfect platform for Harrison to shine.

Whatever your personal opinion, Harrison's presence made things interesting for the British heavyweight scene. Whether you loved or loathed him, he was hard to completely ignore.

While it is easy to wonder what might have been, the man himself is philosophical now his career is over: “It’s been fun my friends, tough, and as real as they come, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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