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Audley Harrison is a joke


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Matthew Norman: Audley Harrison is a joke that is no longer funny in the boxing world


If few heavyweights since Muhammad Ali have talked a better fight than Audley, fewer still have fought a sequence of worse ones.


By Matthew Norman 7:55AM GMT 29 Dec 2010

Next to the chasm in class between this leisure management graduate’s mouth and his fists, the Grand Canyon is a crack in a paving stone.

Audley’s courage in defying the endless ridicule that has attended his professional career festoons him with credit. Had he shown the same resilience and willingness to endure pain in the ring, he might have challenged Rocky Marciano’s unbeaten record.


I was in the Sydney boxing arena when he won his Olympic super-heavyweight gold, and the consensus was that he had the talent to succeed in a laughably weak weight division.

What no one could have predicted was that losing the amateur’s protective headguard would affect him as the removal of stabilisers affects the four year-old yet to master cycling. Down he went again and again, in the estimation of the public if not always to the canvas.


After turning pro, his gift for self-promotion earned a £1 million, 10-fight deal with the BBC, but long before it expired his reputation was lying on the pavement, knees bleeding, crying for its mummy.


The tantalising thing is that he appears to have just the two minor failings: an aversion to being hit, and a disinclination to hit others.

Although the combination hints at an admirable grasp of Christ’s injunction not to do unto others what you would rather they did not do unto you, one cannot help feeling that moral objections to a sport predicated on the infliction of brain damage are better expressed by opponents of boxing than by those taking money to box.

This pacifism, though splendid in other contexts, has played its part in earning him the three nicknames that must suffice as his reward in the absence of a title belt.

Between them, the trinity of ‘A-Farce’, ‘Fraudley’ and ‘Audrey’ capture the mixture of con-man, big girl’s blouse and shambolic underachiever.


Picking the precise moment at which the towel should have been thrown in on his career is not easy in so fearsomely crowded a field.

But perhaps pride of place goes to the February night in 2007 on which he contrived to walk on to a sucker punch thrown by the statuesque Michael Sprott, a delightful chap from Reading flattered by the term ‘journeyman’, and with the mobility of a geriatric ox with rheumatoid arthritis.


Heroically impervious to the evening’s jeers, he soldiered on until his tenacity was rewarded with a world championship bout with David Haye, who understandably preferred to enrich himself at zero risk to his physical and financial health while awaiting a match with one of the Klitschkos.


In the book I wished Audley the best of British with that fight, adding this: “Should he somehow win it (as he very well might so long as he has the foresight to hire a sniper), or indeed survive beyond round five, my humblest apologies for doubting him.

Until that biblical miracle unfolds, the fact remains that not since Noah glanced up at the skies on day four of the flood and told his missus, ‘It’s clearing up, girl, I’m sure of it.

Now, where did you put the Ambre Solaire?’ have human affairs known a more dazzling triumph of hope over experience than Harrison’s insistence on battling on in search of a world title.

That quest – much like the heavyweight division itself, only more so – is a joke that had long ago delighted us enough.

Audley did nothing on the evening of Nov 13, bless his thoughtful heart, to necessitate a major rewrite for the paperback edition, let alone that promised mea culpa.


To his great credit, he did stake a powerful claim to the 2011 Turner Prize with his one-man installation, Statuesque, landing a single punch in the two-and-a-bit rounds before he was stopped; and then, according to the more reliable ringside analysts, only by accident after being startled by a pigeon that landed on his head in the mistaken belief that he was on a plinth in Trafalgar Square.


The joke continues, although whether to laugh or cry at Audley’s subsequent announcement that he intends to fight on, it remains much too soon to say.



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