By Thomas Gerbasi
Honesty is always in short supply in the fight game. Whether it’s promoters, publicists, managers, or trainers, the odds of getting a straight answer on anything is always hit or miss. Fighters may be the worst culprits, but also the ones most worthy of forgiveness, simply because to be a great fighter, or any fighter, for that matter, you have to have mastered the art of lying.
You just got punched in the face. It didn’t hurt.
You just turned down a fight with someone you know will either beat you or give you hell. He can’t sell tickets or he priced himself out of the fight.
You’re getting ready for a fight destined to leave you bruised, battered, and in pain for the next two weeks. I love the war.
You just got knocked down, your head is spinning, and the referee asks if you’re okay. I’m all right.
Do you want to continue? Yes.
So when 2000 Olympic Gold medal winner Audley Harrison admitted in a press release that he has “lived a lie in the amateurs and professional game,” it was a rare moment of honesty that makes it crystal clear that he understands what’s at stake in one of the weekend’s biggest fights, a Saturday clash with unbeaten rising star David Price in Liverpool.
“I did just enough to win because I had that talent and chip on my shoulder to pull it out, but that ignorant guy doesn’t exist anymore,” continued the 40-year-old Harrison, and he won’t get any dissenting opinions to that statement.
He did have the talent, he did have a chip on his shoulder, and he had the charisma to not just become a champion, but an icon. Yes, he started late in the pro game, at 29, but with his Olympic pedigree and a constant presence in the UK media, the London southpaw had put himself in line for big things when he hit the near five year mark in his career in late-2005
Harrison was 19-0, and his opponent for the vacant Commonwealth title on December 10, 2005 was Mike Tyson conqueror Danny Williams. It was a huge domestic fight and an unofficial coronation of Harrison as the next Great British Hope for world title honors. When we spoke before the bout, it was if everything was happening according to plan. What he didn’t know was that his words about Williams would someday be applied to his own career.
“Danny’s an underachiever,” said Harrison back then. “With his talent, he should have gone further. He won the British and Commonwealth, but that’s not something you want to look back and say, ‘all I achieved was British and Commonwealth.’ If I don’t win a world title, then I’ve failed, because that’s my benchmark. My career will be judged by me winning a world title, defending it, and trying to get it undisputed. That’s my benchmark. I’m comparing myself to Lennox (Lewis), George Foreman, (Muhammad) Ali – those kinds of guys. I’m not comparing myself to Danny.”
Williams won a 12 round split decision that night in London. Harrison would get his revenge three fights later via third round TKO, but the damage had already been done. Harrison, dubbed “Fraudley” in some circles, lost his next fight after the first bout with Williams to Dominick Guinn, and after his rematch with Williams in 2006, he was knocked out by Michael Sprott in 2007, and decisioned by Martin Rogan in 2008.
There would be a subsequent four fight winning streak (which included a rematch knockout of Sprott) followed by a one-sided beatdown in an inexplicable 2010 title fight against WBA champion David Haye, but for all intents and purposes, the downfall of Audley Harrison began in the first fight against Williams.
Sure, not everyone who puts on a pair of gloves can become a world champion (insert snide remark about alphabet titles here), but it almost appeared to be a birthright for Harrison, who physically looked like he could knock down a brick wall and who outside of the ring could be a charming individual with a captivating way with the press. I, for one, will always consider myself a fan for the way he treated my then seven-year-old daughter when she asked for his autograph at the 2003 Boxing Writers Association of America dinner in New York City, and I distinctly remember telling her, “that could be the heavyweight champion of the world someday.”
It wasn’t meant to be though, and while Harrison has this big fight with the unbeaten Price this weekend, it’s probably his last one. It’s just the laws of physics, aging, and boxing. A good performance might earn him some more stepping stone paydays against up and comers, but despite the continued resurrections of Hasim Rahman, only a spectacular knockout win could put him line for a final shot at a dream, and that’s not likely to happen.
Maybe Harrison knows it, maybe he doesn’t, maybe he just won’t say it. But he does know one thing for sure when he says “This is my last chance saloon."
Those words may be the worst ones to hear in boxing, but every fighter must address them someday. Usually they come from others: friends, family, fans. But in Audley Harrison’s case, he’s the one looking in the mirror and addressing the cold, hard facts.
Give him kudos for that.
IS PRICE RIGHT?
I bet no one’s ever used that “Price is right” thing…But in all seriousness, of all the young guns at heavyweight in the UK / US, the 2008 Olympic Bronze medalist just might be the most promising. Yes, above Seth Mitchell, Deontay Wilder, and his countryman Tyson Fury. Is he still raw? With 13 pro fights, yes. But he’s being brought along nicely, and like Harrison with Williams back in 2005, this might be the coronation fight that will take the 6-foot-8 Price to the next level both domestically and internationally. And if he keeps on the path he’s on and stays busy, late next year could be a perfect time for him to test championship waters against an Alexander Povetkin-type foe before moving on to the Klitschkos.
Price-Harrison and the bout between Nonito Donaire and Toshiaki Nishioka are the headline attractions this weekend, but for diehard fight fans and the casual, bloodthirsty ones, the real main event is Brandon Rios’ “official” move to junior welterweight against Mike Alvarado. No need to bore you with melodramatic sonnets on the violence these two will attempt to bring upon each other in Carson, California, but I will give a tip of the cap to Top Rank once again for knowing precisely how to move a fighter. Yes, Rios is coming off a horrid performance against Richard Abril in April that saw him gifted with a controversial split decision win, but as Saturday night approaches, does anyone even care anymore? Rios is a brawler, Alvarado is a brawler, and whether it’s 30 seconds in or three rounds in, eventually a real fight will break out, and both men have the ability to walk out of the ring with hands raised and then meet again in the spring of next year to pick up a BWAA 2012 Fight of the Year award. By then, the winner will have secured a title fight, the loser will get another big bout just for stepping up, standing in and fighting, and the fans will still be cheering. In fact, the only losers here might be Donaire and Nishioka, who may be fighting on a higher level, skillwise, but who will have a slim to none chance of producing the fireworks Rios and Alvarado will. That may be sad, but it’s true. It’s why everyone and their brother (including me) are writing about Arturo Gatti’s chances of making it into the Hall of Fame, and not Henry Maske’s.
FAREWELL TO VICIOUS VIVIAN
I remember talking to Vivian Harris a few days before Christmas of 2004, and the sometimes angry young man from Guyana was at peace. He had gone to Germany twice that year to defeat tough Oktay Urkal, and with three successful defenses of his WBA junior welterweight title under his belt, 2005 looked promising for the oft-avoided power puncher. The goals for that year were simple; to fight one or more of the following names: Kostya Tszyu, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, or Ricky Hatton. None of those fights ever happened, and Harris could probably thank unheralded Carlos Maussa - who knocked him out in the seventh round in June of 2005 – for that. Harris would stay among the contenders at 140, win a couple of fights over the likes of Juan Lazcano and Stevie Johnston, but following his knockout loss to Junior Witter in September of 2007 (a bout I watched with a hotel bar full of screaming Brits in London, good times), his days among the elite were over. 1-6-1, 1 NC in his last nine fights, with the most recent loss coming against Brian Rose last Friday, Harris thankfully called it quits after the bout. Though newer fans didn’t see it in recent years, in his prime “Vicious” Vivian was a rough matchup for anyone, and his punching power was a clear and present danger in every bout. He didn’t get to fight any of those big names at 140 for a reason, and while the Maussa loss was the most convenient excuse, I’ve got a feeling that no one really wanted to test their chins out against his right hand. That’s a badge of honor you can’t take to a bank and cash, but he should have earned everyone’s respect for it at least.