Audley Harrison – A Force in the Heavyweight Division?

19.06.04 – By Vincent van der Steen: Tonight Audley ‘A Force’ Harrison – 18-0 (12) – took another step in his quest for the world heavyweight championship by beating an unbeaten and unknown quantity in the Polish heavyweight champion Tomasz ‘the Bull’ Bonin – 26-1 (16) by a ninth round technical knockout. Harrison caught Bonin’s attention in the ninth after he threw a right jab-right cross combination. A visibly disgruntled Bonin was reeling and tried to cover up, while Harrison fired another right-left combination. As Bonin turned his back while he was moving away, the referee ended the fight.

Up to that point, the fight had been surprisingly close. By the ninth round I had Bonin up by one, with Audley making a strong effort to make it even in the ninth. And although the official scorecards had Harrison ahead by three once and by one twice, the stoppage was premature in my opinion. Bonin did not look badly hurt, cut or winded, though I doubt that it would have changed the – inevitable – outcome of the fight. Still, the fight was very close and quite entertaining, as the 6’6 Harrison got hit a lot more by the 6’1 Bonin then by his previous adversaries.

The Fight:

The opening round was uneventful as both fighters tried to feel each other out. Harrison looked very poised to leave an impression, as he put much more weight behind his left then we are usually used to seeing in the early stages of his fights – Harrison took that round. The second round was slowly paced with Harrison doing little while Bonin tried to apply more pressure. Because of Harrison’s lack of activity and Bonin’s repeated search for the left hook over the top, Audley lost that round.

The third showed us some of the poise and precision we have come to expect from this relatively old heavyweight prospect. Instead of looking and pawing his jab, the ‘A Force’ applied a lot more pressure by using his stiff and accurate right jab, intertwined with occasional lefts and flurries or single shots to the body. Harrison did manage to catch Bonin with a big wide left hook, Harrisson looked in firm control by the end of this round. The trend for the fight was set. Harrison would win a round by a superior display of the jab while looking to load up for the big shot, only to lose the following round by lack of activity.

This trend would be broken in the eight, as Bonin took this round and started connecting more and more. ‘The Bull’ made it a fight with Harrison occasionally showboating after being hit. Harrisson was never really in trouble though, but often took parts of the round off while looking for big shots. This was not very easy, as Bonin held his defence high according to Europe’s distinctive fighting tradition – never really opening up too much, while sticking to the principles of boxing 101. The ninth would however mar the end of the Polish champion, as Harrison came out with an increased intent to close the show.

A Force in the Heavyweight Division?

So what does this fight tell us about Harrison and his position in the heavyweight landscape? Not very much, as Bonin is a difficult benchmark – for most – to distil a conclusive judgement from. Yes, Bonin was a ‘strong and rugged’ fighter with good amateur credentials and an extensive and unbeaten professional record – but whom has he fought? Harrison was supposed to be his own meal ticket to the big time. His unbeaten record full of ‘unknowns’ is marginally impressive, but not very comparable on the European or World stage.

He did however come to win, and never stopped applying pressure. Harrison seemed to pace himself quite well, and never really looked winded at all. I know one twelve round decision and a ninth round technical knockout is rather inconclusive, as to the state of Harrison’s stamina, but it seems to be improving nonetheless. I was particularly impressed with the speed, accuracy and power of Harrison right jab, which seems to be a great asset as long as he applies it – one of the best in the division in my opinion.

His greatest assets are his size, reach and skill, his power seems to be a lot better then most of us had originally thought too. Harrison has been a very accurate puncher in the lower echelons of the division, and he can deliver them from a nice variety of angles. He fights well on the inside for a big man, but he also should have enough skill and power to keep the fight on the outside if he chooses to. He also has good upper body movement and does not look like he is very cut-prone or easily bruised.

On the downside, there are still a couple of question marks. Harrison has not been a very active fighter in his last two fights. At times, he seems to take time off during rounds, looking and taunting. Which is fine in the lower regions, but not very wise against the top tier. In my opinion, he does not use his reach and jab to his advantage nearly enough – like Lewis he should throw between 25-30 jabs a round at the very least. Harrison also does not look particularly imposing during clinches either, and he sometimes closes his eyes when he tries to maximise the leverage on a big punch. This could leave him open to strong counter shots. His chin seems to be solid for now, but it still remains to be seen how he will react when he faces a ‘real’ puncher or a ‘solid’ boxer-puncher.

The Yellow Brick Road and the Emerald City:

So where does 32 year old Harrison go from here? His detractors think he is moving to slow, but considering his age and style – especially at the start of his professional career – leave me with the impression that he might succeed in his goal if he paces his career well. He is improving, but is still a diamant in the rough as a professional – which seems contradictory to popular opinion when we consider the current crop of top 10 fighters. Harrison likes to keep control over his own destiny, which I think is great, because it sets a good example to fighters and promoters alike.

His contract with the BBC expired after this fight, which is why Harrison shooting for an October date with the current undefeated British heavyweight champion Matt Skelton – 14-0 (13), who is under contract of Frank Warren and Sky Sports. ‘The ball is in Frank Warren’s court’ according to the former Olympic gold medal winner. If a fight with Skelton fails to materialise Harrisson is contemplating a move ‘back’ to the United States as Harrison – who has a Bachelor degree – refuses to relinquish any rights to his future contests to Warren.

At age 32, time is pressing. But not to the extent that Harrison has to make rash decisions or bold moves. He should not take too much time either though. Harrison has entered the first crossing at the crossroads. In my opinion, he has two options if he wants to be ‘a force’ in the heavyweight division. He has to make a decision to either, do it the traditional way – British, European, and then the World – or go the ‘American way’ and stay there. If he keeps improving and more importantly, if he keeps winning, a top 10 ranking should be well in reach within his next six fights.

My personal preference is that he takes the yellow brick road that was paved and taken by Britain’s finest before him. In that respect, Skelton should be his last ‘minor’ test. He is predictive and slow, but powerful. If he beats Skelton, he should defend his title against Herbie ‘the Dancing Destroyer’ Hide –

35-4 (34) – in my opinion. Who does not have much of a chin, but a lot of skill, speed and power. A fight with Danny Williams – 31-3 (26) would also be a step in the right direction. Williams has some skill and power, and his chin is questionable. It is best to take care of domestic disputes first in my opinion.

Hide or Williams should provide a good test and a couple of rounds before Harrison tests the ‘deeper’ European waters. If both are unwilling or unavailable, ‘the Bull from Bosphorus’ Sinan Samil Sam, might be a suitable substitute too. The current European champion, Luan ‘the Lion’ Krasniqi – 26-1 (12), is not particularly a powerful fighter, but what he lacks in that department he makes up for with skill, speed and ring presence. Too much, too soon if the fight were to be scheduled as of now, but that should not be the case in two to four fights time. That is, if he truly wants to be ‘a force’ in the heavyweight division. The ‘American way’ would lead straight to the Emerald City and its ‘great wizard’ King. In that case, promises, lies and ‘another’ title would be a sure thing…

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Boxing News Audley Harrison – A Force in the Heavyweight Division?