18.06.04 – Gavin Macleod: The true greats in every sport are the select few, who in the face of their toughest challenge, can rise to the occasion and produce their finest performance. Michael Jordan could always find something special when playing in NBA Finals, Zinedine Zidane finds his best form when playing in soccer’s biggest games and Muhammad Ali dug deep into his bag of tricks to outfox George Foreman in Kinshasa Zaire all that time ago. .
To men like the aforementioned winning is everything, and they have that special talent that can see them come through situations that they are not expected to. This Saturday WBO featherweight champion Scott Harrison is hoping to prove that against William “The Conqueror” Abelyan, in the potentially toughest contest of his career, he can rise to the occasion and produce a performance to elevate him into the division’s upper echelons alongside men such as Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao.
Hometown hero Harrison will be making the second defence of his second reign as champion in front the adoring Scottish supporters at Glasgow’s Braehead Arena, who as always will provide the strident support that has become as much a feature of Harrison’s performance’s as his relentless pressure and supreme strength. But this is no ordinary fight for Harrison.
Having being delayed since last March, once due to Abelyan injuring a shoulder and once due to Harrison damaging ligaments in his right arm whilst doing pull-ups in the gym, this fight has had time to build up into what has now become a must see contest between two fighters that have spent the past three months having their respective digs at one another. Not only that but the representative’s from both camps, namely Harrison’s manager Frank Maloney and Abelyan’s manager Gary Shaw. have also engaged in a war of words that has helped build up the tension in the media on both side’s of the pond.
This is not usually a feature of Harrison’s make-up as he generally makes comments to the effect of his fists doing the talking but on this particular occasion it would seem that his opponent has genuinely got under his skin. Now you couple that with the assault charge that Harrison has just been cleared of and you have a champion with a score to settle with his opponent and also with a renewed focus and drive, having seen the threat of his title being revoked squashed by Sheriff Rae Small’s not guilty verdict clearing him of any wrong doing.
American based Armenian Ableyan will be no soft touch however, and has what many people believe to be the wrong style for the champion being a southpaw and a “mover”. He has a slate of 23-4-1 (12) that could be misleading as three of these defeats came in his first nine fights and one of them was a ten round points loss against the former IBF featherweight champion Hector Lizarraga which represents no shame at all. The fourth loss though does give cause for concern. Back in January of 2000 Abelyan faced up to the always tough and rugged Columbian Victor Polo, and was a step up for “The Conqueror” but nobody would have expected him to be blown away inside a round against an opponent who was never regarded as a big hitter.
Conversely, Abelyan’s form since that defeat has been something to take note of as he has rattled of thirteen successive victories against some well respected opponents. He outpointed the six time world title challenger Jesus Salud over ten rounds in 2002 and also stopped another hardened former world title challenger when stopping Orlando Soto in the tenth round, four months later.
Undoubtedly his biggest win came in what was his biggest fight against former WBC world champion Guty Espadas Jnr. Southpaw Abelyan came in at four days notice and dropped his opponent in the sixth and eighth round, which all went to bringing him a unanimous ten round decision. More impressive was that it was not long after Espadas had just lost a very close twelve rounder against the exceptional Mexican, Erik Morales.
Harrison has never admitted his distaste for southpaws but it is a common feature in all orthodox fighters to not enjoy fighting against the games “lefty’s”. However, the five tough rounds he got in against Abelyan’s March date replacement, Walter Estrada, will have aided the champion’s preparations considerably. The Columbian seemed to have come to fight and his power and shots from the southpaw stance gave Harrison problems early on, as at times Harrison seemed to be momentarily stunned by his opponents stinging shots through the middle.
Harrison, 21-2-1 (11) is a true warrior though and eventually got out of his slow start to crank up a few gears, using his strength to bully his opponent back and attack his body. This worked wonders as in round five Estrada seemed to have lost interest in a fight that had now swung firmly out of his favour. He did give the champion food for thought and gave him invaluable experience against a tough southpaw for five rounds and it will be experience that Team Harrison will be hoping to utilise for the impending contest with the Armenian.
Abelyan in essence has the ability to give Harrison problems and has shown against Espadas that he has a lot of ability and could well be on his way to making strides in this division. His quick hands and good jab will surely be used with an aim to stick and move on Harrison as standing toe-to-toe with the Scot could prove suicidal when thinking back to the Polo fight. Indeed I wouldn’t expect the fight to go very far should the challenger follow through with is claim of “going to war” with Harrison.
There are other negative sides to Abelyan. The Espadas victory however should not be the sole focus Abelyan’s achievements as it is not improbable that Espadas took the fight very lightly against the then unknown Armenian. Abelyan won a majority ten round decision against the tough Armando Cordoba but this is over-shadowed by latest Harrison victim Estrada, who knocked Cordoba cold in three rounds. Alarmingly in his second last outing, against Jose Luis Tula, Abelyan was in major trouble and taking some hard shots in the final round of a fight he won via a unanimous twelve round decision.
Harrison is a relentless come forward fighter, hence leading to Abelyan’s labelling him “a robot” but his sheer size and strength could see him be too much for Abelyan who is also hindered in this fight by a one year absence from the ring. While Abelyan’s speed and southpaw stance could be the key to unlock the Cambuslang mans title belt from around his waist, there are question marks around his punch resistance and stamina, both of which can not be doubted when talking about Harrison. After taking his usual residence in the Scottish mountains and rehabilitating his injured ligaments with some underwater therapy in the Hampden Sports complex Harrison should be in the best condition of his career as he now reaches his peak years.
The key to this fight will be Harrison’s ability to cut off his opponent, trap him in a corner or on the ropes and then unloading with his two handed, high volume punch combinations. I would expect to see Abelyan pick off Harrison for the first four rounds, but holding off Harrison is like using a sponge bat to fend off a wild bull and hence I believe Harrison will begin to catch up with his man before taking a firm grip on the contest and halting his man in or around the tenth round.
One thing is certain though, that for Harrison to get the unification mega fights that he has his sights set on, he needs to prove that like the greats in every sport, he is capable of producing his finest when the time comes.