London Evening Standard

There is not much that unites Audley Harrison and David Haye, except a common loathing. The pair’s verbal jousting before their WBA heavyweight world title fight has gone to such lengths that Haye has said it will be as “one-sided as a gang rape”.

But there is one thing the two men will share as they step into the MEN Arena on 13 November — both will have given up sex for several weeks in preparation for this fight.

However, even as he admits to this rare bond, 38-year-old Harrison is quick to emphasise that it is Haye who is copying him.

“That is probably something he learned from me as well,” says Harrison. “Because I have done that from way before I won gold at the Olympics.

Normally, I abstain for three weeks but, for David Haye and the world title, I am going to go for four weeks.”

But this cannot disguise the hurt Harrison feels, the hurt of a guru scorned by his one-time disciple.

“David Haye was not quite like a son to me but I was the boss and he was the student,” adds Harrison. “Winning the Olympic superheavyweight gold in Sydney in 2000 gave me that platform where everybody, including David Haye, looked up to me.”

But their friendship’ ended in December 2008 after Harrison lost to the Belfast taxi driver Martin Rogan in the first Prizefighter tournament and the upcoming pupil refused to help the teacher.

“I had nowhere to go so I reached out to David, who had got his own deal with Setanta, to put me on his show,” Harrison explains.

“Initially, he said he would and then he made up some reason why they couldn’t put me on. David didn’t even come back to me. Adam Booth, his manager, did. That is when the relationship changed.”

However, despite this, Harrison takes rather a lofty view of the verbal abuse Haye has directed at him.

“Ten years ago I would have been fighting on the streets with David about some of the stuff he has said. But I am 38 years of age and what David Haye [who is 29] doesn’t realise is that where David Haye is today, I’ve been, I’ve done it and got the T-shirt. When I won the Olympics I had the fame, I had the money and the credibility of the next big thing. I’ve been to every film premier there can be.

“I’ve been to every shop opening and I’ve met every celebrity that I can. I’ve got an MBE and I am happy. I’m not chasing anything but my goal, to be a world champion. That is my destiny.”

Destiny or delusion? That is certainly what Frank Warren, his former promoter, feels Harrison is suffering from. As I press this point, Harrison, suddenly losing his smile, says: “Are you working for Frank Warren? I am not going to answer that question.

“But, before Sydney, every journalist, bar maybe one, said I was delusional. Now they say I am delusional because I know I can win a world title. That’s my answer to Frank Warren.”

But is there not merit in Warren’s argument that Harrison should never have turned professional?

The £1million deal with the BBC, which saw boxing return to the network after 15 years, did not work out with Harrison matched against poor fighters. One contest against Mathew Ellis in Bethnal Green in 2003 led to a ringside riot with Herbie Hide.

Both Harrison and Hide were penalised by the British Boxing Board of Control. After 17 fights the BBC did not renew the deal and pulled out of televising boxing all together.

Harrison refuses to accept that the BBC overpaid him. “I was earning percentage-wise far less than Jonathan Ross and I was bringing in more television viewers,” he insists, and blames the BBC for not listening to his advice to keep Hide away from the ringside.

“The BBC said to me, We believe that you are going to be a world champion but you can no longer be a promoter on our network’. I promoted 17 shows on their network as a licensed promoter and then I am told that I cannot any more.”

Harrison has now left these shores and is living with his American wife Rachyel in the States where he claims to be enjoying life much more.

“In America I can be who I am, I can dream big and live big,” he claims. “England is 20 years behind America. Could you see a situation where we are going to have a black Prime Minister? Or an Asian Prime Minister?

“President Barack Obama got the job because of what Martin Luther King said 40 years before. It meant that people were judged on their character and not the colour of their skin. We are not like that yet in Britain. In England, we have been brainwashed to think we have to stay in our box and can’t upset the apple cart.

“I am not one of them guys. I have come from a broken home, got expelled from two schools, went to a young offenders’ institution and came out with nothing at 19. Then I started boxing, went to college, turned my life around, setting up my own company employing 22 people making good money. I should have been celebrated. I wasn’t. I was crucified. That is called institutional racism.”

But does Harrison not think he was crucified because he failed to box well enough? “No, listen,” he retorts. “Ring magazine, the bible of boxing, Lennox Lewis, George Foreman, Evander Holyfield, Sugar Ray Leonard, all these great fighters said I am the future of the heavyweight division.

“Are they all delusional? As soon as I got in with Frank Warren I am the next world champion. But when I am not with him, all of a sudden, I am a powder-puff puncher.”

Indeed, such is his contempt for Warren that he now sees his defeat by Michael Sprott in 2007 for the European Union title as a liberation.

“In my heart of hearts, I’m happy that I got knocked out by Sprott,” he insists. “It got me out of the contract I had with Warren. Even when I signed with Frank Warren, I had promised myself no matter how this works out, I am never winning the world title for this guy. Never. I was going to have to find another door.”

However, even if America has provided that other door, Harrison accepts that the decline of boxing across the Atlantic, especially since the retirement of Britain’s Lennox Lewis, has meant that the heavyweight division lacks glamour.

“The two Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Vladimir, are definitely the best that we have but they don’t appeal to the British or the Americans, only to the Eastern Bloc and Germany.

“Unfortunately we don’t have a dominant champion.

The problem in America is that all the big guys play basketball and NFL, boxing is too hard for them. Until America puts some proper money into the amateur code we will not develop an infrastructure for boxers.”

But such is Harrison’s belief in himself, he sees his victory against Haye on 13 November as changing things.

“Already in Dubai, in Brazil and in Miami they are talking about Audley Harrison,” he adds. “They all know who I am because I was an Olympic gold medallist.

“Obviously David Haye is big news now because beating Nikolai Valuev was a great promotion. The

difference between me and David Haye is I am known around the world. I might be known as a guy who hasn’t achieved his goal but I am known. I can’t call myself the greatest but I can say this is the greatest comeback story in British sport, bar none.”

A comeback, says Harrison, that will be driven not by power alone.

“I will beat David Haye with my mind, my brain and my body. I’ve always said boxing has a sweet side.

“It is not just about fighting, we can do that in the street. I am a boxer who can punch. I’m not just a slugger. I have had teachers who have taught me the square ring. I know it like the back of my hand now. David Haye doesn’t know that square ring.

“Haye is a big, fast puncher, who is always in great shape and he obviously has got a lot of talent. But David is not going to be able to hit me and not take punches himself.

“He is going to get something back and that is going to be the difference. Through my career, amateur and professional, I have been knocked out one time by Michael Sprott.

“It was such a beautiful shot that it would have knocked down a tree. Danny Williams knocked me down in the other fight and I got up. So I am prepared to go down in this fight if I have to. I believe that I can take David’s punches. The question is: can David take mine?”

It is this firmly-held belief that he can roll with the best of punches and still emerge intact that has sustained Harrison through his life.

“At the age of nine, I told my father I would be a famous sportsman. At 19 I had a street fight with a guy called George in a west end club.

“The police came. We all had to run away. People came up to me and said, Are you a boxer?’ I said, I never boxed before in my life.’ They said, Oh my God, you looked like you were a boxer.’ I was like a kid in a candy store. I said, This is my God-given talent’.

“George ended up being murdered. I could have gone that way. But I gave up smoking, got focused on my life and I knew I was going to make it.”

There is no doubting Harrison’s faith in himself but he will have to demonstrate greater skill than he has shown so far in the ring if this talk is to turn into reality.


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