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Fraudley shows genuine class

Josh Williams January 26, 2012
Audley Harrison in 2000: when the future looked rosy © Getty Images
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With Audley Harrison having announced he will return to action against Ali Adams in April, we look back to the finest night of his turbulent career....

Audley Harrison traipsed the backstage area in tears after being annihilated inside three rounds by David Haye in November 2010. Harrison, in his first professional world-title contest, landed just one punch on Haye before leaving the ring in a cloud of shame, barracked by the crowd.

Harrison has subsequently become shorthand for a certain kind of misplaced arrogance in sport: the guy who growls a ferocious game before the action starts, then delivers with a whimper.

It wasn't supposed to be this way; just over 10 years previously, Harrison was being feted as the future of British boxing - the future of the heavyweight division, even - after claiming Olympic gold in Sydney. This time it was plaudits that came raining down from on high: "He's got it," said Evander Holyfield, then the WBA heavyweight king.

Ironically, Harrison probably over-achieved quite significantly in Sydney, having only managed to finish fifth at the World Championships in Houston the previous year. He was a gifted amateur - but never a prodigious talent, never earmarked as a phenomenon. Yet, having won three preliminary contests (two on points, one via stoppage), here he was in the final, starting slowly to size up opponent Mukhtarkan Dildabekov - as was his usual tactic - before taking control and racing to a commanding 30-16 triumph.

Harrison's triumph was made all the more impressive when he revealed afterwards that he had been hampered by injury. "My knuckle was the size of a golf ball, we'd been working on it all night, and I got up thinking it was 50-50," he said. "If the doctor was really going to be picky about it there was a good chance I wasn't going to get past his examination."

Audley Harrison in 2010: when reality took a bite © PA Photos
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He also nearly didn't make it to the final amid farcical scenes that offered a prescient glimpse into the embarrassment that would engulf his professional career, which reached a nadir when he lost to the Belfast taxi driver Martin Rogan in 2008.

According to a report in the Telegraph, Harrison was almost not permitted to box in the super-heavyweight final because he sported two-day stubble; a violation of rules stating all boxers should be clean shaven. The Brit, who should have been finalising preparations for the biggest evening of his life, was left scrambling around the building trying to locate someone who might have shaving foam or a razor about their person.

Harrison subsequently walked into the arms of the BBC, agreeing a two-year deal with the corporation in a move that seemed to pave the path to greatness. There he stood, unfettered by the cruelties of the pro game, with glory's sun on his back: "My ultimate aim is to be heavyweight champion of the world but first I've got to get a few wins under my belt and I'm looking forward to doing that live on the BBC."

Harrison dreamed; he talked plenty, too - but try as he might, he never again came close to that glorious night in Sydney.

What happened next?: Harrison never gathered any momentum in the pro game, and his record currently stands at 27-5. In truth he was lucky to find himself in a world title contest against Haye, and few were surprised when he was shown up at that level.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Josh Williams is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk