Say hello, wave goodbye

In many respects, boxing is the most basic – certainly the most visceral – of all sports. In no other sport is the ultimate objective so naked: to physically dominate your opponent, ideally beating them senseless. And in no other sport can a single defeat be so catastrophic. A football team can lose a match one week, but if they win handsomely the following week all is well again. But for a big-name boxer to lose a major bout is tantamount to disaster; it always damages their reputation, and can often stop a career dead in its tracks.

Conversely, a big win is everything. Emotionally, it is an affirmation of status or of great potential. Financially, it can be obscenely rewarding. And pragmatically, one (literally) lives to fight another day.

Boxing regularly shows us either side of the coin: triumph or disaster. On Saturday night we saw both, on the same card at Wembley.

The end of the line for Audley?

Audley Harrison exploded into the UK consciousness as an amateur, thanks to his gold medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

He quickly turned professional, proclaiming himself a future world champion. After 14 consecutive but largely unconvincing victories against opponents who were heavyweight in category but distinctly lightweight by reputation, he finally fought for and won the lightly regarded WBF title (effectively boxing’s equivalent of the Carling Cup).

Nominally, he had delivered on his promise. In practice, he had done little to shake the “Fraudley” tag attached to him by his critics, each successive bout cementing a reputation for talking a far better game than he produced in the ring. Meanwhile, Harrison continued to cite his undefeated record and remind everyone he was, factually, a world champion.

As the saying goes: the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Having successfully ducked the heavyweight division’s big names, Harrison finally agreed to fight British rival and Commonwealth champion Danny Williams – and promptly lost, effectively killing his prospects of a more lucrative title bout.

And on Saturday night, Harrison was knocked out inside three rounds by European champion Michael Sprott. It was his third defeat in five fights in 14 months, and surely the final curtain. In any other sport, a career record of 21 wins to three defeats would be considered exceptional; in boxing, it signifies more “chump” than “champ”. It seems that history will remember Audley Harrison as a man who was a good boxer, but never a great one – and after this weekend’s defeat, it seems this is exactly where his career now resides: history.

Amir marches on

Like Harrison, Amir Khan emerged into the public consciousness thanks to his exploits at the Olympics, winning a silver medal in the lightweight division in 2004, aged just 17.

On Saturday night he recorded his eleventh straight win as a pro – and seventh by knockout – beating Frenchman Mohammed Medjadi in just 55 seconds. He’s still only 20.

Whereas Harrison was the heavyweight with the lightweight reputation, Khan is very much the reverse. He is an exciting fighter, well liked by the media and public, and his career is very much on an upward trajectory. He is yet to compete for a world title, but this is a realistic prospect in the next 12 months if he continues his carefully-managed development.

What separates Khan from Harrison? Both emerged from the Olympics as promising amateurs. Both won their first 11 fights. And yet the young Bolton lad is cherished in a way which Harrison always aspired to, but never was.

There is a feeling that Amir Khan possesses that intangible X factor, a sprinkling of pixie dust which Harrison always lacked. Certainly he has consistently fought as good a game as he talks – a key difference to Harrison. Whether Khan will fully deliver on his potential remains to be seen, but it promises to be a thrilling tale.

The fact that the pair’s careers crossed and then passed in opposite directions on Saturday night – Khan’s rapid-fire win serving as a neat counterpoint to the demise of the plodding Harrison – is just one of those bonuses which sport delights in throwing up.

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