The 'new' Harrison is still talking a good fight as Price showdown looms large
19:30 GMT, 11 October 2012
19:30 GMT, 11 October 2012
Why does he do it to himself After nearly an hour of brutal self-assessment, with tangents covering the ‘cosmic universe’, womanising and his ‘spiritual awakening’, Audley Harrison comes up with an answer.
‘I grew up in north London and when I was a kid I used to go to this place, Stonebridge Adventure Playground,’ he says. ‘The elders used to beat us up, punch us in the leg 10 times because we used to mouth off at them.
‘I used to be the one who got back up and mouthed off again. They would come back, flatten me, punch me in the same place in my leg. My God, I couldn’t walk. But I would still give it the big ’un. Other people would say, “I’m sorry, please stop”. Not me. That’s how I am. Nothing stops me.’
Not ridicule, not shame. Nor, if you believe his latest claims, David Price, the 29-year-old Liverpool boxer of huge stature and promise whose British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles Harrison thinks he can win. In Price’s home city and at the age of 40, no less.
Out with the old Audley: Harrison in training for his fight with David Price
Of course, we’ve been here before. Almost two years have passed since Harrison stepped into a ring with David Haye after months of hype. He had spoken about his destiny to win a world title, about redemption, about future nominations for Sports Personality of the Year.
He landed one punch.
Today, he talks about ‘shocking the world’, that ‘redemption awaits’. It’s all been said so many times before in a career that has yielded five defeats against some mediocre opponents.
Same old likeable Audley but, then again, as he repeats so often in this conversation, this isn’t the same old Audley. This is the Audley of 2012 and to understand the Audley of 2012 he says you have to revisit the Audley of 2004.
‘I was a monster,’ he says. ‘I had been a playboy, didn’t care whose heart I broke. I was ruthlessly selfish. I realised in the amateurs, in 1996 against Danny Watts, that I had to become a robot. I froze that night so afterwards I stripped away all my emotions. I became a machine and it worked. But then that stuff in 2004 came and destroyed me.’
Get in the ring: Harrison will face David Price in Liverpool
He is talking about the BBC’s decision not to renew his 1million contract. Harrison had blazed a trail as a fighter promoting himself and the Beeb did not like the arrangement. Harrison, at a time when he was still unbeaten and considered a genuine world title contender, would not back down.
‘I was such a control freak,’ he says. ‘Then the universe sent me a signal. I lost everything. Losing that deal hurt so much.’
He relocated to Los Angeles. ‘I was broken and needed to escape,’ he says. ‘It was the best thing I did. I had a spiritual awakening. I started becoming a human, thinking about others. Boxing went on the backburner. It has been a journey that helped me meet my wife and let us have our daughter.
‘But it was not an easy journey because, trust me, it is not easy for a fighter to just change like that.’
He refers to the night he choked against Danny Williams in his first defeat in 2005: ‘When I was a robot I was so arrogant I thought I could pull it out even if I hadn’t prepared right. That night all these new emotions got to me and I froze.’
Head-to-head: Price (right) will defend his British and Commonwealth titles against Harrison
Then came the decline leading up to the Haye debacle. ‘Like I said, it’s all part of a journey,’ Harrison says. ‘How could I become the champion of the world when I wasn’t champion of myself’
Now, after eight years, he says he has that control and believes he can be a ‘top boxer and a top person’.
‘People will think what they want to think, but I am a spiritual person and this all makes sense. I believe there is a reason that in an Olympic year I have been given my motivation back, my drive for boxing. I know there will be a bright sky for me after I fight David Price because I have prepared right. I believe that everything happens for a reason and so I can live with what the media say about me when I have not walked the walk after talking the talk.’
He goes back to the Haye fight. ‘Maybe that was the universe giving my own medicine,’ he says.
‘I was expelled from two schools. The first, Northwood, didn’t have many black people so I became chief bully in my year because that was the only way I knew to deal with it. There will have been a lot of people cheering when they saw me running around the ring scared of David Haye.’
Sorry showing: Harrison is floored by David Haye after three abysmal rounds
Those same people might well be cheering a similar sight and others will continue to mock the achievements of an Olympic champion and former European title winner. By his own harsh judgment, Harrison has ‘so far failed as a boxer because the aim is to win a world title’.
But he’s still here taking dead legs for mouthing off.