A sport without shame gets the man it deserves in cynical Audley
21:17 GMT, 27 October 2012
23:50 GMT, 27 October 2012
It is a spring evening in May 2001 and
Wembley Arena is packed for the main event. In the red corner, Mike
‘The Jinx’ Middleton from Tampa, Florida. A 33-year-old private
detective, he has lost half of his 18 contests. He stands 6ft 1in,
weighs 15st 7lb and is earning about 3,500 for his night’s work.
In the blue corner, five inches taller
and three stones heavier, Audley Harrison, Olympic champion, national
hero. He is making his professional debut and has signed a long-term,
1million contract with BBC Television.
It is a predictably brief and farcical
encounter. Just two minutes and 45 seconds pass before the referee
waves merciful arms above the stricken Middleton.
The beginning of the end: Mike Middleton and Audley Harrison before their farcical bout
Later, ‘The Jinx’ is asked if he is
disappointed. He laughs, long and loudly. Disappointed! Not a bit. He
knows the score. He has given the punters what they want. Submission was
his highest ambition. Meanwhile, Audley, in a moment of modest
introspection, observes that it might easily take him all of five years
to become world heavyweight champion.
I remember thinking that the end was
nigh. Woefully devoid of talent and authenticity, professional boxing
had downgraded its status from sad joke to protracted pantomime. It was
time to draw the curtains. And yet the joke has endured for a decade
and more, despite the overwhelming evidence of absurdity.
The cast is preposterous. David Haye
and Dereck Chisora, a prize pair of hapless hams, prove that a bar-room
brawl is the perfect promoter. Ricky Hatton, battered by Floyd
Mayweather and laid flat as water by Manny Pacquiao, attempts a comeback
after three years of spectacular self-indulgence and the tickets go
flying from the box office. ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, once a magnificent
cricketer, sheds a few pounds, poses as a heavyweight fighter for a
television stunt and requests a boxing licence. He is famous, you see,
and must therefore be taken seriously.
Bloodied and bowed: Harrison's cut nose is nursed during the one-sided defeat to David Price
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Meanwhile, our Audley remains perhaps
the most shameless figure in a sport without shame. For years, he has
performed with the nervous air of a tightrope walker afraid of heights.
He clearly hates the game, fears the punishment, dreads the humiliation …
but worships the purses.
Now 41, and having recently been
flattened in 82 seconds by David Price, he has taken stock. On the one
hand, he sees the world ratings which place him at 81st among the
heavyweights; just below a Christian Hammer of Hamburg and just above
one Bowie Tupou of Los Angeles. On the other, he recognises that there
is still money to be made.
And so, he issues an official
statement. ‘I’ve decided to carry on. One more shot at glory … A
decision has come from above. He told me, “Son, lace up your gloves.
Your time as a boxer is not quite done”.’
The mocking laughter comes in waves. What is this talk of glory Who could believe the deity is such a terrible judge of boxing Yet Audley ignores the derision. He knows memories are short and hilarity will quickly die. For cheap threats and banal banter still shift tickets; fewer than before but sufficient to keep the wolf from the door. And isn’t that what the game is all about; schmoozing the public, selling notoriety, pushing empty promises while remaining brutally realistic
Outgunned: Harrison reflects on the sixth defeat of his professional career
Mike ‘The Jinx’ Middleton understood that simple truth. Aware of his pugilistic limitations, he became a sparring partner. He sparred with some of the biggest and best and his philosophical insights are instructive.
He said of his patrons: ‘If you give them too much, they’ll send you home. And if you’re too easy to beat up, they’ll send you home. You’re there for the guy who is paying you. Marvin Hagler used to say about sparring partners: “You bring ’em in on a jet and if they’re no good, you send ’em home on a bus”.’
Some of that clear-eyed realism rubbed off on Audley Harrison, who knows just how the cynical caper works. Well enough to keep the show on the road for a while longer. I gave the game a decade to live but I was wrong.
For the actors are still reciting their lines and the gullible are still lapping them up. We live in a credulous age, where talent is redundant and authenticity is an optional extra. At this rate, professional boxing might easily survive another five years.
Stats too much to digest
Question: what do you do when you don’t really like sport but wish to convey an air of blokeish authority Answer: you produce a statistic.
Stats are what they serve up in gastro pubs and Premier League hospitality boxes. Always they are preceded by the crushing query: ‘Did you know’
Each weekend yields a new and gloriously useless crop — the most ‘assists’, the greatest number of ‘flick-ons’ — and Saturday morning’s gem was up there with the best.
Mental block: The number crunchers love how Albion's defence adds up
Did you know that West Bromwich have blocked more of their opponents’ shots than any other Premier League side this season A total of 44. Just in front of Sunderland and QPR.
How amazing is that Yes, I’ll have another sandwich, please. Prawn, for preference.
Olympics prove sceptics wrong
While the nation celebrated the extraordinary success of London’s Olympics, the sceptics stood scowling on the sidelines.
A joyless bunch, they had forecast doom, gloom and ultimate despair. The Games, they told us, were too flippant, too frivolous, a vulgar distraction from the sombre tone of the times.
As the days passed and the elation increased, their numbers grew significantly smaller.
Yet there remained an irreconcilable core of flat-earthers; too arrogant to change, too miserable to recognise joyful reality. And they wagged their fingers and addressed us with condescending disapproval.
Magical: The Olympics was a shot in the arm to Britain
No matter that the capital’s image was being transformed, that the world was looking at Britain in a different light, that the nation was revealing qualities of imagination and organisation we had quite forgotten we possessed: the fact was, we simply couldn’t afford to stage sport’s greatest festival. It was an outrageous extravagance. And anybody who believed differently was either a knave or a fool.
Last week, as you may have noticed, Britain came out of recession after recording one per cent growth in the three months to September. A fragile recovery, perhaps, but the strongest growth figure of the past five years.
And, while it is impossible to be wholly accurate, a substantial proportion of this growth was attributed to Olympic ticket sales.
As vulgar distractions go, I would say that London 2012 served this country rather well.
Andrew Strauss has been reflecting on his last, emotional, act as England captain. He sat down and composed a stream of hand-written letters of appreciation to the players who had served under him.
Did Kevin Pietersen feature on his list, he was asked
‘Um … I didn’t write to KP, actually,’ he said. He added: ‘I texted him.’
By common consent, Strauss is a loyal, decent, honourable man. Who has a wonderfully wicked way with a stiletto.