I will always remember the first interview of substance conducted with Ricky Hatton and his father, Ray, at the beginning of their bitter divorce from promoter Frank Warren. Expressing their frustration at the stagnation that preceded Hatton’s seminal contest with Kostya Tszyu, Ray Hatton opined “Every fight from now on will be a big one, because you never know when a fight may be your last”, well words to that effect anyway.
On the brink of his multi-million pound challenge to boxing’s special one, Floyd Mayweather and the ugly Urango, Collazo and Maussa fights consigned to history, few would argue Hatton hasn’t benefited from greater urgency and control in his career. Though Frank Warren would doubtless contend Hatton was offered all the fights he’s now pursuing and securing whilst under his direction. A preciously small group of people know the truth or nature of those offers and hindsight is always a simpler more exact viewpoint.
Two fighters staring down the barrel of retirement following injuries sustained away from the ring now have time to reflect on the haunting reality contained in Ray Hatton’s words. British compatriots, Wayne Alexander and Audley Harrison, both face long spells on the sidelines in the Autumn of their respective careers, with their potential, at best, only partially fulfilled. True Alexander was once European champion, a notable achievement for any professional fighter and he challenged a very capable Daniel Santos at short-notice for the WBO Light-Middleweight belt too. But if his recent injury, he broke an ankle while out running, steals the last remnants of his prime he will leave the game as an unresolved mystery.
A leading talent with world class power among the famous 2001 crop of British 11 stoners, Alexander, like his contemporaries Steve Roberts (WBF), Takaloo (WBU), Gary Lockett, Anthony Farnell, Richard Williams (IBO), Michael Jones (Commonwealth) and Paul Samuels, was pursuing a route entirely independent of his rivals. The fact so few of the potential round robin contests were ever made represents a shameful misuse of the plethora of sanctioning belts en vogue at the time. Trinkets designed to fraudulently present fighters as world champions were all gleefully embraced by promoters, and even more frustratingly, the sole television network interested in boxing at the time; SKY.
None of the fighters listed benefited. Not now balanced perspective is possible, the dust having essentially settled on all but Gary Lockett’s career. True, Roberts had an incident free tenure as WBF champion repelling mediocre opponents for solid money but like Alexander his true horizons were never really explored. Though Ron Weaver certainly brought his supposed world-class credentials in to sharper focus when bouncing the West Ham man off the canvas twice in their 2001 encounter.
Pitching two of the much-covered group together, as Frank Warren did when Takaloo stretched Anthony Farnell in front of a partisan crowd in Manchester, would have generated just they type of buzz boxing yearned for. The contest, thrilling and pulsating, ended Farnell’s aspirations of a genuinely top-line career and served, in reality, to further discourage moves to risk the easy money available defending the low rent IBO, WBF, WBU belts.
Not one of those talented men made the step up successfully. Although the reality none of the group were ever actually good enough to breach the gap to true world-class scene is entirely possible, the competition and interest generated fighting each other would have been far more lucrative and honed their craft more effectively than marking time facing imported opponents proved to.
Harrison meanwhile, is arguably the most discussed and debated British fighter since Naseem Hamed. Collecting column inches by the yard, Harrison has become one of the most renown fighters in world boxing despite achieving no professional success beyond the entirely cosmetic WBF belt accrued in his clash with the Dutch Sonny Liston, Richel Hersisia. Hersisia did possess a passably menacing stare and a well polished unbeaten record but his likeness to Sonny Liston was at its least tangible when he stepped between the ropes.
Since his 2001 debut against the part-time detective Mike Middleton, Harrison’s professional reputation has lurched like a holed tanker from one crisis to another. His late start, aged 29, ensured even greater pressure on his progress and when finally faced with a capable opponent, Danny Williams, his repute and self-confidence evaporated.
Nevertheless his place in British boxing folklore is secured, regardless of the meaning he can or cannot squeeze from the remainder of his professional career. Olympic gold medals, like the one Harrison secured in 2000 are, as Frank Bruno once commented, “not collected in sweetshops”. Despite the glow of that return it remains wholly disproportionate to the bluster and talent he demonstrated at different times of his career. Now age 36, with three failed examinations at anything resembling world class, his latest injury – sustained in a car crash – has inserted another 6 month sabbatical in to his already truncated career.
I suspect it will prove to be the lid on the dustbin to which most of his professional life has already been consigned. Though he remains utterly defiant despite his latest setback, I admire his persistence in the face of the overwhelming evidence being compiled, if little else.
The fortunes of the two 30 somethings prove cliches, like the one espoused by Hatton senior a year or two ago, are rooted in cold, hard reality.