Photo: Dave Shopland
Lennox Lewis strode, languidly down the aisle,. The glow of certainty and phosphorous bulbs surrounding him. Assurance screamed silently from his tall, imposing frame. That famous stillness, the type which led him to sleep in the dressing room before a big fight, serving to multiply the latent power beneath.
Lewis the lion, on a high rock stealing shade behind dark glasses and verifying the significance of proceedings merely by being present.
The room paused in his presence and then became ever more warm and frothy with anticipation as the clock ticked toward the main event. A cocktail of boxing’s regulars, thick ears and bulbous frowns, dolly birds and bent noses and the night out crowd, the tanked up actress, the radio jock, the twitchy snooker rebel, swallowed among the anonymous London faces drawn to the feast.
Marvellous Marvin, softened by time but recognisable still, smiled, shook an outstretched hand or two while keeping pace with the flanking television runners. The ring, barely acknowledged bar by those with a betting slip or pencil and notebook in hand, stretched and whinnied to the ebb and flow of action.
The night wasn’t about the crowd-pleasing light-middle, or the talented light-heavy making his debut or even the sculptured former champion. For them, few cared, only a few more arrived in time to try.
All that mattered was the southpaw giant and the return of terrestrial television to professional boxing following a decade of detachment. In the custody of satellite broadcasting, prizefighting had slipped from the national consciousness and into the margins. Tonight, it would be born-again. It would be the first step on the presumed path of ascension to Lewis’ crown for the Sydney Olympian and the restoration of the sport as a national interest.
Music played; the sacrificial gumshoe strode to the ring. His humble, sleeveless sweater belied sharper opportunists around him who ensured a fat pay-day on his behalf moments before the ring walk. A pause ensued before the lilting but enflamed Irish commentary of Jim Neilly filled the arena, a raucous replay of the moments when the gold was secured.. Giving way to Missy Elliott who assaulted the senses, the floor vibrated and the five thousand in attendance grinned, pulses quickened, blood rose.
Audley had entered the building. May 19th 2001.
It would be 14 years before he left.
He departed frustrated, forlorn, misunderstood and maybe, just maybe, an unfulfilled talent.
Irrespective of the summary of the intervening career, and much of it is damning it has to be said, that night, like the one in Sydney that earned the nation’s gaze, was important.
And I was there.