Lennox Lewis strode down the aisle, the glow of certainty and phosphorous bulbs around him. The manifest presence of the world’s heavyweight champion entered the atmosphere. Assurance screamed silently from his frame. Natural stillness served to amplify the power beneath. His height and languid gait serving notice that his kingdom remained entirely visible despite the black shields hiding his gaze. His patronage immediately verified all before him.
A lion, on a high, shaded rock.
The room paused in his presence and then became ever more warm and frothy with anticipation. 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 and his minder among many of the 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 registering interest but for the vested partisans or those with a pencil and notebook, 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, boxing had slipped from the national consciousness and into the margins. Boxing 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.
May the 19th 2001 mattered.
Music played; the sacrificial detective 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 roused the crowd still further. 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.
Almost 14 years later. He left. He departs frustrated, forlorn, misunderstood and maybe, just maybe, an unfulfilled talent.
Irrespective of the ultimate summary of the intervening career, that night, like the one in Sydney that earned the nation’s gaze, was still important.