It was during the boxing super heavyweight finals at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney that the nation stayed up until the early hours of the morning to watch Audley Harrison punch his way to a remarkable gold medal victory, becoming the first British heavyweight in 32 years to top the boxing podium.
Growing up on the Stonebridge Estate in Harlesden, a tough inner-city neighbourhood in north-west London, Harrison—although always good natured and a free spirit—spent part of his teens years hanging out with troublemakers, who spent the day committing petty crimes and misdemeanours. It wasn’t until he landed in the Feltham Young Offenders Institute that Harrison decided to make what would become the first of many brilliant decisions for his life’s future.
Just over ten years later he is an Olympic and Commonwealth gold medallist, a college graduate with a Bachelor of Science (Hons), a Member of the Order of the British Empire, a champion for the rights of amateur boxers and a generous donator to charity. Audley Harrison turned his life around quite impressively and he owes a great deal of it to boxing.
Although Harrison started his amateur career later than most—he was 19 in 1991 when his older brother Rodney, a club boxer, introduced him to the ring—he was a quick learner with natural raw talent from the start. He found the best boxing facilities and amateur coaches England had to offer, joined the Northolt boxing gym and started his career. After two years of club shows and his reputation as a tough competitor growing, Harrison found it harder to find fights among club-level amateurs. Having no other choice, he joined the Amateur Boxing Association Circuit (ABA), an unusual move for a fighter with only six amateur bouts. He was thrust in to competition with some of England’s top amateur fighters. He blossomed as a fighter in the 1995 season and won his first national title in 1997. He was again victorious at the 1998 Commonwealth Games before his history making Olympic feat. He achieved top-level success and became a learned student of the sweet science.
It was during these years that Harrison also pursued an academic degree. After gaining college credit at the College of North East London, he was accepted in to Brunel University in Isleworth, Middlesex in 1994 earning a degree in Sports Studies and Leisure Management. Part of his requirements was a ten thousand-word thesis which he wrote on ‘A Sociological Perspective on the Justification of Amateur Boxing.’
Upon returning with the gold medal that instantly put him in an elite group of other great heavyweight Olympic champions like Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, and Lennox Lewis, Harrison returned to London and became a household name. After receiving MBE honours from the Queen, Harrison turned professional on May 19, 2001 with a first round demolition of Florida brawler Mike Middleton.
His boxing education has been meticulous; each opponent has brought something new to the table. Harrison has dealt with technical boxers, aggressive sluggers, hungry prospects, wily veterans, powerful giants and speedy smaller men. Also, each fight has given Harrison a different experience. Derek McCafferty gave Harrison his first win via a decision, Mark Krence offered the first unbeaten record that Harrison had faced and Rob Calloway brought a wealth of experience to the ring. Shawn Robinson gave Harrison his US debut, Richel Hersisia gave him his first taste of championship boxing when Harrison destroyed the WBF Champion inside four rounds and cagey veteran Julius Francis provided him with his first 12 round fight.
Despite always planning to move to America, the politics of boxing in Britain forced Harrison to move away earlier than expected. The opportunities in America as well as the US television exposure are far greater than in Britain. The start of 2005 saw Harrison move to Las Vegas and embark on the next stage of his career.