Walsh fight is test of Harrison’s reformed character

SHOULD the arm of Scott Harrison be raised in victory at the end of next Saturday night’s WBO European lightweight title fight against big-punching champion Liam Walsh at Wembley Arena, we will have witnessed the greatest comeback in Scottish boxing history.

And, if the much-troubled former two-times world featherweight champion from Cambuslang can go on to achieve his ambition of gaining a third world title, we will see one of the greatest comebacks in the history of any sport, anywhere.

And Harrison is confident. He said: “I am looking forward to the fight and have trained hard for it for a couple of months. I’m feeling good, I’m feeling strong, I don’t have any weight problems at lightweight.

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“I’ve been outside running on the roads. Nowadays you have these running machines but I prefer running on the roads and the hills and getting the fresh air into my lungs, plus doing a lot of sprint work. I’m up and running every morning at 6.30. I feel mentally and physically in good shape, I am living well. I feel bang on right now.

“This is a big opportunity for me on a big stage. My destiny has already been made and I believe I’m going to be a three-time world champion.”

Nevertheless, it is a tall order for Harrison because, at the age of 35 and having spent seven years out of the sport due to his much-publicised problems with drink and the criminal justice system, including jail terms in Scotland and Spain, he now has to face a very dangerous opponent in a classic youngster-versus-veteran clash. It is new boy against old timer, man on the way up against someone whose days as a boxer looked numbered due largely to his battles with alcohol. So, is this Harrison’s last chance? Not in his mind, but he realises victory over Walsh is necessary. He said: “It’s a massive fight for me. To come back after being out of the ring for seven years and still be in the mix is not easy. It is a big thing at the age of nearly 36 to fight for the European title and it is just good to be back again. It is not the last chance saloon for me, but this is the last chapter of my career, and it’s a chapter that could go on for a good few years yet.”

The bookmakers have Walsh as a firm favourite but, at his peak, Harrison was streets ahead of Walsh, whose record of 13 wins and no losses with ten stoppages does not feature anyone of the calibre of Harrison victims Juan Pablo Chacon, Manuel Medina or Wayne McCullough.

The 26-year-old from Cromer did beat Scotland’s Paul Appleby in an epic encounter in September 2011 but, since then, his most dangerous “opponent” was the car which he and his brother tangled with in their own vehicle last November, leading to spinal injuries that caused the postponement of his world title clash with Scotland’s Ricky Burns.

“Liam is European champion,” said Harrison, “but I have been here before and I’ve had ten world title fights. I have been sparring eight rounds a day, five days a week, and training very hard. It’s a big opportunity for me and I am going to take it.”

There is a different air about Harrison now. No one could survive years in a Spanish jail without changing as a person and he does seem to have mellowed outside the ring. At one point during the press conference, Harrison referred to the fight as “a stepping stone” to getting back into the mix for world titles. After Walsh countered with “I’m no stepping stone”, a respectful Harrison made it clear that he was in no way dismissing his opponent. Indeed he thanked Walsh, and promoter Frank Warren, for giving him the opportunity to fight for the European title. The old Harrison would not have given a damn for Walsh’s feelings.

Harrison’s comeback has already featured two victories over lower grade opponents in Gyorgy Mizsei Jnr of Hungary and Moroccan-born Joe Elfidh but, while inexperienced, Walsh is in a different class to those two and his big-punching reputation is deserved.

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For his part, Walsh is perfectly aware of the Scot’s calibre: “He’s the toughest opponent I have ever faced. I do respect Scott and the biggest advantage he will have is his experience. I respect where he has been and what he has done, and I’ve got to be very wary of it, but I am the man on the up, I’m young and fresh, so I am not afraid of his experience.”

A classic title fight is in prospect, and, should Harrison win, he would automatically shoot up the WBO lightweight rankings and be a serious contender for a shot at the world title held by none other than Ricky Burns.

Cambuslang’s comeback man versus Coatbridge’s finest for a true world belt? It would be the biggest fight in the history of Scottish boxing, and is a huge incentive for Harrison to win next Saturday.

• Walsh v Harrison is live and exclusive on BoxNation (Sky Ch. 437/Virgin Ch 546). Join at www.boxnation.com.