Squeezing positives from Scott Harrison’s WBO featherweight title defence last Friday is not a popular occupation, but that’s boxing fans for you, always looking for the anti-establishment view, embracing the negative, neglecting the positive.
There is little argument that the granite tough Glaswegian struggled from the outset with Columbian Victor Polo’s movement and guile, often appearing clumsy and inflexible. However, the drawn result reached by the judges was far from the travesty reported. Check out Johnny Nelson vs. Guillermo Jones or Colin Dunne vs. Martin Jacobs for the true horror of a British ‘hometown’ decision.
Stylistically, the fight was a nightmare for Harrison, a fighter who trades on aggression, strength and weight of punch, but repeatedly failed to get within range and connect with anything more than isolated power shots.
The fight has already been well-chronicled and the supposed controversy surrounding the decision has been well-documented, but the consensus of opinion canvassed suggests that although Polo deserved the nod, the fight was very close.
Just how does a ‘close’ fight, perhaps separated by two rounds, earn the unhappy tag of controversial or, even worse, a fix? Isn’t that conclusion disproportionate to the actual event?
Often a fight unfolds differently than expected, and too often viewers fail to see past this to the actual performance of the fighters, preferring to comment on the difference, in this instance, between Harrison’s supposed capabilities and those he delivered that night. Too many were too quick to gloat at his perceived failure.
The truth is Harrison was the aggressor and landed almost punch for punch according to punch stats – which, whilst notoriously misleading as a definitive gauge, do offer a degree of context to the more extreme opinion that Polo won by a handsome margin.
However, what the fight did highlight was Scott’s true horizons. Those horizons may still plausibly include the famous four of the featherweight division - Barrera, Marquez, Pacquiao and Morales - but it is highly unlikely any of those proposed match-ups will provide a W for his resume.
Only the less lucrative clashes with British rival Michael Brodie or the teak-tough Korean, Injin Chi look like winnable fights, although the odds on a victory for Harrison over even these two lesser combatants probably lengthened following Friday’s performance.
Amongst the debris of Friday night, the card did not prove a sellout either. Manager Frank Maloney will need a strong sales pitch to manoeuvre the 27-year-old into super-fight waters. Optimistically, Harrison’s difficulty with Polo could encourage one of his revered rivals to tackle him in a ‘marking-time’ type face-off.
Harrison’s lack of lateral movement and tactical flexibility were illuminated by the veteran Columbian. Any fight with a practitioner as well-schooled and dogged as Marco Antonio Barrera or Juan Manuel Marquez will expose and magnify those flaws tenfold.
It is unlikely many will listen if Harrison claims his problems were due to weight making issues or illness, as he did when losing the title to an equally fossilised version of Manuel Medina in 2003. Though clearly weighing in at 126-pounds is a minor physiological miracle given the light welterweight who climbed through the ropes on fight night.
To his credit, Harrison insisted he will offer the unfortunate Polo a rematch, but for Polo, who has now been on the sticky end of a series of split decisions in title shots, a return to Scotland won’t be accepted gleefully.
The draw arguably flattered Harrison, but he remains the titleholder and firmly placed in the division’s top-10. Indeed, his status will alter little until he loses; until then, he remains as in the frame as ever.
One point worth making is the Harrison vs. Polo contest probably represented Sports Network’s most competitive contest for one of its leading lights for some time. The fact that Harrison’s status has suffered as a result is testimony to the fickle and contradictory whims of the British boxing fraternity - the same fraternity that pressure and cajole the promoters to make meaningful fights, yet sneer and chastise when the home fighter fails to win convincingly. Why is that?
As fans we learnt more about Harrison on Friday than we did from any Kedebe type mismatch, and we should applaud Harrison’s willingness to test himself, ill-fated though it almost proved.
After all, it would have been easier to find another Kedebe in the WBO top-15.