BS: How did you go about getting back into boxing?
SH: How did I get back to the boxing? I got a plane! A plane and then a taxi for fuck's sake!
BS: No I meant, how did you go about getting back into boxing, professionally…
It’s fair to say Scott Harrison doesn’t like the press much. For a man who has spent the majority of his career as the subject of unrelenting tabloid speculation (some of it fair, some of it utterly ridiculous) he is an understandably defensive and often belligerent interviewee. But as Eric Cantona once famously mused "when the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think that sardines will be thrown into the sea." Scott Harrison has been throwing newsworthy disasters the way of the press for many years now and sadly this ongoing car crash shows no sign of relenting.
Since early 2005 the career of one of Scotland’s all-time greats has been beset by an awful miasma of court cases, suspended boxing licenses, bankruptcy, the aforementioned regular hysterical tabloid speculation and stints in prison in both Spain and the UK. Last month, after two successful contests into his latest comeback against (Gyorgy Mizsei Jr and Joe Elfidh respectively) and with talk of a big all-Scottish showdown with Ricky Burns on the horizon, an alleged incident in Malaga in 2007 returned to haunt him. Harrison was sensationally sentenced to five years in a Spanish jail and had a bout against John Simpson (originally scheduled for December 1st at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow) pulled at the last minute by his promoter and manager Alex Morrsion. Harrison has since challenged the Spanish court’s decision, claiming a case of mistaken identity. At the time of going to press he is still a licensed boxer (who was rumoured to have had a place on the undercard of the aborted Ricky Burns fight on December 15th) and a free man. However, should the outcome of this appeal, penciled in for early 2013, not go the Cambuslang fighters way then the curtain will surely finally fall on the unfulfilled career of the 35 year old former World Title holder.
So what went wrong then? Harrison isn’t entirely sure himself “It think it was round about the start of 2005. I don’t know…just…one fight was cancelled, then another, another fight cancelled and it just kind of…it was…I don’t know really what happened but…fights were getting cancelled, I was expecting bigger fights and they weren’t happening. So, I don’t know …I just went off the rails a bit. Making the weight was a total nightmare. Especially when I got to roundabout there (Flyweight) it became physically impossible to try and get to the weight. Up at Lightweight I feel good, I’ve got a lot more energy. You’re not killing yourself to make the weight. You’re enjoying the sport. Not like before when you know you’ve got a fight coming up and you’ve got to make the weight and you’re dreading it. Making the weight used to kill me. It took the enjoyment out of the sport. At the time you’re World Champion, you’re making a few quid then you say I fancy going down to nine stone because the wage is better. Either that or you fight in a non-title fight at nine stone four or nine stone six. So you find yourself going down to nine stone because the wages are a lot better and you’re making money because you’re a World Campion but you’re killing yourself trying to get to the weight.”
Despite struggling physically and mentally to maintain a career at Featherweight it is important to remember quite what a successful boxer Scott Harrison was at that weight prior to his unraveling in 2005. Turning professional in 1996 at the age of 19 he quickly remedied an early loss and worked his way to the British Featherweight title, the Commonwealth Featherweight title and the IBO Inter-Continental Featherweight title before getting a shot at the Interim WBO Featherweight title in 2002.
On a heady night at the Braehead Arena near Glasgow he stopped Puerto Rican Victor Santiago in the sixth to claim his inaugural world title before going on to take part in an astonishing ten further consecutive world title fights. Of those, nine were successful. By far the most title fights achieved by any Scottish boxer in history. During that furious period of championship bouts he put away several respectable featherweights of the time such as Michael Brodie, Samuel Kebede and the teak-tough Irishman Wayne McCulloch who Harrison comprehensively beat-up over 12 rounds in March 2003. However, it was perhaps the two fights against Manuel Medina, also in 2003, which defined Harrison as a ‘true’ champion of the Scots. In July of that year he lost in a messy split decision at the Braehead Arena before regaining his title back off the Mexican within four months with a brutal, redemptive stoppage again in front of his adoring home fans.
By 2005 Harrison had the world at his feet. A remorseless puncher with a water-tight guard, he also possessed the rare ability to find devastating angles, plucked seemingly from the ether and use them to thrillingly open up rivals at will. Once inside his opponents defence he would mercilessly unload an impressive cache of uppercuts, quick crosses and his true finishing weapon of choice, the left hook. Names like Manny Pacquiao, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manual Marquez were being bandied about and it seemed, at least from the outside, that everything was in place for Scott Harrison to go on and fulfill his destiny as the greatest boxer Scotland has ever produced.
What followed was a seven year, rolling cluster-bomb of violence, alcohol, constant rumours, financial ruin, stints in prison and the suspension of Harrisons only form sanctity, his boxing license. It was surreal decline for Harrison’s fans to witness. Aligning the relentlessly hard working, often dour spoken, boxing tactician with the newspaper headlines and court verdicts became an increasingly easier task as evidence and circumstance against him mounted. Talk of comebacks surfaced in 2007 and 2009 but they were quickly replaced with more conjecture of problems and further sentences and suspensions. It seemed Harrison was still determined to drag his career back into the mire he had created around himself.
Subsequently, much has been written about Scott Harrison since 2005 to try and make sense of this decline. In this time, many theories have been put forward to explain his dramatic shift from being at the top of his profession to finding himself bankrupt, unemployed and languishing in a foreign prison. One such theory was that of him suffering from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Harrison is robust in his denial of this “OCD? What’s that? No. I don’t know anything about that. I don’t even know what that is.” He has a similar response to allegations of depression but admits to struggles with alcohol “Alcohol yes. To be honest, I don’t really want to speak about drinking and all the rest of it... At the end of the day I’m a professional fighter and I don’t drink as much as what the people say. I have a drink now and again but any time I’m drinking again…that’s me on one…I’ve been drinking for days…or that I don’t stop drinking. It’s not like that. If I have a drink once then it’s seen as me being on the booze again. It’s my reputation. I have one drink or a couple of pints then I’m steaming or on the booze or out of control, blah, blah, blah…. I mean, if you drink like that there’s no way you can perform. You can’t train. If I drink the way the papers say I drink I couldn’t come to the gym today. I train three times a day so if they say I drink as much as that then I couldn’t run. At the end of the day, that’s the newspapers for you…”
He will admit though that there were tough times for him psychologically during his time in jail and his struggles to regain his license afterwards “At times I never thought I’d get the license back. Plus the fact that this how I earn money, I’m a professional fighter. If I don’t fight, I don’t earn money. You can imagine…you lose your job then watch all your assets…you’ve got to sell them because you’ve lost your job. That’s basically what happened.”
When asked if his time in jail did him any good or gave him some time to think there is obvious bitterness in his reply “No. Jail never does anybody any good. It doesn’t do you any good. It’s a waste of time. A pure waste of time”
Those rocky years in the wilderness may have taken their toll mentally but physically Harrison insists he remained in good shape throughout“I always stayed in the gym. I was in prison for about three years (in total) but I always kept myself training and kept myself fit. I enjoy training, I enjoy going to the gym, I enjoy running. I’ve been fighting since I was young. So I’m just used to fighting and training. In contrary to the stories in the papers I’ve always kept myself fit.” He maintained a steely focus on getting back into boxing, never once considering possible alternatives to the fight game “At the end of the day I’ve got to fight to earn money. That was the thing; get my license back so I can provide for my family. I’ve got three kids so if I don’t earn money I don’t provide for my family. Once I got the license back it was unbelievable because more than few times I thought I wasn’t going to get it back but happy days I’m back now. I’ve had two fights and I’m looking forward to the future.”
The increasingly unpredictable future he dreams of still centers around a match up with fellow countryman, and current WBO Lightweight Champion, Ricky Burns. It would seem at first glance that Burns has little to gain from a domestic title defence but the lure of a huge all-Scottish bout at the SECC may be too big for him to pass up, should Harrison overcome his latest mishap. As you would expect Harrison is keen “Hopefully we can get this Burns fight arranged in the near future because I think it will be a good fight for the country and it needs to happen. It’d be a good fight for the fans. It’s a fight that needs to happen. 100%. The fight needs to happen. I’m ready to fight whenever he wants to and it’d be a brilliant fight for the country.” Should it, against all odds, materialise it would be the biggest boxing fight on Scottish soil since Jim Watt and Ken Buchanan went the distance in Glasgow in 1973. However, given current circumstances, it looks sadly like an increasingly unlikely prospect.
Whatever the extent of the personal demons that Scott Harrison has faced, or is potentially still facing, will probably never come to light whilst there is still a possibility of resurrecting his boxing career. He is at times a complicated character. Sometimes aggressive, often non-committal in his answers and occasionally showing glimpses of a softer, more serene human being than his belligerent reputation would have you believe. For example, he speaks of his love of his children, of the strength he takes from his Catholic faith and his hopes to resume his unlikely hobby of painting with acrylics “I used to be a good painter but I just fell away from it” he laments. You get the feeling that since 2005 quite a few things have fallen away from Scott Harrison but he remains hungry “You have to remember I was World Champion before I left, with about 11 defences. The reason I stopped being World Champion was because I lost my license. I’ve been suspended, went to prison, then coming back I’m looking to regain my title. Before I left I was World Champion so I’m back into the gym and back to win a World Title. It’s something I believe is still mine.”
There is a famous quote from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche which reads “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you”. In this case Nietzsche was referring to the anti-Semitic attitude growing in Europe during the late 19th century but the quote could also be used to describe the recent history of troubled Scottish fighter Scott Harrison. Whether or not he gets a chance to regain that title and pull back from the abyss he has created beneath himself is anybody’s guess but as his manager Alex Morrison maintains, it is “business as usual for 2013”. It most certainly is.