With George Kambosos vs Devin Haney looming this weekend, IBHOF inductee Graham Houston recalls Dennis Andries’ thrilling win over Jeff Harding Down Under, the second instalment of their epic trilogy.
When George Kambosos Jr comes out of his corner for the first round against Devin Haney in this weekend’s lightweight title fight he will have something like 50,000 fans at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne roaring encouragement and doing their best to will him to victory.
Kambosos is the slight underdog, but the site could be a huge factor, similar to when Jeff Horn rallied from the brink of defeat to win a debatable decision over Manny Pacquiao at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium five years ago.
US visitor Haney might well point out that when battle commencesit will be just him and Kambosos (and the referee of course) in the ring. However, Haney will likely have to face a barrage of boos when he is introduced. The atmosphere will be like nothing Haney has faced before. How Haney handles the prevailing mood on fight night will be one of the determining factors in the contest’s outcome.
The good news for Haney is that visiting fighters have come out on top before in world title bouts Down Under. I’m thinking of Dennis Andries, Azumah Nelson and Mikkel Kessler. While Kessler was firmly favoured to beat Anthony Mundine, both Andries and Nelson came in as underdogs, against Jeff Harding and Jeff Fenech respectively.
Kessler comfortably outpointed Mundine, while Nelson, a 5/1 underdog in the betting according to Las Vegas oddsmaker Herb Lambeck, stopped Fenech in the eighthround after looking fortunate to get a draw against the Aussie favourite in Las Vegas nine months earlier.
And then there was Andries’ seventh-round knockout win over Harding. Although not a huge upset in terms of the odds, it was considered an unlikely result in view of Andries’ age along with the fight’s location. And it is Andries vs Harding that we’ll discuss here.
Londoner (but Guyana born) Andries was seeking to regain the light-heavy title that Harding had taken from him with a last-round TKO in Atlantic City 11 months earlier. The rematch took place at Rod Laver Arena (then known as the National Tennis Centre) in Melbourne, onJuly 28, 1990. Oddsmaker Herb Lambeck established Harding as a 1/2 (-200) favourite.
In the first meeting, Andries was winning on all three judges’ cards after 11 rounds but the younger, fresher Harding kept coming at him, and in the last round it was as if exhaustion overtook the ageing champion.
“Andries, after a thrilling and brutal battle with Aussie Jeff Harding, only had to stand up to keep hold of the WBC light-heavyweight crown he regained four months ago,” Colin Hart reported from ringside for The Sun.
“But in a dramatic 12th and final round, Andries found his legs unexpectedly crumbling beneath him. Andries has always kept his age a close secret and though the record books say he is 35, it is believed he is much nearer 40.”
So, on home ground in Australia, it figured that Harding would once again outlast the older man.
Each man boxed twice before their rematch.
Harding made two successful title defences, halting the UK’s Tom Collins in two rounds in Brisbane and knocking out Nestor Hipolito Giovannini, of Argentina, in the 11th round back in Atlantic City. (Although the Giovannini result is recorded as a TKO, Harding dropped the game challenger heavily with a left hook and referee Joe Cortez waved the finish immediately so that the stricken Argentinian could receive attention.)
Andries, meanwhile, had also won two fights since the first meeting with Harding, albeit against undistinguished opponents.
But at least the old warrior had two confidence-boosting wins behind him as he went into the Harding rematch.
And Andries blamed dietary miscalculations and not age for the late fade in Atlantic City. (Andries told US ABC-TV analyst Alex Wallau that he was so concerned about making weight that he starved himself for two days.)
Whatever, Andries believed he would be a different fighter in the rematch. For one thing, Andries had enjoyed a full training camp with Emanuel Steward this time, the legendary Detroit trainer having been on duty with Thomas Hearns in Las Vegas (for the Sugar Ray Leonard rematch) prior to the first bout with Harding.
He also felt that the Atlantic City fight had taken more out of Harding than it had taken out of Andries himself. And Harding certainly took a lot of punishment and was damaged around the eyes in the Atlantic City fight, although a knockdown suffered by the Australian fighter in the fifth round was more a matter of Andries pulling his man to the canvas when throwing a sweeping left hook.
Logically, on home ground in Australia, Harding had to be favoured to win the rematch. However, Andries’ sheer toughness and strength of purpose were perhaps underestimated. As Sunday Times writer Nick Pitt observed, while Andries was not gifted as a boxer “his self-belief is indestructible, his spirit indomitable”.
This fighting spirit showed in Andries’ confident attitude heading into the Harding rematch. But the Australia site was considered a significant advantage for Harding.
“Boxers traditionally have a terrible time performing at their peak after the long trip to Australia,” ringsider Alex Wallau informed the ABC-TV viewing audience in the US.
However, Andries, as in the first fight, got off to a strong start, “grim and determined” in the words of ABC colour commentator Dan Dierdorf. A left hook wobbled Harding in the third round.Andries seemed to sweep the first three rounds but the Australian fans were passionate in their support of the home fighter “The crowd reacts with just about anything Harding is going to do,” Dierdorf commented.
The fight developed into a gruelling war of attrition, just like the initial meeting, hit and get hit in return. Harding seemed to be coming on with the jab but Andries landed right hands. A right hand from Harding steadied Andries in the fifth.
It seemed as if Andries was starting to tire in the sixth, but, almost out of the blue, he had Harding wobbling from a big right hand in the seventh. And, sensing victory was in his grasp, Andries threw punch after punch in a wild, furious attempt to finish the fight.
Harding, blood trickling from a cut over his left eye, punched back as best he could but finally Andries sent the younger man toppling to the canvas with an enormous overhand right. Harding started to get up at “nine” but veteran referee Arthur Mercante counted him out in rising. “He waited too long to get up!” Dan Dierdorf exclaimed. “And talk about a shocked crowd in Melbourne!”
Harding and Andries met again, this time in London, a year later, with the Australian fighter winning on a majority decision.
Andries never got another world title opportunity but he made ring history by becoming the first British fighter to win a world title three times in the same weight division.
And Andries, along with Mikkel Kessler and Azumah Nelson, showed that, while the Australia site is an advantage for the home fighter, the disadvantage to the visitor is by no means insurmountable.
Main image: Dennis Andries and legendary trainer Emanuel Steward celebrate the former becoming a three-time WBC light-heavyweight champion over Aussie battler Jeff Harding in 1990. Photo: Alamy/PA Images.