As someone who has grown up watching boxing , I jumped at the chance a couple of years ago to interview Gus Hansen & Theo Jorgensen for their boxing prop bet – I figured that’s as far as I would get in boxing journalism (And it was a godawful joke of a fight). Thankfully poker has that universal appeal that brings people from all walks of life together and it would afford me the chance to go one better – to actually interview a proper boxer ahead of one of the biggest world title fights this country has ever seen.
If you would have told me 6 months ago that this opportunity would come via Audley Harrison, I would have laughed at you. Partially because the idea of him fighting for a legitimate world title would have shocked me as that is not the way his career seemed to be heading, but also because I’ve never been his biggest fan. My generation of boxers who got me into the sport include Benn, Collins, Eubank, Tyson, Lewis, Holyfield, Barrera, Morales, De La Hoya, Jones, Bruno then later Calzaghe and Hatton – and my all time favourite when he was at his peak Prince Naseem. With the exception of his last couple of fights, Harrison has been dull to watch and doesn’t even come close to these guys in terms of excitement.
But he does interest me as a poker player, he has had two massive scores in Vegas and kept it quiet – that takes a lot for a celebrity poker player. This month I got a press release saying that Lock Stock star (Is it still fair to call him that? It was nearly 15 years ago) Nick Moran nearly made day 2 of the Ladbrokes Irish Festival. If failing to survive the first third of a tournament is headline worthy then for Audley to have kept this quiet must have been a miracle.
Of course he isn’t keeping it quiet anymore and striking while the iron is at its hottest, just before the biggest fight of his life and one of the biggest in British boxing for a while (I wish we could have had Hatton vs Khan a year or so ago, that would have been much better). I must say, he was a really nice guy and he also knew a lot about poker – much more than 99% of celebrity poker players.
But as you can imagine, never having been the most popular boxers in the UK, this has been met with a bit of bemusement from the poker forums – as it probably would have been from me had I not interviewed him personally. Lots of people do not seem to see the connect, it amazes me how shrewd poker players can be and how willing they are to exploit a fool with money at the tables – yet they are outraged when a celebrity gets the nod over a pro, they don’t see the value and say its unfair – when has poker, business or life ever been fair?
Poker sponsorship is all about bringing new blood to the tables, and for me there are only a handful of pro players that do that. Its only players like Ivey, Daniel, Hellmuth, Doyle, Tony G, Liv Boeree, Gus etc that can bring that sort of value to a poker room – they bring something else, a character, a hook, a gimmick, a WWE persona. This is why players from regions where poker is less popular also have value, because they are famous, relatively, in their own country, compared to places like the UK where they have hundreds of rivals. It amazes me that so many players who are ‘just good’ at poker and are decent ambassadors get deals at all.
Take someone like Jake Cody, he is a really nice guy, great ambassador for the game and obviously tremendously good at poker – but how many players is he going to get playing on a poker room? I hate to say it but if I was starting a poker room I would much sooner have Anne Widdicombe represent my online room right now than Jake Cody, and that is a horrible truth to admit.
Whether they love him, or hate him, whether he wins or loses, Audley Harrison is going to get a lot more people checking out Full Tilt Poker than a half the Red Pros combined. I really think that PokerStars are going to offer Haye bags of cash to wear their logo on the night in retaliation.
My full interview with Audley Harrison is here.
Oh well, enough of all that, I’m off to Dublin this weekend for the IPO. It was a cracking event last year so more of the same this time round hopefully.