Preview: Harrison vs Kebede
By Gavin Macleod (October 28, 2004) 
WBO featherweight champion Scott Harrison returns to the ring on Friday looking to make what is seen as a routine defence of his title as he tries to keep busy in the hope of securing a fight with one of the division’s leading guns. It is another bout of the “ticking over” variety for the Scottish champion, who has, as yet, been unable to nail down a mega-fight in the 126lb division. The hope is that another impressive display this time out should be enough to tempt either WBC champion In-Jin Chi or WBA/IBF champion Juan Manuel Marquez into sharing a ring with the man from Cambuslang early next year.

The man standing opposite Harrison at the Braehead Arena will be the 30-year-old Swedish based Ethiopian, Samuel Kebede, a man who possesses an unblemished record of 24-0 (14KOs). The unbeaten run sounds quite impressive, unfortunately for Kebede however, the list of opponents he has faced doesn’t read like a “who’s who” of the featherweight division but more like a “who’s that?” of the African and European scene.

After deciding to punch for pay in May ’96 Kebede fought his first 16 contests inside Africa, obviously winning them all, but only going past six rounds on two occasions when he defeated Trust Ndlovu (PTS 10) and Charles Owisu (PTS 8). It wasn’t that Kebede was bombing out all of these opponents early on, although nine of the sixteen wins were by KO or stoppage, it was just that his opposition was of such questionable quality that fights were not scheduled for more than six rounds with the exception of the two mentioned previously.

Following the Owisu fight, Kebede took a two-year break from the fight game and returned in October 2002 to campaign on the European Continent. Whilst it provided a change of scenery for the African, who over the next two years would have eight more fights in countries such as Germany, Finland, Hungary and Wales, the level of opposition remained the same. Indeed, if you tally up the respective records of Kebede’s opposition over the last two years you come up with an uninspiring slate of 68-109-8, hardly the ideal standard of opposition required to prepare for a fighter of Harrison’s calibre.

In terms of experience there is an enormous gulf between the two men as Harrison has mixed with world rated contenders in all but one of his five successful defences of his WBO strap, that being his fifth round stoppage of Walter Estrada who is still a cut above anything Kebede has met to date. Even before Harrison became the champion he was learning his trade against men such as former world champions Tracy Harris Paterson and Tom “Boom Boom” Johnson.

The champion is also coming into the fight, not only with the incentive of a potential unification fight down the track, but also the extra motivation of setting a benchmark in Scottish boxing should he win. With his impressive third round stoppage over William Abelyan in his last outing, Harrison equalled Jim Watt’s record of five world title defences (Watt was the WBC lightweight champion in the 80’s) and if he can come through against Kebede then a place in the record books of Scottish boxing will be his.

If facing an extra fired up Harrison, 27, wasn’t daunting enough for Kebede, then Harrison’s announcement this week that he was dedicating this fight to the soldiers of the British Army’s Black Watch Regiment, who have just moved from Basra to assist US troops in Baghdad, must have been yet another disruption to his focus for this fight.

With all that being said, the harsh reality is that even without the outside factors spurring Harrison on, he would be far too much for his opponent. His seek and destroy style coupled with his massive size and strength at the weight make him a most formidable obstacle to face for anyone in the division, let alone an unknown and untested fighter like Kebede.

Apart from his outing against British journeyman Jus Wallie, Kebede is somewhat of a myth to most on these shores. His reputation is that of the crafty boxer who will bide his time and wait for the openings before letting go anything of serious harmful intent. Certainly, unless Kebede’s record is enormously deceiving, or he has fought in such a low-key manner to lure future world-class opponents into a false sense of security, it is near on impossible to see where he can produce a victory from. He would need to be an awkward boxer in the Manuel Medina mould or hope that the rigors of making the nine stone limit have had an adverse effect on Harrison to really be in with a shout. But with reports of Harrison’s great preparation for the fight and the universal acknowledgment that there is only one Manuel Medina, the Ethiopian could be in trouble.

Team Harrison will have done their homework for this one and Kebede will not be afforded the opening few rounds that were given to Walter Estrada, a fight in which Harrison seemed to have underestimated his opponent and was shocked by a quick start. I would expect to see the champion come out like a bull and attempt to unsettle his opponent early doors and bully him back to the ropes before dispensing his usual two handed assault. After this Kebede should get on his bike, and this may well see him get through the first four rounds. But there after, Harrison, 22-2-1 (12 KOs), should start to catch up with him and as a result the cumulative effects of his punches should bring about a stoppage victory somewhere around the midway point of the fight.
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