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We all love a rumour. It's human nature. Ask us and we'll tell you that facts are sacred, and spreading gossip without any foundation is all wrong. But then tell us something in the strictest confidence and we'll soon whisper it to the next man along the line.

Back when I was at journalism college the lecturers told you never to repeat claims without first checking the facts behind them. And believe it or not newspapers still do try hard to follow those principles. But in the online world there are terabytes full of wild suggestions and stories, and whole chunks of the Web that are specifically designed to pass them on.

That's something which Audley Harrison's people know only too well, and he's given a masterclass this week in how to turn what might be fiction into cold hard fact. "I'm told," said the former Olympic world heavyweight champion to the Daily Mail and The Times, "that Haye has been knocked down by his sparring partner Tony Thompson. Thompson is no big puncher so if he puts him down, Haye can only be wondering what I'm going to do when I connect with my left hand."

Brilliant. In one little sentence Harrison has suddenly cast doubts about whether WBA champ Haye should really be as short as 1.18 to retain his title when the pair meet in Manchester in 11 days. And at the same time he's "refused to confirm rumours" that he's floored four of his own sparring partners. (Wonder who started those rumours?).

Haye is normally the master of handling the pre-fight media, but he's been outdone here. The word is now out there that while poor old Haye has been picking himself off the floor against a journeyman pro, Audley is beating up anybody who goes within a few yards of him. It's great hype, and all the better because if Haye's camp try to deny it then nobody will believe them.

Betfair's punters don't seem to have been taken in and make a Haye first round victory the marginal favourite at 11.0 to lay in the early market.

I'm not so sure. Harrison has made a habit of upsetting the odds ever since he surprised everybody by winning the Prizefighter as an outsider just over a year ago, and there's no doubt he's now training with more dedication and focus than during his first misguided attempt to manage his own career. I think 7.6 for him to win inside the distance is a very big price, and while it's a punt there's far more value there than in backing Haye. If you look at the bald statistics of height, weight and reach then Harrison comes out top in every one, and that gives him a puncher's chance if he can land one left hook.

We may never know whether the claim about Tony Thompson putting down Haye in sparring is true. But Harrison also says this is far more a 50/50 fight, and on that he might well be right - which makes backing him at 6.8 unmissable value. He's landed the most telling PR blow - I just wonder if he might throw the one that matters most too when they get in the ring.


Five things you might not know about Tony Thompson

1. Born in Washington DC in October 1971, he was 29 before he turned professional as a boxer. Until then he'd tried and failed at a variety of jobs, including a brief spell as an air traffic controller.

2. His mother died of HIV infection when he was 27, his father has served time in jail for drugs offences. He has five brothers and five sisters - but only one shares both parents. That is Keith who is a staff sergeant in the US Army.

3. He was 17 when he became a dad himself. He now has a wife, Sydnee, who is a speech pathologist, and together they share seven children.

4. A 6ft 5ins Southpaw, he's won 34 of his 36 fights.

5. He fought and beat Timor Ibragimov in 2007 wearing borrowed basketball sneakers because his boxing shoes had been stolen from his hotel room in the Playboy Mansion.


By Ralph Ellis

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