Boxing: Hamed's rare praise for opponent

Naseem Hamed, who tops the bill at Sheffield tonight with his World Boxing Organisation featherweight title defence against Jose Badillo, dropped his guard to pay the greatest compliment he has afforded an opponent. Hamed said the Puerto Rican No 1 mandatory challenger will present the toughest challenge of his 28-bout career.

Hamed has often belittled and derided anyone sitting alongside him at news conferences, but there seemed genuine appreciation for a man with one defeat in 21 contests.

Badillo had the International Boxing Federation featherweight champion, Tom Johnson, on the floor three times during a 1995 challenge for the American's title, but the judges went for Johnson.

"To do what he did to Tom Johnson, a champion who I have also boxed, demands respect," Hamed said. "He probably caught Johnson in a better state than me and yet he put him down three times. So I would definitely put him at the top."

Whether or not it was a blast of hot air was unclear, but Chris Eubank's hired helicopter was caught in a crosswind yesterday, meaning that he was unable to attend his head-to-head meeting with Joe Calzaghe before tonight's vacant World Boxing Council super-middleweight title.

"I expect to stop him," Calzaghe said as the press conference went ahead minus one of the combatants. "I think he will fight a cagey fight, biding his time and doing some posing. He may pose, but I will be pressing him for every minute of every round. When I catch him properly he will go definitely."

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