Armour's mettle test

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Boxing

Johnny Armour has quietly gone about winning two major titles while Prince Naseem Hamed has bathed in the glory and attracted all the attention among British boxing's smaller fighters.

However, while Armour is never likely to match the abundantly talented Sheffield fighter in terms of public appeal, he is now close to a world bantamweight title fight, and consequently will become better known to audiences in 1996.

That in itself will bring more pressure on Armour, something the southpaw from Chatham must learn to cope with as he closes in on an International Federation championship challenge against the solid-punching South African Mbulelo Botile.

Armour is now No 2 in the IBF rankings, and a victory over the baker from Marseille, Redha Jean Abbas, in the first defence of his European title at York Hall, Bethnal Green, tonight is likely to lift him to the leading contender's position, according to manager Mickey Duff.

It is, therefore, no time for Armour - with 19 wins to his name- to lose either his title or unbeaten record before the BBC's cameras in a fight to be screened on Sportsnight.

Armour, Commonwealth champion, has been quite happy to steadily build up his career without fuss. This will be his eighth title fight, picking up vital experience without being seen as a world-class performer.

Armour said: "I think my opponents do underrate me. Outside the ring they think I'm an ordinary fighter; when they get inside they are surprised by my strength.

"I still think the best is yet to come. I've still got things to learn. Every fight now is like a world title fight because it's so close. I'm not far away now."

Armour has not fought since a non-title win over Matthew Harris in May. First an ankle injury sustained during roadwork kept him out of the ring, then the original date of 5 September for the Abbas fight fell through because it did not fit into television schedules.

Abbas, 27, has had only 13 professional bouts in a six-year career, mainly because boxing is not a flourishing sport in southern France.

He won the French title more than three years ago and has never fought outside his own country as a professional, although Abbas was well-travelled as an amateur.

York Hall has suited Armour over the past couple of years. The fighter has won three Commonwealth title fights at the east London venue, in addition to a European victory over the Italian Antonio Picardi last April.

Abbas has not boxed at this level and is likely to find Armour too much of a handful on unfamiliar territory, and may have a job to last beyond the seventh round.

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