Boxing: Best of both worlds for stablemates

Harry Mullan reports on the friends who face title fights on the same bill
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The Independent Online
Schoolboy day dreams rarely materialise, but one will at Sheffield on Saturday night when Naseem Hamed and Ryan Rhodes contest world titles on the same show. They have been friends since they won National Schools' titles together at Derby Assembly Rooms in 1990, although Hamed streaked ahead in terms of professional development and is already into the third year of his reign as WBO featherweight champion.

Rhodes, the undefeated light-middleweight champion, steps up a division to face Otis Grant of Canada for the vacant WBO middleweight title. Few outside Sheffield expect him to win, but Brendan Ingle, who manages the pair, has not made any mistakes with them so far. Hamed's task, against Victor Llerena of Colombia, looks as simple as Rhodes's is difficult. It would have made a welcome change to see him face meaningful opposition. So superior is he to the rest of the field, probably even including his rival champions in the other organisations, that whatever name promoter Frank Warren came up with was likely to provoke only groans and calls of "Who he?"

The time has come for the Naseem show to move to America. The British public are no longer prepared to pay to watch him bowl over outgunned South Americans. His immediate future is the subject of rumours and denials, with the latest report having him boxing in Madison Square Garden, New York, on 19 December against the former WBC champion Kevin Kelley, the only man in the division with an ego as big as his.

Much speculation has revolved around the status of Warren's relationship with his American partner Don King, whose pay-per-view promotions are screened by the Showtime channel. Warren went to great lengths recently to scotch a rumour that he had been negotiating a Naseem deal with Home Box Office, Showtime's bitter rivals, and King is known to be desperately keen to feature Naseem in America, while Warren, having developed the Prince's precocious talent, is understandably reluctant to share his services.

Llerena has respectable credentials and, for what it is worth, is highly ranked by the WBA. His solitary defeat was in a bid for the IBF super- bantamweight title against the stylish South African Vuyani Bungu in Johannesburg in April 1995, but that does not mean that he is competing outside his natural division. Apart from Bungu, he has never faced an opponent of international status, and is unlikely to fare any better than Naseem's other seven challengers..

A much more competitive featherweight match on the undercard features Paul Ingle defending his British title against the former champion Jonjo Irwin in an all-Yorkshire clash. Ingle won the title from Colin McMillan, who had taken it from Irwin, yet McMillan fancies that Irwin will be too skilful for his conqueror.

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