Boxing: Braveheart surrenders to new Ali

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The Independent Online
Naseem Hamed has an evil heart in the ring. He is possibly the most ruthless boxer in the world and on Saturday night he left Steve Robinson bleeding, bewildered and in tears after eight rounds to win the World Boxing Organisation featherweight title.

As Hamed moved his feet into position to land the last punch, he was still talking, still taunting Robinson. "Who is stronger now, Steve? Who is the stronger now?" Hamed was laughing and it was all part of his cruel plan. The final left hook slipped behind Robinson's guard and landed on the side of the Welshman's jaw. At first he just rocked, then his legs defied his brave heart and he was down.

Hamed stood and watched. He winked at his manager, Brendan Ingle, as referee Ismael Fernandez jumped between the fallen boxer and the new champion. Robinson regained his feet but it was over and his stilted attempt at walking back to his drained manager, Dai Gardiner, emphasised the suffering he had endured from the opening bell.

At times it was a terrifying spectacle to watch and as the pair embraced Robinson ducked his head, the tears mixing with the blood on his battered face. In the centre of the ring, Hamed just raised his hands and howled. The 16,000 sodden fans who watched the display of brilliance at the Cardiff Rugby Club started to file away before the belt was placed around Hamed's waist.

Robinson joined the silent hoards and traipsed in despair back to the sanctuary of his changing room and the foolish words of his misguided friends and family, who insisted the fight was fixed. "The ref is bent," one shouted from the VIP seats. Others blamed the promoter, Frank Warren, for a variety of perceived slights. Their outrageous complaints were in stark contrast to the courage of the man they came to support.

However, as the idiotic cacophony raged, Robinson even suggested, somewhat bizarrely, that if he met Hamed again, the fight would end differently - "yeah, I would knock him out in one round," said Hamed - and claimed he was not given enough time to prepare. It was an undignified and unnecessary conclusion to his defiant stand.

From the first bell, Hamed took control. Robinson could not get close and his familiar lunges took on a desperate quality. Hamed leered as he weaved from side to side. Robinson did connect cleanly with occasional left hooks and one particular right. The crowd loved it and ignored the drizzle. From the start, Hamed switched to orthodox to further complicate his intricate punch patterns. After three minutes the pair stood eye-to- eye. "He must be joking," Hamed said as he sat in his corner for the first time.

"It was like watching Muhammad Ali: the confidence, the speed and the moves. He is incredible, and he is British," Warren said. Hamed watches Ali tapes, not just the famous encounters against Joe Frazier and George Foreman, but the real fights, the early fights when Ali's speed was beautiful to watch, his words poetry and his Muslim conversion led to him becoming the most hated black man in America. Sheffield-born Hamed, whose parents were from the Yemen, knows what it is like to be an outsider.

In round five, as the steam rose from the backs of both boxers, Robinson was sent down for the first time in the fight and just the second time in his career. Robinson survived the round and the next two but by the start of round eight his bravery should have been rewarded by an act of mercy from his trainer, Ronnie Rush, and Gardiner who performed their corner rituals with all the enthusiasm of two relatives at a wake. Robinson should have been spared here, led off to contemplate his future but instead he limped out for round eight with a sad sigh and the blood from his nose momentarily stemmed. Hamed was still smiling.

After one minute 40 seconds of round eight, it was over and Hamed was the new champion. A defence is planned for November or December, possibly in his home town, Sheffield, where there is a large Yemeni community. A fight in the Middle East is still a possibility as Hamed is watched by as many as 150 million on the Arab satellite channel MBC.

After Saturday's display there appear to be few obstructions to Hamed's inevitable ascent. The only danger is the boy himself and he needs to be protected from his own genius and the prowlers whose emergence during the last 18 months have caused some concern. The fighting is the easy part.

n Roy Jones Jnr wants to fight Nigel Benn, the World Boxing Council champion, after comfortably retaining his International Boxing Federation super-middleweight title in Pensacola, Florida. Jones, who stopped fellow American Tony Thornton in the third round, said: "I'll fight Benn for $10m, which is not even close to the $50m Don King was shooting his big mouth about a while back."