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Boxing: Family dominate Hamed struggle

Frank Warren and Brendan Ingle face an uphill fight in the battle to control the future of Naseem Hamed.
AS THE power struggle surrounding Naseem Hamed approaches its acrimonious conclusion, the words spoken by the World Boxing Organisation champion's older brother, Nabeel, at the end of last year have taken on a prophetic tone. In an interview with the author Nick Pitt for the book The Paddy and the Prince, 28-year-old Nabeel, then the manager of his brother's fan club, said: "A lot of people laugh when they hear we're building an empire but it's better for us if they do. Wait and see."

Nabeel and the eldest Hamed brother, 29-year-old Riath (until recently Hamed's business manager), have long ceased being a joke to their rivals. Respectively the promotions director and managing director ("we've given ourselves new job titles," said Riath) of Prince Naseem Enterprises - offshore bank accounts and all - the brothers have become increasingly influential, to the point where, now, total autonomy is within their grasp.

Plainly, changes need to be made. The fighter's career hit an all-time low at the end of last month in Atlantic City. The terrible atmosphere surrounding Hamed's dour points victory over Wayne McCullough has been reported extensively. And the general consensus reached by the bulk of the media is that the champion and his bandwagon have gone off the rails. Where, one gets the impression, journalism would be quite happy to let it stay and rot.

The bulk of the criticism for the unedifying events in the seedy East Coast gambling centre has been levelled at Hamed himself. But the growing proliferation of factions seeking to control the champion created a tension that could only result in an explosion. Something had to give, and it was Hamed, who for so long had represented the calm at the eye of the storm that has grown proportionately with his wealth, now estimated to be in the region of pounds 15m.

This remarkably self-possessed young man had, somehow, appeared able to operate comfortably within the paranoid environment created by the warring parties. But in Atlantic City, for the first time in 31 undefeated fights, Hamed's level of performance suffered. Although winning comfortably against McCullough, Hamed's showing was widely slated as his worst ever.

The backstage battles had led the champion to the crossroads; defeat - and all its repercussions - was becoming a distinct possibility for the world's dominant featherweight. And those who sought to control his career realised that they had to resolve their situations fast, while there was still a career left for them to squabble over.

Within the next two weeks, the power struggle will be decided and the Hamed family axis are favour-ites to finish in front of Brendan Ingle and Frank Warren, the men who respectively taught and promoted Naseem into a position of worldwide prominence.

Warren's promotional contract with Hamed has expired, bringing speculation that his five-year association with the 24-year-old boxer, is about to end. Manager/trainer Ingle has already been marginalised following unflattering revelations about the fighter in Pitt's book.

Hamed is due to return from holiday in Florida within the next few days and, when Riath returns from his own break in Cyprus next week, negotiations are set to take place with Warren, whose uncharacteristic "no comment" stance suggests that he fears the worst.

Ingle, whose role has been systematically eroded since the Hamed family first became involved in Naseem's career four years ago, has announced that his loyalty lies with Warren and not the boxer through whom he has become a millionaire. If Hamed splits with Warren, he does so with Ingle, too, says the trainer who recently has been referred to as a "Judas" by the fighter he discovered and nurtured.

Warren's association with Hamed began in 1994, at a time when Nabeel Hamed worked as a car mechanic and Riath was a community liaison officer in Sheffield. The fighter had previously been promoted by Barry Hearn and then Mickey Duff, but it was under Warren that Hamed's career took off; within a year, a prospect earning pounds 25,000 per fight had turned into a world champion with purses in the pounds 1m bracket. It was Warren who negotiated Hamed's pounds 12m, six-fight deal with the American cable television network, Home Box Office.

Losing control of the jewel in his stable's crown would be a bitter blow to the promoter, whose much-publicised legal war with his former partner, Don King, stems directly from Warren's efforts to further Hamed's career in the United States. Warren felt that HBO were more able than King's exclusive TV outlet, Showtime, to "move" Hamed. And the evidence suggests he was correct, Indeed, it is difficult to spot where Warren may have made a wrong move in guiding Hamed's career.

But blood is thicker than water and Hamed the fighter has stated many times that the only people he trusts are his family. "Because the promotions make so much money, we want a larger share," said Riath. "As Naz has to take all the risks and all the flak, the money should be more in Naz's favour. We're not saying that Naz has done it all by himself, but he is the one who takes all the risks and that should be reflected."

As outsiders, boxing powerbrokers with limited experience gained in only four years, there is a wholesale distrust of the Hamed clan. And any blame that was not heaped upon their brother's shoulders for the goings-on in Atlantic City was, by and large, apportioned to them.

"I know that in everyone's eyes we're playing a very dangerous game, but we have to act in Naz's best interests," said Riath. "And after Atlantic City we realise exactly what we're up against. We're challenging the status quo, and there are people - including a large proportion of the media, who are hell-bent on protecting it. I believe that the press coverage of my brother's last fight was completely orchestrated, 100 per cent.

"But the time has come for people to stop pointing the finger and blaming all and sundry for what went on. We must move on, for Naz's sake. We still want to work with Mr Warren out of loyalty and respect. But we now have no contractual relationship with any promoter in the world. We now have all the worldwide rights to my brother's career and we don't see why Naz should not be getting the bulk of the financial rewards."

Whether Warren will be happy with the share he is likely to be offered remains to be seen, but the fact remains that having even one finger in the lucrative Hamed pie beats having none at all. Ingle has already faced this choice; relegated to the role of "corner adviser" for the McCullough fight, where his advice was steadfastly and studiously ignored, Ingle appears to have accepted what has been offered for the sake of the careers of his sons, John and Dominic, who are now installed as Hamed's official trainers.

As he walked alone on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, Ingle had the forlorn look of a man who has created a monster. Every action, every word or gesture, seemed to suggest he was asking himself: "Is it worth the hassle." And at some time that thought that must have crossed the minds of everyone involved in this sorry saga, family or otherwise.

Glyn Leach is the editor

of Boxing Monthly