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Boxing: Furore over big fight fiasco

THE promotion that was supposed to be Hong Kong's introduction to big-time boxing, featuring Herbie Hide's defence of his World Boxing Organisation heavyweight title against the American Tommy Morrison, collapsed amid recriminations and threats of legal action yesterday. At 5.30pm local time, the British manager Barry Hearn withdrew his two boxers, Britain's Hide and Steve Collins because the financial guarantees he required were not in place.

John Daly, the Los Angeles-based Londoner who had masterminded the project, broke the news of the show's cancellation to pressmen and photographers at the weigh-in for the tournament which was scheduled to start here at 10am today.

Daly, whose last boxing venture was the infinitely more successful 'Rumble in the Jungle in 1974', had hoped that the shortfall between revenue and commitments would be covered by the American promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank Inc, the promoters of record, but Arum declined to do so.' I was prepared to take the shots, but Mr Arum was not,' Daly said. I wish I could have pulled this off, but I couldn't. I'm very sad for all the boxers who had trained so hard.'

Daly put the shortfall at dollars 2m, a figure angrily disputed by Mickey Duff. Two of his boxers, Frank Bruno and Billy Schwer, were to have appeared, Bruno against Ray Mercer and Schwer in an IBF lightweight title bid against Rafael Ruelas. 'Arum had got TV backing and overseas rights,' Duff claimed. 'The shortfall couldn't have been more than dollars 500,000 and he could easily have covered that. Barry Hearn can do what he likes, but my contract is with Arum and Top Rank. It doesn't mention Daly's name anywhere. My boxers weighed in and fulfilled their contract. And I'll now be looking for compensation from Arum.'

Bruno, normally the soul of affability, was furious. 'This was disgusting,' he said. 'It was thoroughly unprofessional.'

Jarvis Astaire, Duff's partner was scathing about Hearn's decision. 'How can he acquiesce in something which deprives his boxers of their paydays,' he asked. 'A manager's job is to stand up for his boxers.'

But Hearn claims that is precisely what he was doing. 'My only concern since I arrived in HK was the hard cash guaranteed that my fighters would be paid.

I do not accept promises. I do not accept guarantees from people I do not know. I do not accept speculation. I have a responsibility to my fighters to ensure they are going to be paid, and I will be very happy for them to box for Bob Arum when the show is rescheduled.'

Arum undertook to cover the boxers' expenses for their abortive trip here, but nothing can compensate them for the bitter disappointment and psychological letdown of having their fights cancelled at such short notice.

Schwer was fighting back tears as his trainer Jack Lindsay lamented: 'He was in the best shape of his life, and I was convinced I'd have my first world champion tomorrow. Now, after this, I don't know if I can get him back up there again.'

The Dubliner Collins, who had been due to open the show with the defence of his WBO middleweight title against Lonnie Beasley of Detroit, was more philosophical. He grabbed Beasley in a playful cuddle as they left the press conference together and said: 'We can be friends tonight after all, but I'll have to start hating you again in a couple of months when the fight's back on.'

At the moment, that looks like being on 17 December in Atlantic City or Ledyard, Connecticut - and this time there are no plans to involve Mr Daly in the promotion.