Boxing: Giant Ukrainian to cash in on horror show from Hide

EVER SINCE the first heavyweight champion John L Sullivan caused so much excitement on his debut at Madison Square Garden in 1882 that thousands were turned away at the doors, boxing promoters have been alert to the development of large and powerful men.

Of course, there is no guarantee that Vitali Klitschko will prove to be more than another paper tiger after gaining the World Boxing Organisation belt with a second-round knockout of Herbie Hide at the London Arena on Saturday night. But the smile on the face of his German promoter, Klaus- Peter Kochl, was that of a man who had struck it rich.

Whatever future Kochl imagines for Klitschko, who is as much a hero in Hamburg as he is in the Ukraine where an estimated 200,000 followed his challenge to Hide on a huge television screen erected in Kiev's main square, none of the heavyweights who are being pushed forward can afford to take him lightly.

Even by today's physical standards Klitschko, at 6ft 8in and more than 17st, is impressively built and appears to have the priceless asset of hand speed. A lot more mobile than Hide and his connections had been led to believe, the Ukrainian sent the British heavyweight over with a short right at the start of the second round and then finished it with another, extending his professional record to 25 straight wins, all by knockout.

A hot property? "I think so," Hide's promoter, Frank Warren, said, smiling. "Herbie didn't prepare properly and fought the wrong way but Vitali has the potential to make a big name for himself in the heavyweight division. Leaving aside his complexion [inevitably Klitschko will be touted as a `white hope'] he obviously has power and from what we saw tonight more speed than he's been given credit for. You can never tell in this business but Vitali looked as though he can give even the best plenty of trouble."

A 12-month suspension after testing positive for drug abuse cost Klitschko an opportunity of a super-heavyweight gold medal at the 1994 Atlanta Olympics (won by his younger brother Vladimir) and led to a base in Hamburg under Kochl's direction. "We intend to enjoy this," an elated Kochl said on Saturday.

Kochl was sitting at one end of a narrow, crowded room flanked by the fighter and Warren. Off to one side, Lennox Lewis's diminutive manager, Frank Maloney, was wiping away perspiration. When Lewis's name cropped up Warren nodded in Maloney's direction. "There's the man to ask," Warren said.

"Let Vitale enjoy his night," Maloney said. "We are involved in negotiations for a re-match between Lennox and Evander Holyfield."

Last week Lewis was at Madison Square Garden when Michael Grant made hard work of outpointing Lou Savarese. Grant has been suggested as a challenger for Lewis's World Boxing Council title if the unification bout with Holyfield falls through, and Warren revealed that Hide would probably have defended the WBO belt against Grant if he got past Klitschko. "It was all set up so Herbie's loss tonight runs into millions," Warren said. Presumably, not only for Hide but also for his promoter. Warren has been around long enough to remain philosophical but his irritation with Hide was understandable.

For example, the two principal figures in Hide's corner, Brendan Ingle and Ernie Fossey, had no part in Hide's preparation. "They're good men," Warren added, "but a fighter should be with the people who have been working with him. I just don't understand Herbie, the way he goes about things."

No sympathy can be held out for the former champion from Norwich. In training he broke a sparring partner's nose and then refused to pay him in full. After arriving two hours late for a press conference last week he violently rearranged the furniture.

On the night Hide's threats did not amount to anything. He looked nervous, flinching at every twitch of Klitschko's shoulders, trying to stay out of range, throwing only the odd ineffective jab. When Hide went over after 1min 14 sec of the second round it was clearly all over for him. He beat the count but the truth was in his eyes and the American referee Gino Rodriguez stopped the contest.

No further word was heard of Hide. "Back in Norwich I suppose," Warren said. Klitschko was the one going places.

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