Boxing: Hamed grows too big for Britain

Harry Mullan on the ferocious world champion who now needs to strut his stuff in America
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The extravagant talent of Naseem Hamed needs a bigger stage and a wider audience than British boxing can any longer offer. His 93-second destruction of the European champion Billy Hardy in Manchester on Saturday night left him without a single viable opponent other than the two rival world featherweight champions, Wilfredo Vasquez (World Boxing Association) and Luisito Espinosa (World Boxing Council).

Las Vegas beckons, probably for a summer unification match with Vasquez, and the only issue remaining is on whose terms the fight is to be made.

American television would welcome the chance to show-case a performer who was born for Vegas and a place on the undercard of the Evander Holyfield v Mike Tyson show on 28 June is his for the asking. But Hamed insists on main event status, and after a performance which has surely convinced the last of the sceptics, he is entitled to star treatment.

The veteran promoter Mickey Duff, who staged a handful of Hamed's early fights, is among the converted. "Hamed is one of the four best fighters in the world pound for pound," he said. "He will clean up the featherweights and do the same when he grows into a lightweight."

Since one of Duff's few remaining top-line clients is Billy Schwer, the former British and Commonwealth lightweight champion, Duff must be fervently hoping that Hamed takes his time about gaining those extra nine pounds.

Clearly, Joe Koizumi, Espinosa's Japanese manager, felt he had witnessed something special. "Naz looked awesome," he said. "He's such a great puncher, so dangerous."

There had been all kinds of ill-informed stories about how Hamed had neglected his training for the fight against his mandatory World Boxing Organisation challenger, but he gave them the lie with a display of power and ferocity.

Hardy was blitzed, and his description of experience was chilling. "The first shot he hit me with, I honestly felt my nose crack," he said when he had regained his senses and his composure. "I'm all numb around my teeth. I honestly feel he's got something special in his hands. If he hits like that, he'll unify everything."

It was the first time Hardy had been so comprehensively beaten. When referee Paul Thomas signalled the finish after Hardy had risen from the second knockdown, the challenger sank back to his knees in tears. It must have been devastating to have 14 years of honest professionalism reduced to 93 seconds of humiliation, but much the same will happen to better men.

Hamed looks simply unbeatable, a featherweight who hits with a middleweight's power, and if this was indeed his British swan-song, he left us with a performance to savour.

As Hamed outgrows the British market, Robin Reid is poised to fill the vacancy. The WBC super-middleweight champion gave a near-perfect display of counter-punching to retain his title in a 12-round thriller with York rival Henry Wharton in the most competitive of Saturday's three world title fights.

Wharton, losing for the third time in world title bids, played his part to the full in a fight which took time to catch fire but eventually surpassed expectations.

The scoring was too generous to read, although the champion won beyond argument, and Wharton could be rewarded for his contribution to a memorable contest with a fourth title opportunity, this time against the Irish WBO champion, Steve Collins.

The future is bleaker for Steve "the Viking" Foster, who burned his longboat with a sixth round stoppage loss to the WBO light-middleweight champion Ronald Wright, which has sent him into retirement.

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