Boxing: Hamed happy about American screen test

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The Independent Online
Naseem Hamed has a major problem, if one considers that to be possible for a 22-year-old whose earnings to date are estimated to be around pounds 4m, with the cash registers still ringing.

The World Boxing Organisation's featherweight champion may have been sponsored by everyone from Adidas to Audi, he might hardly have lost a round in winning three professional titles and 21 fights, and he has achieved the rare distinction of transcending the sport in his homeland. But he is virtually unknown in the United States, world boxing's place to be.

The key to Hamed fulfilling a potential that one is tempted to term unlimited lies in the reaction of the Showtime network's viewers to the Sheffield showman's first major US TV appearance, when he defends against the No 1 contender, Daniel Alicea of Puerto Rico, at Newcastle Arena this evening.

The stakes are high. If Hamed is well received, the sky is the limit. If the reaction is poor or indifferent, Hamed's lavish gifts may never gain the recognition they deserve beyond these shores.

Hamed, though, will not be losing any sleep over this acid test to the irresistibility of his rise. "Americans will come to learn that there's a guy in Britain, from Sheffield, who is the best fighter in the world," he says. "I can honestly see myself, like I did in Britain, taking over the television situation in America."

If Hamed is feeling added pressure going into this fight, he hides it well. The impression that this incredibly focused young man gives is that his US TV debut is just another one of those stages on the way to world domination, one more of those moments he has been preparing himself for since he first laced on gloves as a seven-year-old.

"My attitude then was the same as it is now; I'm gonna become a legend," he said. "And I will become a legend after a period of time. And part of that was always gonna involve beating Americans and making my name in America.

"I can't wait to go there and beat their best. People rave on about American fighters, but at the end of the day they're human, right? They've got two arms, two legs and a chin for me to hit. If they box me, they're either gonna get knocked out, stopped or definitely beat."

It will be interesting to see whether America can take to its heart this Yorkshireman of Yemeni descent who has never been noted for his modesty. It is a commonly held misconception that Americans love absolutely all that is flash and brash. Like a burger, it has to be done just so. And there have, after all, been considerable problems between America and the Arab world of which Hamed, a devout Muslim, is very much a part. Perhaps through tact, Hamed pleads ignorance of such international tensions. "I'm not a politician," he said. "But obviously I'm gonna have to change the American way of thinking towards Arabs if there's a problem. I think I will get enough clout to do that."

Fortunately for Hamed, his ability is as evident as his boundless optimism and almost supernatural self-belief. So much so that victory over Alicea, no slouch himself, is almost assured. Alicea, 23, is undefeated in 15 fights and has shown promise, but his No 1 ranking with the WBO flatters him at this stage in his career and he will do well to last beyond the sixth round. Whether the USA will fall to Hamed as early remains to be seen.

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