Boxing: Hamed must make knock-out return

TODAY IS the first day of the rest of Naseem Hamed's life. Tonight at the MEN Arena in Manchester, Hamed and his family go it alone - almost - and stage their first show without Frank Warren and Brendan Ingle, formerly the Prince's promoter and manager-trainer respectively. And jealous eyes will watch and wait for something to go wrong.

As outsiders with virtually no track record in boxing, Prince Promotions, headed by Hamed's eldest brother, Riath, are victims of the sport's small- time xenophobia - and who can state with certainty that the Yorkshire- Yemeni faction are not suffering from the real thing? They are viewed with distrust, mainly because they are not recognised "boxing people" and no one knows them to trust them.

Riath Hamed, and younger brother Nabeel, have experience in the commercial side of boxing management. They can claim responsibility for the many sponsorship deals, largely from blue-chip companies, that have been secured for their multi-millionaire fighter brother. It was the shift in emphasis from boxing to big business that eventually led to the acrimonious break-up of Hamed's relationship with his former mentors.

Warren's contract was not renewed last year, with the Hamed clan stating that they no longer had need for a promotional middle man. In future they would handle things themselves to maximise profits. But the nuts-and-bolts running of tonight's promotion comes courtesy of Matchroom, who will be grateful to return to the big stage albeit for a knockdown fee believed to be in the region of pounds 50,000.

Having taught Hamed to box as a child and nurtured him through a dozen World Boxing Organisation featherweight title defences, Ingle fell by the wayside not long after Warren. He has been replaced by an unproven Puerto Rican, Oscar Suarez, who will be bolstered by the considerable presence of the legendary trainer Emanuel Steward as a second in the Hamed corner. "It's all going well, but we've had to hire in expertise where we've needed it," said Riath Hamed. "We need to be allowed to do what we're good at."

And prior to the event, things seemed to be in nicely in place: Manchester is a proven Hamed town even if ticket sales were initially slow; Matchroom are tried and tested, the originators of the gaudy production favoured by Hamed when they promoted Chris Eubank; opponent Paul Ingle will not trouble the champion; only Suarez seems a risk, but Steward will be there to support him.

The true test, of course, will be whether or not the show makes money. Challenger Ingle plays his part here. Over 7,000 fans will follow him from Scarborough, making a considerable contribution to the live gate. But it seems unlikely that he has much more to offer. The European and Commonwealth champion is said to have been floored in sparring and that bodes ill for his chances against the biggest hitter in the division.

Hamed has a point to prove following his lacklustre points victory over Wayne McCullough in Atlantic City last Halloween. That was only the third time that Hamed has gone the distance in 31 unbeaten fights. Tonight it will be surprising if he does not return to knockout form in less than four rounds. But the main fight is secondary to the whole event this evening and a few observers will hope for egg on faces of the Sheffield-Arabic variety.

Also on the show, the Detroit legend Thomas "Hit Man" Hearns, the only fighter to have won world titles at six weights, tries to become a champion again when he meets fellow American Nate Miller for the vacant International Boxing Organisation cruiserweight title. But at 41, Hearns is a shell of the Eighties warrior who battled Leonard, Hagler and Duran.

Hearns turned down his original opponent, Belfast's Darren Corbett, because he needed a greater challenge to motivate him. Unfortunately for Hearns, his courage could be his undoing. If Corbett stood a chance against the depleted veteran, Miller's is greater.