Boxing: Hamed seen as a small potato in the Big Apple

Despite massive promotion, Naseem Hamed is encountering apathy rather than adulation as he prepares for his world title defence tomorrow. Harry Mullan reports from New York .

The cabbie who drove me to my hotel a block behind Madison Square Garden had never heard of Naseem Hamed, who makes his American debut at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night against Kevin Kelley. There is nothing unusual in that, of course: New York cabbies are so notoriously ill-acquainted with their own city that some of them may not even have heard of the Garden itself.

But when the same level of ignorance is encountered amongst barmen, for whom enclyclopaedic sporting knowledge is a professional essential, it is clear that tomorrow's World Boxing Organisation featherweight title defence is a hard sell for the self-styled Prince and his promoter, Frank Warren.

Hamed is a big name in Britain, but has yet to scratch the surface of American sporting consciousness. His mentor, Brendan Ingle, did his best to put a brave face on it when he flew home at the weekend to work with his middleweight Ryan Rhodes who lost in Sheffield to Otis Grant for the vacant WBO middleweight title.

Ingle insisted that Hamed had made a big impression in New York and would draw well against Kelley, a popular local fighter with a fine record and a crowd-pleaser's reputation, but the proof is in the advance ticket sales. Barring an unexpectedly walk-up at the box office on Friday the 20,000- seat arena is likely to be less than half full.

That will be a blow for Warren, who reportedly paid pounds 750,000 to hire the stadium for his US promotional debut. He is a seasoned player in a high risk game and will understand the necessity to speculate to accumulate, but Hamed is not used to being snubbed. It must be a blow to an ego of his dimensions to encounter apathy rather than adulation, but it may be some consolation to reflect that better-known men than him have failed to fill the Garden.

Big-time boxing is now so rare an event in New York that the market - which once sustained regular weekly shows in the old Garden, the third to bear the name and the predecessor of the current arena - has moved on and only ice hockey is now a guaranteed seller here. New York, and specifically the Garden, was once viewed as the game's headquarters, but then the Las Vegas casinos realised the punter-pulling potential of the sport and, within a couple of years, had taken it over.

The city slipped so far down the promotional pecking order that my first assignment here in a near 30-year career including over 50 American trips was not until 1991, when I watched Terry Norris pound Sugar Ray Leonard into yet another retirement. The arena was less than half full that night too, and if one of the best marketed boxers in history could not draw the crowds back to the Garden, it is asking a lot of an unknown Englishman to succeed where he failed.

HBO, the TV company who signed Hamed to a $12m (pounds 7.3m) deal, have done their best to project him and allocated an advertising budget of pounds 1.75m. There is a 50-foot billboard of him at the Lincoln Tunnel, strategically sited to catch the eyes of the commuting thousands, and his image is also displayed in Times Square. But New Yorkers have lost the habit of going to the fights, and it will be a real achievement for all concerned if Friday's show is a commercial as well as artistic success.

Hamed, as ever, has talked a good fight and the New York press coverage has been generally sympathetic and encouraging. Press conferences have followed the now traditional pattern of boasting and bad-mouthing, but it is all rather unconvincing. Kelley, a 5-2 underdog, is an intelligent and mature 30-year-old who has lost just once in 50 fights, and he looks faintly uncomfortable spouting the ritual insults.

He is, though, genuinely aggrieved that his $500,000 purse is a mere fraction of Hamed's, although he is the local fighter with proven pedigree, including a two year spell as World Boxing Council champion. "Every time I hit Hamed, HBO's pockets are going to feel it," he says.

"I don't know if the Garden crowd will boo him, but I know that if he tried that act in the streets of New York, guys that couldn't kill him with their bare hands would shoot him. Anybody that has to tell you their great. It means they ain't.

"He says he's going to knock me out in the third, but he's got to get past the first. The difference between us is that when he knocks them down, they get up. When I hit them, they're unconscious."

For once, that is not idle boasting: Kelley's last fight ended with a spectacular one-punch knock-out, and Hamed would be well advised to accord him much more respect privately than he has been showing for public consumption. Buddy McGirt, a former twice world champion who is now one of the house trainers in Hamed's New York gym, the Blue Velvet, pronounced the champion's power to be "awesome" after watching him go through a work-out on the pads with assistant trainer, John Ingle. Yet he gives his fellow New Yorker a good chance, "so long as he can black out being in his home town and doesn't try trading punches with him."

Michael Jackson, a rather less expert witness to the Hamed work-out, was also hugely impressed - but as the New York Post's Wally Matthews commented wryly "hand pads don't hit back," Kevin Kelley will.

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine