Boxing: HBO give Hamed chance to win back fans

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The Independent Online
NASEEM HAMED is being backed to finally win over American audiences after signing a six-fight deal with cable television network Home Box Office.

HBO yesterday announced it has purchased the worldwide television rights for Hamed's fights over the next two years, while Sky Box Office will show the fights in this country.

The first broadcast will be Hamed's 12th defence of his World Boxing Organisation featherweight title against Paul Ingle in Manchester on April 10.

Hamed's following two fights will be in the United States, the second in the summer and probably in Las Vegas or New York and the third in November or December.

It will provide an acid test of Hamed's popularity in the US following the cold reception to his points defeat of Northern Ireland's Wayne McCullough in Atlantic City last October.

"When you add up all of his deals he will be the equivalent of any major sports figure in America," said Kerry Davis, HBO's director of programming.

The Ingle fight will be Hamed's first since leaving promoter Frank Warren and trainer Brendan Ingle. Hamed, 24, is now being managed by his brother Riath, with Barry Hearn handling the Ingle fight.

Lou DiBella, senior vice-president of HBO, claimed the deal will help stabilise Hamed's career after a rocky patch. "Naseem's primary financial arrangement for television will be handled by us," he said. "To a large extent we have cut out the middle man. I think Naz has a lot of reasons to be very happy today."

The undefeated WBO champion was equally delighted today with his new training regime under American Oscar Suarez. "I'm becoming a new fighter. I'm gonna be more compact, more skilful and an even stronger and harder fighter," said Hamed.

"I've got a new trainer who's shown me new stuff. I've been doing the same stuff for 17 years and won 31 fights with it. Now I'm training harder than ever."

The Hamed team see the Ingle bout as a stepping stone towards featherweight unification. "I want to beat the best," said Hamed. "I want to unify my weight class. Fighters love the belts. We want them wrapped around us."