Boxing: Hide and seek for quality

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ON THE basis of his attainment at the Millwall football ground last week, Herbie Hide, a novice boxer from Norfolk of Nigerian descent, has been accorded the status of a fully fledged world heavyweight champion.

For this he is indebted to the garrulous Las Vegas fight promoter, Bob Arum, a graduate of the Harvard Law School who is inclined to regard the truth as his personal plaything.

No sooner had Hide disposed of a seriously debilitated Michael Bentt, knocking him out in seven rounds to gain the tinpot World Boxing Organisation title, than Arum surpassed himself in the art of ludicrous hyperbole. 'I was amazed at just how good Hide is,' he said. 'He has got to be the quickest heavyweight around.'

There was more. With the enthusiastic assistance of Hide's manager, Barry Hearn, and the willing co-operation of various bystanders, Arum went on to draw comparisons with a young Muhammad Ali, which amounts to saying that Vinnie Jones can be spoken of in the same breath as Pele.

There are two important things to know about Arum. One is that as co-promoter he inherited Hide on a line back to Tommy Morrison, the disastrously flawed white hope who forfeited a dollars 5m ( pounds 3.3m) pay-day against Lennox Lewis when Bentt knocked him out in one round for the WBO championship last year. The other is that veracity does not mean very much to him.

Once, when challenged over a contradictory statement, Arum said: 'Yesterday I was lying. Today I'm telling the truth.'

Bearing that in mind, no account should be paid to Arum's touting of Hide as a credible challenger for the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation titles held by Evander Holyfield. As for Hearn's statement that Hide is capable of developing into the best heavyweight in history, it emphasises his tendency to descend into a twilight of logic.

A clue to the future lies, I believe, in the growing and perhaps irreversible conviction of many people that professional boxing may not outlast this millenium.

Indeed, for this observer of life among the leviathans, last week's adventures were ridiculous to the point of total rejection.

When Jesse Ferguson pathetically bowed out in one round against Frank Bruno, the British Boxing Board of Control appeared to have a case for witholding his purse of dollars 55,000 pending an inquiry. Doubtless, this would have established that Ferguson was merely out of sorts; however, the Board did nothing. 'I think Frank did a great job on him,' its general secretary, John Morris, said. Probably, with long practice, it was possible to forget that all but four of Bruno's opponents had shown no great enthusiasm for the fray, but as a sparse attendance at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham proved, there is now a tendency to be bored with what is predictable in boxing.

It is a matter of individual opinion whether the possession of a licence puts boxing promoters under any obligation to make competitive matches, but in view of recent happenings they had better give the idea some serious attention.

Ferguson gave such a farcical performance that BBC Television's unstinting support for Bruno's career may at last be wearing thin.

Nobody has ever been able to establish how much abuse the boxing public will take before directing their interest elsewhere, but the numbers are dwindling. Arum for one, knows it. 'Support for boxing may be dying off, literally,' he has been heard to say. 'Young people are no longer interested.'

What else can he expect when Hide, no more than an apprentice, gets elected to the sport's pantheon?

Hearing of it, the 82-year-old Eddie Futch, who trains Riddick Bowe and has worked with five world heavyweight champions, shook his head sadly. The word he used was 'insult'. He was thinking about Ali, Joe Frazier and Joe Louis. He wanted to be outside where the air was cleaner. After 70 years in the business he has no patience with such nonsense.