Boxing: Hide must vary enigma theme

Bob Mee says the forgotten champion should now show his true quality

HERBIE HIDE is an enigmatic, strange mixture. He may be the natural heavyweight successor to Lennox Lewis, but in the past three years has shown such a marked reluctance to fight that it is hard to know what to make of him.

He talks of knocking out Lewis, and Frank Warren, his promoter, and Frank Maloney, the manager of Lewis, are in the mood to work together, which means there is some logic to it.

However, there are those who feel that Hide does not belong in the same sentence as Lewis, let alone the same ring. His talent is not the issue. His attitude is. In April he pulled out of what should have been an easy fight with Orlin Norris, an elderly, stocky Texan, citing an injury. He also withdrew from a fight in February.

Since he outclassed the 39-year-old American Tony Tucker to begin his second reign as holder of the World Boxing Organisation belt two years ago, Hide has showed little interest in boxing the big names. The WBO, the Puerto Rican-based sanctioning body with whom Warren primarily works, holds little sway at heavyweight. (Lewis is the World Boxing Council champion and Evander Holyfield holds the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation belts.)

Hide's first challenger, an inept Kansas cruiserweight named Damon Reed, lasted 52 seconds. After Reed, Willi "The Ox" Fischer, a third-rate German, was slaughtered in two rounds. Inedifying matches both. Next Saturday at the London Arena, Hide fights again, under pain of being stripped of his championship if he doesn't.

His opponent, a 6ft 8in, 17st Ukrainian named Vitali Klits-chko, has won 24 fights, all by knockout or stoppage. He is dangerous, as he demonstrated when he destroyed the current British champion Julius Francis in two rounds last year. Hide is expected to prevail. He combines precise punching with a speed not usually found in a heavyweight. The key to the fight is relatively easy to understand: Klitschko cannot knock out what he cannot hit, and Hide plans to be too fast for him, using the kind of jolting punches that have taken care of more than half of his 32 opponents inside two rounds.

"Klitschko's not mobile enough. He's just a big plodder. I'm too fast," says Hide, who knows what boxing writers expect him to say, and says it. "I'll knock him out. Inside five."

Beyond the boasts, Hide comes across as a man who is suspicious of strangers and who is prepared to trust only those closest to him. It is possible he is an on-top fighter, comfortable dishing it out but retaining the scars of his only professional defeat, in Las Vegas in 1995 when Riddick Bowe floored him seven times in six rounds..

There is something intangible about attraction, but the British tend not to be drawn to someone who seems interested only in beating up opponents who are not in his class, when there are others out there who are. To capture the imagination, Hide needs to trounce Klitschko and two or three top-class Americans to make a Lewis fight viable.

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