Boxing: Hide seeks big payday: Jonathan Rendall weighs up prospects for Saturday's world title fight at Millwall

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The Independent Online
MUCH more will be at stake than just the WBO heavyweight bauble when Britain's Herbie Hide challenges Michael Bentt, the American born in London, at the Millwall football ground next Saturday night.

For the winner, there is the promise of a few lucrative defences of the cardboard crown followed by a money-for-life payday against a real champion, be it Lennox Lewis or Evander Holyfield. If Hide wins, his promoter Barry Hearn will be up there dealing hands with the really big players, something Romford's former emperor of snooker probably thinks should have happened sooner.

It is six years since Hearn was touting his first heavyweight hope, Jess Harding, flying the Potters Bar bruiser to Las Vegas and pronouncing him the future conqueror of Mike Tyson. Even the affable Harding had the sense to look amused at mention of that surreal notion. Crushing defeat by Gary Mason followed, and Hearn went back to square one with Hide, then a teenage novice.

Bentt, despite having had only 12 professional bouts (11 wins), deserves to be included among genuine heavyweight contenders, and not only on the basis of his one-round win over the former WBO champion Tommy 'The Duke' Morrison, whose only credential was a victory over the ancient George Foreman. That result remains one of the many taxing mysteries of our times.

The recycling of Morrison has already begun and he will traverse the Kansas City stiffs trail in time to be presented as a legitimate challenger to Saturday's winner, along with Frank Bruno, who on Wednesday faces more arduous but hardly Spartan opposition in the form of the 37-year-old journeyman Jesse Ferguson.

The real indicator of Bentt's quality comes from his amateur record. He had more than 150 amateur bouts and in the mid- to-late 1980s was the western world's top-rated boxer, ahead of the likes of Lewis and Riddick Bowe, if behind the terrifying Cubans. Although Hide has had more professional bouts (25 wins), he will be the the one conceding the experience.

Bentt's professional debut was a disaster when he was knocked out in one round by a supposed non-puncher named Jerry Jones. Ever since, it has been alleged that Bentt is understocked in the chin department; a claim re-inforced when Mickey Duff, who briefly had him under contract, marked Bentt's only other British appearance by presenting him with James Holly, the most inept import to splash down on British soil for some time.

Bentt, 29, was eventually relaunched by the American manager Stan Hoffman, a former Motown Records executive whose speciality is scouring the hobo diaspora of discarded prospects in search of bargains. Once selected, Hoffman's boys are then kept lying low but highly trained until their confidence has returned, the right opening appears, and they are 'reluctantly' offered by Hoffman as opponents to unsuspecting managements such as Morrison's.

Hide, 22, has by contrast lived a pampered fistic existence. He is even more unproven than Frank Bruno was before his challenge to 'Terrible' Tim Witherspoon in 1986. No Bonecrushers have been brought in to spoil the script. But nor has Hide attracted anything like the popularity of Bruno's hysteria- crazed build-up. Mainly this is because Hide is considered far too small for a modern heavy. It is also because of lack of exposure, or the wrong sort. Some said Hearn had made a Harding-style gaffe when, a year ago, as Bowe visited Britain, the intrepid promoter paraded Hide diminutively beside Bowe, claiming him to be 'the most talented boxer since Muhammad Ali'.

Unfortunately, a few days later, Hide laboured to beat a reluctant part-time heavyweight in a British title defence designed to showcase his talents to a network ITV audience. It seems that ITV ceased then to be believers, and Saturday's contest will be screened by BSkyB. ITV turned down Hide-Bentt on the terms Hearn was seeking and, unfortunately for Hoffman, the expected dollars 1m bonanza of Bentt's purse has been cut by a third.

In fact, a lot of what Hide lacks in size he makes up for in speed. He is very nimble and fast for a heavyweight. Sparring partners report that he has improved much in the past few months and should certainly not be written off. Nevertheless, belief rather than knowledge will be his chief ally when he steps into the ring.

Hide may take heart that Bentt recently abandoned a training session in Las Vegas with a mysterious ailment: officially it was dehydration, but reports say Bentt was heavily floored in sparring. Bentt also says that his religious beliefs now prevent him from hitting an opponent before an opponent hit him; although this did not prevent his chinning Hide at a press conference to announce the fight.

With the help of Hoffman's assuaging words in the corner, spiritual concerns should be deferred long enough for Mammon to be appeased and for Bentt to prevail in a tough fight.

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