Boxing: Hide speeds to world title

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Boxing's truest warriors are a breed apart. It is in moments of pressure that the bully and the genuinely brave reveal themselves. And on Saturday evening in Norwich, Tony Tucker, who was beaten in two rounds by Herbie Hide for the vacant World Boxing Organisation heavyweight title, displayed a mettle sadly lacking in "Iron" Mike Tyson, who challenged Evander Holyfield for the World Boxing Association Championship later that night in Las Vegas.

Their predicaments were similar. Tucker and Tyson were both getting the worst of it. But where Tyson reacted so despicably when confronted by impending defeat, Tucker took his lumps, dare I say it, like a man.

A look of stoic resignation settled on the American veteran's face as Hide belaboured him with a speed of punch rare in heavyweight boxing. But Tucker did not look for an easy way out. Rather than bite his opponent, he bit the bullet. Twice he was knocked down, twice he dragged his 38- year-old frame into an upright position. When Tucker was floored a third time, the matter was taken out of his hands. Referee Raul Caiz had no option but to employ the WBO's three-knockdown rule after two minutes and 45 seconds of round two.

Hide more than anyone will be disappointed that Tyson lacked Tucker's moral fibre. The promoter, Frank Warren, had promised the Norfolk-Nigerian a date with Tyson at Carrow Road if both emerged victorious from their title fights. But Hide can console himself in having proved his capability to beat bigger, more experienced fighters. This had been put into doubt by his humiliating, six-knock down defeat at the fists of Riddick Bowe in March 1995.

Unlike Holyfield, the transformation from cruiserweight to heavyweight had not gone smoothly for Hide, who had the appearance of a fighter caught between two stalls; he could add weight enough to compete in the higher division, but floundered in the search for corresponding strength. That in itself need not have proved fatal to Hide's dream of heavyweight success; his speed of hand and foot could offset such a deficit. But to capitalise fully on the gifts at his disposal, Hide needed to display a degree of self-control that appeared to be beyond him.

Tyson was by no means the first fighter to bite an opponent. Hide, for one, had sunk his teeth into the shoulder of Michael Bentt during the March 1994 fight that saw him become WBO champion for the first time. And "careless" use of the head brought about his downfall, and the loss of the title, against Bowe one year later. Bowe was being soundly outboxed until the butt brought him to life, with chilling effectiveness. A series of run-ins with the police further marked Hide as psychologically fragile.

But against Tucker, for the first time in his 31-fight career (30 wins), Hide put it all together and showed that he can compete at the heavyweight division's highest level. Bigger nights and bigger wins await him.

The chief supporting contest at Norwich Sports Village saw another local fitter put himself in line for a world title shot when Jon Thaxton, the WBO and International Boxing Federation Intercontinental light-welterweight champion, knocked out the German-based Armenian Gagik Kachatrian in two rounds. Frank Warren promised that the ticket-selling efforts of Thaxton and family had ensured such a challenge would take place in Norwich.