Boxing: Hide uppercut exposes dark secret: Briton's early blow proves devastating for flawed world champion. Jonathan Rendall reports

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The Independent Online
THE punch that crowned Herbie Hide the World Boxing Organisation heavyweight champion at Millwall football ground, London, on Saturday was not the perfect right hand with which he sent Michael Bentt crashing down for the count in the seventh, but an uppercut that floored the American in the third and scrambled his senses.

Although Bentt had managed to rise groggily from that wrenching blow at the count of nine, thereafter he was like a man caught in a snowstorm without goggles, so disoriented did he look. Hide could probably have finished it any time after the third, but neither he nor his corner were taking any risks until absolutely certain that Bentt's sting had been drawn.

Bentt took jab after jab from the circling Hide and it would have been more merciful had the challenger been a bigger puncher. Immediately after the finish some were questioning Bentt's heart after seeing the way he had lain prostrate in the seventh, apparently out, before suddenly leaping to his feet just after the count had been completed. In fact Bentt's wounded condition should have been obvious after the third and, in the light of his subsequent worrying collapse, the bravery with which he stumbled through the nightmarish blur of the following rounds saluted.

Nevertheless, it was disturbing to hear from Bob Arum, the American co-promoter, that a 'viral problem' that had been vaguely alluded to before the fight had in fact involved Bentt, who complained of dizziness during training, undergoing neurological tests in Las Vegas at the behest of his handlers.

Bentt will have taken the British Board of Control's mandatory skull X-ray upon arrival, but it is not known whether the Board was alerted to the ominous background.

Punches that had not bothered journeymen losers such as Everett 'Big Foot' Martin had a wrecking effect on Bentt. Somewhere along the way of a 15-year boxing career and 190 bouts, almost all of them in the world of top international amateur competition where boxers are not afforded the protection of professional match-makers, Bentt had evidently lost the ability to absorb all but the most innocent of punches.

The fragments that pointed to Bentt's terrible flaw, with hindsight, present something of a fuller if still incomplete picture: the knock-out defeat to a supposed light puncher, Jerry Jones, on his debut; the sporadic ring appearances thereafter, and then only against the rankest opposition until his WBO chance against Tommy Morrison last autumn; the overlooked fact that Bentt was himself virtually out on his feet when he nailed Morrison; the stories of Bentt being knocked out in sparring when preparing for Hide.

The portrait that now comes through is not of the cocky pre-fight favourite, but of a man wrestling with a dreadful secret, deluding perhaps even himself, and understandably determined to cash in before he was found out.

His manager, Stan Hoffman, said: 'I could see there was something wrong. A fighter gets ready for a fight, goes in the ring and within the first minute or two someone like myself can see that he's not doing those things that he'd been trained all his life to do.' At the end of the first, Bentt was asked by his corner what was wrong. He replied: 'I don't know. I can't get off.'

It is a shame that Hide's victory will inevitably lose stature, for he fought the perfect tactical fight. Aware that Bentt had been genuinely needled by their pre-fight brawl at a press conference, he refused to be goaded into a punch-up and taunted Bentt by staying mainly out of range before catching him unawares in the third. 'When you fight me you're fighting a ghost,' he said. 'I'm not there to be hit.'

Despite this traditional hyperbole Hide has an unusual background for a performer in a poor man's sport. Born in Nigeria, he was adopted and brought up by a middle-class Norwich family and attended public school. There, his idol was Frank Bruno and Hide says he cried the night that Bruno was knocked out by Tim Witherspoon.

As the new champion ascends to Bruno-style pay-days, he may wonder quite what he has got into.

(Photograph omitted)