Boxing: Hide's quick step closer to Lewis

HERBIE HIDE has no doubts about his standing among the world's heavyweights. "I believe they're all running from me - I'm too quick, they're scared of me," said Hide. "I'm so fast, so powerful and so sharp - I believe I'm the man out there." And he will continue to believe so if he is able to dominate opponents as easily as he did Willi Fischer, a 26-year-old from Frankfurt who challenged Hide for the World Boxing Organisation championship in Norwich last night.

Hide hardly needed to go into second gear in order to destroy his mandatory contender in round two. And now, says Frank Warren, the champion is ready to take on far stiffer opposition in the form of Lennox Lewis, the World Boxing Council champion.

"Lennox has got a belt, Herbie's got a belt, why can't we get the fight on?" said Warren. "Forget about the world, let's see who the best heavyweight in Britain is."

Certainly, the 27-year-old "Dancing Destroyer" from Norwich is building impressive credentials. Hide's 52-second blast-out of the undeserving American, Damon Reed, earlier this year, was the fastest-ever win in a heavyweight title fight; and the victory over Fischer was Hide's 30th by stoppage in a record of 31-1, his only loss coming three years ago against the far bigger, much more experienced Riddick Bowe.

But Hide, despite his championship, is regarded as a second-tier heavyweight. Considerable work needs to be done before a match with Lewis would be worthwhile for the WBC champion.

Once again, the 5,000-seat Norwich Sports Village was less than packed, and that the venue was as full as it was can be attributed largely to the ticket-selling efforts of Marion Thaxton, the mother of local light- welterweight hero Jon Thaxton, who featured in the chief supporting bout. A surprise boost to the live gate came from a couple of hundred German fans who made the trip to Norfolk - presently, Hide can only dream of such support.

Against Fischer, Hide used the opening round for a little scouting, sizing up the second challenger of his second reign as WBO champion. But Fischer's defence was noticeably less leaky than the roof of this leisure centre venue, which let in water throughout the main event, and it seemed as though the challenger might be fundamentally sound enough to survive a few rounds.

But when Hide decided to go to work early in the second, the fight was as good as over. A straight right-left hook combination dropped the German, who was up quickly, seemingly more surprised than hurt. Fischer bundled Hide to the canvas in an attempt to buy himself the few extra seconds that might have allowed his head to clear, only to be floored almost instantly by another left hook. The German made it to his feet again, but, moments later, another hook smashed off the challenger's head, flooring Fischer again, and forcing referee Joe Cortez, of Las Vegas, to call a halt after one minute, four seconds of the round - the three-knockdown (in one round) rule being applicable in all WBO championship fights.

"One thing's for sure, nobody finishes a man better than Herbie - he's a natural destroyer," said Frank Warren, who celebrated promoting his 100th world title fight. But Warren knows he will have his work cut out in order to take Hide's career on to the next level.

An even bigger challenge for the London-based promoter will be rebuilding the career of Thaxton, who lost his WBO and IBF Intercontinental Light Welterweight titles by seventh round stoppage to unknown American Emmanuel Burton. Thaxton was the mandatory contender for the "full" WBO championship, but he paid the price for a 10-month absence due to injury. Burton, by comparison, had fought three times this month and was simply too sharp for the popular local, who was rescued from further punishment by referee Dave Parris.