Boxing: King's eyes on a Prince

Harry Mullan says an idol's fall gives Naseem the opening he craves
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The Independent Online
Mike Tyson's misfortune could be Naseem Hamed's lucky break. With his biggest money-spinner off the scene for at least a year, promoter Don King will have to look for new attractions. Enter Naseem.

When Tyson went inside for three years for rape, King filled the gap by developing Julio Cesar Chavez into superstar status, and now Naseem, who defends his World Boxing Organisation and International Boxing Federation featherweight titles at Wembley on Saturday against Pastor Maurin of Argentina, is ideally placed to receive the same treatment.

American appetites have already been whetted by showing some of Naseem's recent defences on TV, and his live debut there is long overdue. He could have had his pick of undercard appearances in Las Vegas, but has always insisted that when he boxes there it must be in the main event. What sounded before like ego-tripping suddenly seems like solid business sense, as curiosity about whether the self-styled "Prince" is the genuine article has now built up to the point where he can virtually dictate his own terms.

He is the hottest property in boxing - and he knows it. Joe Kozumi, who manages the World Boxing Council champion, Luisito Espinosa (Naseem's only realistic rival), was at ringside in Manchester when Hamed destroyed Billy Hardy inside a round in his last defence and is distinctly lukewarm about the prospect of a unification match. "I don't know," he said with an eloquent shudder. "Hamed is so fast and he hits so very hard ..."

Maurin, 28, is unbeaten in 34 fights, of which he has won 21 inside the distance. The statistics are respectable, but they have been compiled mainly against bantam and super-bantam weights and he will find a shocking difference when he steps in with Naseem, a heavy featherweight who hits with a middleweight's power.

In his first fight this year, Maurin was taken the full 10 rounds by Sergio Liendo, whom Naseem blew away in two rounds in a 1995 defence of the WBC International Super- Bantamweight title. That form does not encourage optimism about Maurin's chances. To beat Naseem, you have to hurt him, and if Maurin couldn't dent Liendo he will certainly not be able to make much of an impression on Naseem.

The champion has been stung by rumours that he had not trained properly for recent defences, and although he gave the best answer by taking Hardy out so quickly (and doing the same, verbally, to the reporters who publicised the rumours) he has left nothing to chance and has prepared thoroughly.

Any unbeaten fighter deserves respect, and Argentinians are traditionally strong and willing competitors. Maurin's nickname in Argentina, where all his previous fights have taken place, means literally "Evil Cow". It probably sounds terrific in Spanish but loses its war-like quality in translation, and so he is being billed this time as "Mad Dog". The name change is unlikely to affect the outcome: look for Naseem to send him back to the kennel inside three rounds.