Boxing: `Money has become his God'

Boxing: Acrimonious split between Naseem and his mentor and manager since the age of seven
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The Independent Online
IT COMES as no surprise to discover that the relationship between Naseem Hamed and his mentor, Brendan Ingle, is now so fragile that many in boxing believe a split to be imminent.

Such alliances, no matter how deep rooted, seldom survive the whispers of exploitation that pour into a fighter's ears once the drums begin to roll and his purses climb into multiples of six figures.

Gradually Ingle's role, from being completely in charge of Hamed's career, has effectively been reduced to that of trainer.

It's an old story. From paying out 25 per cent (the manager's standard cut) of next to nothing to 25 per cent of plenty. In the hardest and most dangerous of sports, the fighter by popular definition is ultimately a cheated soul: manipulated, stolen from, then abandoned. But with notable exceptions - Henry Cooper and Jim Wicks, Terry Lawless and Jim Watt, Colin Jones and Eddie Thomas are three that spring to mind - few champions have remained unswervingly loyal to the men who brought them forward.

From the evidence of Nick Pitt's penetrating study, The Paddy And The Prince, this applies as much to Hamed as it did to the former World Boxing Council heavyweight champion, Frank Bruno, who brought his close association with Lawless to an acrimonious conclusion.

Ingle's protege - from just seven years old, when the Dubliner spotted him from the upper deck of a bus in Sheffield fighting off three much bigger boys outside a schoolyard - Hamed's disaffection appears to be the result of influence wielded for some time by his older brother, Riath.

Once the promoter Frank Warren began to advance Hamed's career it was inevitable that Ingle would figure less prominently in actual management, but the bond between fighter and trainer seemed secure enough to keep sibling interference out of the gym.

Instead, the relationship has been so undermined that it is maintained only by Ingle's practical reluctance to jump off the bandwagon.

The most damning chapter in Pitt's book is built around a diary Ingle kept during the build-up to Hamed's defence of the World Boxing Organisation featherweight championship against Juan Cabrera at Wembley in July last year.

Pitt writes: "In Naseem's personal development, and in his relationship with Brendan, it [the contest] was a major milestone on a downhill journey."

Ingle's diary begins on Tuesday 15 July: "Naz trained 5.30pm, trained with heavy gear on, finished around seven o'clock, went to Swallow Hotel to give him a rub-down, got in a car, Naz drove like mad... police followed and stopped Naz.Naz was obnoxious. It is so sad. Money has become his God. He is kidding everyone. But worst of all he is kidding himself. All he wants to hear is... praise and having yes men around him."

On the day Hamed was required to weigh in he did not return to his hotel until six o'clock in the morning and was later found to be 41/2lb over the 9st featherweight limit. Between midday and four in the afternoon he had four hot baths and then went to a steam room. Still too heavy by 4oz he had to shadow box in sweat gear to make the weight. Ingle's entry for the next day reads: "Naz boxed brilliant. Cabrera stopped in the second round."

Six weeks later Ingle told Hamed that he no longer wanted to train him, citing the grievances that had built up over three years. "I've got to the stage, with all the hassle I've had... I don't want to be involved. The way you've been training, the way you've been behaving, you've been horrible."

On the intervention of Hamed's father, Sal, a rapprochement was reached but trouble again flared when they attended the WBO annual convention in Los Angeles.

Pitt writes: "Naseem began with an old tease, a wind up. `What did you win, Brendan? Nothing. You never even won an area title'... After several minutes to and fro, Naseem went in to wound: `You know your trouble, Brendan? You never stood up to anybody. You never stood up to anybody in your life. You always let people bully you. Like that time with Mickey Duff when he slagged you off and you just stood for it'."

Shortly before Hamed defended his title against Kevin Kelley at Madison Square Garden, New York, in December last year Ingle received notification of a major change in their financial arrangement. Pitt records: "His [Ingle's] feelings swung from anger to amusement. Anger because for Brendan the terms of the agreement amounted to servitude, and displayed contempt for his methods and beliefs. Amusement kicked in when Brendan realised the absurdity of the notion that anyone - be it Naseem or Riath, who had no doubt commissioned and dictated the agreement - would agree to its terms."

Two days later Hamed came close to losing his title. After going down twice from Kelley's fast punches, he was saved only by natural power and a fighter's instinct.

l `The Paddy And The Prince', by Nick Pitt (Yellow Jersey Press, pounds 16), is published today.