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Boxing: Nelson's title victory fails to restore faith

BOXING NEEDED a nice, clean conclusion from the title fight between Johnny Nelson and Carl Thompson at Derby Storm Arena on Saturday night. An irritating pall persists from New York two weekends earlier and the unpopular draw between heavyweights Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield. The public, they of damaged faith, needed to see a winner win and a loser lose the weekend's World Boxing Organisation cruiserweight title bout. Instead, another fight ended in confusion.

Given the ower media profile of the Derby show, it is unlikely that local councillors will ask referee Paul Thomas to produce his bank statements. But his own, somewhat minor contribution to boxing's controversy account - ever in the red - showed it need not take a bankrupt judge of suspicious origins to provide an unsatisfactory result. Any human involvement in the officiating process can and will bring curiously objective readings of situations, as 1,000 Olympic bouts will always remind us.

Thompson, the low-key Mancunian who last year fought two torrid battles with Chris Eubank, winning them both, was ruled out in round five against Nelson. Referee Thomas, like the much-maligned New Jersey judge Eugenia Williams at Madison Square Garden, saw something nobody else did: not, in this case, a Holyfield victory, but signs that Thompson, who had been dropped in the fourth, was unable to continue half- way through the following round.

His decision to call a halt at the 1min 42sec mark of the fifth seemed shocking. Thompson had not been hit cleanly and appeared to be stylistically dishevelled rather than disorientated or discombobulated but Thomas, Derby-based and experienced, had a closer view than the rest of the hall and thought Nelson was irretrievably in charge.

The new champion's trainer, Brendon Ingle, had collected an MBE from Buckingham Palace the previous day but Nelson could not pick up his prize initially - Thompson, angry and stunned, refused to let the belt leave his dressing-room. "I'm not one for letting fights go on too long, far from it," said the beaten fighter's trainer, Billy Graham. "But Carl was never hurt in there. His eyes were totally clear. After what he went through to win those fights with Eubank, this seemed so unfair."

Despite two previous and inept world title challenges, Nelson was an emotional favourite at Derby. This would be the 32-year-old's last crack at a major title and the likeable Yorkshireman's personal battle to overcome a severe lack of self-belief was long awaited. That he won this particular fight is not in question. Which cannot be said of the one with Thompson. Anyone for another re-match?

Herbie Hide has been forced to pull out of Saturday's WBO heavyweight title defence against Orlin Norris of the United States at the Royal Albert Hall with an Achilles tendon injury.