Boxing: No hiding place as Hide seeks WBO title: The sport needs a worthy world heavyweight title fight at Millwall tonight. Jonathan Rendall reports

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The Independent Online
THANKS to the Frank Bruno-Jesse Ferguson fiasco in Birmingham, Herbie Hide and Michael Bentt will enter a poisoned arena at the New Den, in Millwall, London, tonight when they contest Bentt's World Boxing Organisation heavyweight championship.

Not since another Bruno farce, the one-round slaughter of bald, fat Chuck Gardner on a Riviera showground in 1987, has the wider channel-cruising public recoiled with such horror after innocently entering boxing's polluted waters following the Nine O'Clock News. If boxing and its television pursers are not careful next time, the public will have already left in the lifeboats.

None of this is the fault of Bentt or Hide, who unlike the hapless Ferguson are fit and trained and have not left their ambition in a left-luggage locker at Philadelphia airport. But if one of them is unfortunate enough to be knocked out early, or if it looks too one-sided, opprobrium beckons.

It does not help that what is an interesting contest has been elevated to world-championship status by the Miami-based WBO, whose practised junketeers are now polishing their tuxedos in yet another luxury London hotel for yet another payday in their welcoming home from home; in fact, their only welcoming home.

Bentt is 30, inexperienced in professional terms but with considerable amateur form behind him. He got here by shattering the chin of the latest white hope, Tommy 'The Duke' Morrison, but his own is said to have a touch of porcelain. Hide is 22, fast and agile but wholly unproven at this level. He has got here by the Bruno route of dancing on the derelict hulls of old destroyers.

Bentt is 2-1 on with the bookmakers, with Hide the outsider at 6-4 - a sporting equation for believers in either man, one would have thought, but William Hill reports that business has been almost nonexistent since Wednesday. Unversed in the sad but unsinister truth behind most of boxing's mismatches, after the Bruno bout the punters are suspiciously keeping their hands in their pockets.

Yet it is no wonder that they get the wrong impression when supposed protectors of the sport such as John Morris, the Board of Control's general secretary, respond to a crisis like Bruno-Ferguson not by announcing a Board inquiry into quite why Ferguson so embarrassingly appeared to breach the Trades Description Act, but by praising Bruno's performance to the skies.

This, when all around Morris even Bruno's most ardent advocates - including 'Arry, no less - were finally burying the myth of menace that used to surround big Frank's inadequate interim opponents when he was between the big paydays. In retaliation Hills have installed Bruno at insultingly long odds of 25-1 to win a valid (ie. non-WBO) world heavyweight title in the next 12 months.

That does not make Hide-Bentt invalid as a boxing match and both have suffered two months of daily pain. At Barry Hearn's Romford gym, the reports are that Hide has been impressive in decking his American sparring partners. Bentt had clearly done his serious work in Las Vegas. Since arriving, his workouts at the Thomas A'Becket gym on the Old Kent Road have mainly consisted of moving around the ring with light-heavies to improve his speed.

With such unreliable form to draw from one can only say that Bentt must be favoured but that Hide is far from out of it if his nerve holds. It could be a good fight: boxing needs one.