BOXING: Only the best will do for Hamed now

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Recent events remind us that in boxing we should expect the unexpected. But things went entirely to plan at Wembley Arena last Saturday evening when Naseem Hamed, the World Boxing Organisation and International Boxing Federation featherweight champion, bludgeoned his Argentinian challenger, Juan Gerardo Cabrera, into submission after 2min 17sec of the second round.

The outcome was as expected, even as promised. But Hamed did not need to be Nostradamus to predict that Cabrera, a substitute with only six days' notice, would not last longer than six minutes. The 22-year-old challenger was out of his depth and Hamed probably could have taken him out in round one had it suited him.

Yet this was exactly the manner of fight in which something could have gone wrong for Hamed, a routine defence against a challenger not even the most knowledgeable boxing observers could claim familiarity with. Cabrera had never been stopped in 26 previous fights, but he had not even fought at Argentinian National Championship level. Of his 24 wins, 20 had come by knock-out, but if Cabrera was obscure his opposition had been more so.

Perhaps the greatest threat to Hamed's unbeaten record, now standing at 27-0 with 25 ko's, was complacency. The 5ft 3in Shef- field southpaw has more ambition in his little finger than the 6ft 7in Henry Akinwande has in his entire body, on the evidence of Akinwande's challenge to Lennox Lewis, one week earlier. With his sights set on annexing the World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council nine-stone championships in double-quick time, Hamed could easily have underestimated an unknown such as Cabrera.

But Hamed, despite his larger-than-life image, has an emotional and psychological stability his hero, Mike Tyson, can only pray for. The 23-year-old's performance in this seventh defence of the WBO title (his second of the IBF championship), was that of a confident, mature professional with a very real claim to being the world's best fighter, pound for pound.

Cabrera did not stand a chance. Confused by Hamed's unorthodox style, he did not dare mount an attack for fear of being caught by the vicious, sweeping lead uppercut - so difficult to defend against - that has become Hamed's signature punch. When Hamed decided to go to work, the fight was as good as over. Cabrera's face had become unusually reddened by Hamed's powerful blows even before he was cut by the left eye early in the second. Hamed was toying with him, unleashing vicious barrages of punches and then standing off to admire his work. The fight was so one-sided it was becoming ugly when the referee Lew Moret called a halt, with Cabrera wilting on the ropes.

Hamed scored his 14th consecutive knockout, the eighth win of his championship career to have come inside two rounds. While praise must be qualified by Cabrera's apparent unworthiness as a challenger, Hamed appears to be going from strength to strength. No other featherweight could have disposed of the Argentinian, who was tough if nothing else, with such ease.

This was the first of Hamed's fights to be screened live, coast-to-coast, on terrestrial TV in the United States and it can only have given a favourable impression. "I think now the Americans know the best featherweight in the world is a British Arab from Sheffield," Hamed said.

But the experienced ABC network commentator Alex Wallau put Hamed's career in perspective when he said: "He's certainly a hard puncher, and without doubt one of the world's most exciting fighters, but Hamed can't be considered great until he beats someone great."

Hamed's promoter, Frank Warren, is experiencing great difficulty in arranging the matches that will establish Hamed as a truly outstanding champion. Prospective rivals are demanding unrealistic purses to face by far the biggest star in and around the featherweight division.

Despite Warren's best endeavours, potentially dangerous engagements against lesser fighters such as Cabrera seem destined to become commonplace for Hamed, whose next opponent is likely to be the IBF mandatory contender Hector Lizzaraga, a Mexican with only 33 wins from 46 fights, on the 20 September.

Quick to the canvas

Hamed's fastest championship wins

Date/challenger round time

16 Mar 96

Said Lawal 1 0:35

3 May 97

Billy Hardy 1 1:33

6 May 95

Enrique Angeles 2 0:55

4 Mar 95

Sergio Liendo 2 1:09

1 July 95

Juan-Polo Perez 2 2:00

19 July 97

Juan Gerado Cabrera 2 2:17

9 Nov 96

Remigio Molina 2 2:32

8 June 96

Daniel Alicea 2 2:46