The WBO title has never carried much prestige in this division. Ray Mercer allowed himself to be stripped of it because he could make more money by fighting (and losing to) Larry Holmes than by defending against Michael Moorer, who won the title and famously gave it back on the grounds that it was "retarding his career". Riddick Bowe and Henry Akinwande were equally unenthused by the honour - both relinquished it to take better paying assignments, Bowe against Holyfield and Akinwande against Lewis.
Hide places rather more value on the championship, which earned him pounds 2.3m when he lost it to Bowe in Las Vegas three years ago. He used the cash to build his dream house in Norwich, but that was his only big pay day and long spells of inactivity since have eroded his capital. A taste for expensive cars has not helped: his outsize garage houses a new Bentley, a Mercedes convertible and a Range Rover. Living like a heavyweight champion takes money, and at 26 Hide believes it's time his purses matched his own valuation of his worth.
Next week's cheque is unlikely to draw envious glances from Holyfield, who does not take off his dressing gown for less than $20m these days, but it is a step in the right direction. So too is the choice of opponent. Norris is a vast improvement on Hide's original challenger Dickie Ryan, from that boxing hotbed of Omaha, Nebraska, who commanded 77th position in the top 100 heavyweight ratings issued by the independent World Boxing Rankings but was conveniently in the WBO's top 12 when Frank Warren announced the match. In terms of his record (45 wins, all against nonentities, in 48 fights) Ryan compared with Peter McNeeley, the sacrificial offering for Mike Tyson's comeback in 1995. He is probably on a par with McNeeley in terms of ability too, and Warren was wise to replace him with Norris.
The 32-year-old Texan, a former World Boxing Association cruiserweight champion, has respectable credentials and went the 12-round course with Akinwande in a WBA final eliminator in December. It was, like most of Akinwande's fights, a dreadfully dull affair but at least Norris kept plodding after the lanky Englishman to lose on points. Norris had not boxed for more than a year and was ring-rusty. He ought to be sharper against Hide, a very different physical specimen from the 6ft 7in Akinwande (who outpointed the teenaged Hide in the 1989 ABA final). Styles make fights, and Hide is a much more open and entertaining performer.
Norris, elder brother of the former light-middleweight champion Terry Norris, has an impressive record of 47 wins and five defeats, as well as a no decision with the former WBA champion Tony Tubbs, whose 12-round points win over Norris in 1989 was overturned when Tubbs tested positive for cocaine. He is short by modern heavyweight standards, although taller than Tyson at 5ft 11in, but has had his share of success against bigger men.
Tony Tucker, whom Hide knocked out to regain the WBO belt last June, beat Norris in 1991 but lost a rematch five years later, and Norris also has a creditable win over Lennox Lewis's conqueror Oliver McCall. He held the cruiserweight title for two years (1993-95) and four defences before losing it in the London Arena to another American, Nate Miller, on an eighth-round knock-out. He was drained by the effort of weight-making that night, and fought without much heart or inspiration. Warren, who promoted that show, now has a hand in Norris's management and has done well to land two major heavyweight opportunities in succession for a veteran who, even in his prime, was never very marketable.
Norris is durable and willing, but the fast-handed Hide will hit him a lot more often than Akinwande and should stop him around the halfway mark.Reuse content