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Boxing: Long before the first bell of his world title fight, Hamed has put noses out of joint in Atlantic City

FRANK WARREN'S understanding of the rancour that flares up frequently between Naseem Hamed and the sportswriting profession is one of simple chronology. "It's generational," the World Boxing Organisation featherweight champion's promoter said again this week in Atlantic City.

If there is some substance in this it does not excuse behaviour to suggest that Hamed considers himself above deportment thought becoming to a fighter.

Shortly after a belated arrival on the Jersey shore, and the whirlwind work-out that drew admiration from bystanders, Hamed targeted a number of media representatives, including the former light-heavyweight champion Glenn McCrory who is employed as a boxing analyst by Sky television.

It isn't known how close Hamed came to discovering the perils of stepping that far up from his weight class (McCrory wisely refused to be drawn) but the champion soon had others in his sights, including the Sun newspaper's veteran boxing writer, Colin Hart, who was not about to give ground.

Coming across, not for the first time, as a young man who has little appreciation of a gift that came from the womb and the good things that have happened to him, encouraged by an unattractive entourage, Hamed was obnoxious.

Warren's defence of his principal promotional asset also includes the charge that when howling after antiquity older boxing writers choose to ignore the allowances they once made for Muhammad Ali's verbal excesses.

To even speak of Hamed in the same breath as the most visible champion in history puts Warren on dangerous ground but in one respect there is something in what he goes around saying.

Published in the United States this week, the book King of the World by David Remnick, who edits The New Yorker magazine, reminds us of the contempt in which Ali was held by boxing writers when coming forward in 1964 to challenge Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship. Offended both by his style and his brashness they wanted to see him beaten.

Not so long ago I thought about this when chastised mildly by Warren for suggesting that there is a great deal of room for improvement in Hamed's behaviour. Was it the passage of time, the intolerance of ageing?

If it is troublesome to think this possible, there is not, of course, any valid comparison between Ali and the 24-year-old from Sheffield who is going up against Wayne McCullough at the Atlantic City Convention Centre tomorrow night in defence of his 9st title.

Apart from anything else, Ali was accommodating and funny and transcended boxing. Hamed is simply a child of his time, utterly scornful of tradition, with an ego swollen by projection.

Probably, there is a sunny side to Hamed's nature but all too often he represents himself as a fully paid-up member of yob society. The performance he gave at Tuesday's press conference was ugly. He was spiteful, insulting.

This has done nothing for Hamed's reputation on this side of the Atlantic - not that it yet amounts to very much anyway.

Because of the delay caused when a pathetic lapse in administration left Hamed without a work permit there has been very little time in which to drum up business.

Meanwhile, the challenger refuses to become involved in hyperbolic nonsense typified by the insulting telephone calls Hamed has made repeatedly to his quarters. "Until we get into the ring I want nothing to do with him," McCullough said after a closed work-out on Wednesday.

Few imagine that McCullough has enough to prevent Hamed retaining the title after 30 consecutive professional victories but the Ulsterman who took up residence in Las Vegas five years ago is optimistic. "He's got power," McCullough said, "but I've been in with fighters who hit harder."

Hamed finds it impossible to refrain from savage prediction, promising to inflict so much harm on the challenger that his career will be over after tomorrow's proceedings. "I'm going to beat him up," the champion said, "beat him so badly that he won't want to fight again."

Meanwhile, McCullough still waits for proof that his purse of about $500,000 (pounds 315,000) is guaranteed. Shortly before McCullough's attorney Stuart Campbell arrived yesterday another associate admitted that they have got no further than assurances. "If there is nothing more by fight time there may not be a fight," he warned.

When the contestants came together at a press conference yesterday Hamed's usual brashness was in contrast to the challenger's calm demeanour.

Without the disrespectful viciousness it could be tolerated as simply a wearisome manifestation of the generational difference Warren puts forward in mitigation.

Nevertheless, watching Hamed cavort, noting his preoccupation with self, you have to doubt his claim to maturity since becoming a husband and father.

McCullough's dignified pledge to conduct himself in a thoroughly professional manner seemed at first to have persuaded Hamed that a restrained response was called for.

Referring to the presence of the challenger's wife, Cheryl, and their seven month-old baby, he said that no offence should be taken. Then he reaffirmed his intention of battering McCullough out of boxing. "When I heard that he was sparring with Kevin Kelly I burst out laughing," he said.

In December last year Kelly dropped Hamed three times before being counted out himself. "It wasn't the real me in there that night but I still flattened him," Hamed added. "When I've finished with McCullough on Saturday they can lay down side by side. I've had the third round in my mind for weeks and that's when it will be unless I am of a mind to finish things earlier."

The announcement that a fund has been formed to look after the children of Gerald McClellan, who will never recover from the terrible injury sustained against Nigel Benn, prompted a question that flustered Hamed and brought a dark look to Warren's face.

Asked whether in view of the reference to McClellan's plight he wanted to withdraw his earlier remarks Hamed snapped, "Nix".

The impression, and not for the first time, was that he would benefit from being told to be a good boy and go off and play with the other children.

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