Boxing: Strange game of Hide and seek over money: Controversy continues to surround heavyweight fight as Morrison heads into the Orient in search of a world title

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The Independent Online
TWENTY YEARS ago almost to the week, the south Londoner John Daly pulled together perhaps the most exotic and successful promotion in boxing history when he paired Muhammed Ali with George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle.

But in the early hours of tomorrow morning here, Daly looks set to produce one of the great turkeys of all time when Herbie Hide defends his World Boxing Organisation heavyweight title against Tommy Morrison in the fight which, it seems, virtually nobody wants to see.

The premise of the promotion was sound: with all that loose money floating around in Hong Kong, who cares to risk running in Atlantic City or New York?

But Daly and his local partner, one William J Gibbons, reckoned without the wave of apathy which greeted the project in a city which has no tradition of professional boxing. The result has been a flop of heroic proportions.

Bob Arum, of the American company Top Rank, the promoter with whom the various British managers involved in the show had contracts, flew into town this week like the Seventh Cavalary to rescue the deal.

Even so, the outcome was in doubt until late yesterday afternoon, when the financial guarantees which satisfied Barry Hearn - the manager of Hide and Steve Collins, who defends his WBO middleweight title against Lonnie Beasley in the show's opener - and Mickey Duff - who guides the other two British main- eventers, Frank Bruno and Billy Schwer - were finally put in place.

The uncertainty must have been unsettling for the principals as much as for the unfortunate Daly, who faces a monumental loss after advance ticket sales were so poor that Arum was compelled to offer a 'two-for-the- price-of-one' deal unprecedented in heavyweight championship boxing history.

The nearest historical parallel is Jack Dempsey's ill-fated defence against Tommy Gibbons in Shelby, Montana, which was such a magnificent failure that most of the town's leading businessmen, who had been talked into underwriting the promotion by Dempsey's persuasive manager Jack Kearns, went bankrupt. Kearns and Dempsey, needless to say, left town next morning on the first available train, clutching the cash guarantee which the ill-advised townsmen had lodged with Kearns before the show.

Dempsey v Gibbons was actually an interesting and even significant heavyweight fight and so, in today's devalued terms, is Hide v Morrison. The Nigerian-born Hide is the wild card in the heavyweight pack: he may be good enough to compete with the division's 'real' names like Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe, Oliver McCall et al, or he may be yet another over-protected nonentity who will shrivel away to nothing when he is finally exposed to some real competition.

So far he has done everything asked of him, although the demands have been modest. The most meaningful test he has faced was against Michael Bentt, who had flattened Morrison in the first round to take the WBO title. Bentt (who is here to commentate for American TV) was expected to dispose of Hide without undue difficulty, but the challenger gave a display of suprising maturity to take the title with a seventh-round knockout.

The result was marred by Bentt's subsequent removal to hospital with a brain injury which he apparently carried into the ring that night, but it remains a worthwhile achievement which has caused even the hard-bitten American fight traders to take note of the unbeaten youngster from Norwich.

Morrison looked like a genuine contender for world honours until he went the way of all Great White Hopes when he was hit on the chin first by Ray Mercer -who fights Frank Bruno here - and then by Bentt. He is still dangerous enough to make it exciting for a few rounds, but Hide should be too young, fresh and ambitious for a man who has already learned the game's harsh realities.

Bruno faces a more straightforward assignment against Mercer, who has never quite lived up to the potential he showed when winning the gold medal in the Seoul Olympics and he is unlikely to have enough left to interfere with Bruno's hopes of a fourth world title bid.