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BOXING; Ukrainian blocking Hide's big challenge

HERBIE HIDE'S dream showdown with Lennox Lewis may have come an important step closer during the past week.

Lewis, after showing no interest in the World Boxing Organisation crown, has now added Hide's title to his agenda, and an open-air fight next summer would be an attractive all-British meeting of muscle.

However, a giant shadow has spread itself across that rich prospect in the shape of the 6ft 8in Ukrainian Vitali Klitschko, Hide's dangerous mandatory challenger at the London Arena tonight.

Even accounting for Klitschko's excellent amateur pedigree, professional record of 24 straight stoppages and an advantage in bulk of almost 26lb, Hide's relative inactivity over the past four years threatens to be more of a handicap.

And his bad-tempered antics during the build-up to his third defence in his second term as WBO heavyweight champion may have revealed mounting psychological pressure ahead of Hide's biggest bout since the stoppage defeat by Riddick Bowe in March 1995.

Lewis' manager, Frank Maloney, said: "Lennox says he doesn't just want to unify three belts, he wants to unify all four, and if it means fighting Hide, then that's all right with him."

Hide has boxed only 12 rounds in the four years since fighting Bowe, and just three in two easy defences since halting Tony Tucker to regain the title in 1997. He had to pull out of two defences against America's Orlin Norris because of a troublesome rash and an Achilles tendon injury.