Boxing: Hamed to make return in London

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The Independent Online

Naseem Hamed, the fallen idol of British boxing, will return to the ring in London on 23 March in the first of a new three-fight deal with the American cable company HBO in what will be his first fight since losing his unbeaten record last April to Marco Antonio Barrera.

Hamed was due to fight in November, but a dispute with HBO over the quality of opponent and the assault on the World Trade Centre in New York led to the boxer postponing his return and then disappearing off the scene. At first Hamed blamed the attacks on the United States for his withdrawal, but it emerged that HBO executives were unhappy with the list of opponents that Hamed suggested and this led to an announcement that the boxer had split from HBO, but the rift lasted less than 24-hours.

However, negotiations took place over Christmas with HBO, and Hamed, managed by his brother Riath, is expected to sign the new deal next week and will then start to train to lose the 40lb he gains between fights.

The first fight in London will probably be against the current European featherweight champion, Manuel Calvo, from Spain, but the level of opposition will improve for the second fight in the summer in America. The third fight of the new deal will be an all important pay-per-view meeting at the end of the year against the winner of the eagerly-anticipated rematch between Barrera and Erik Morales, which is scheduled to take place in Las Vegas on 2 March.

Hamed, who will be 28 next month, was unbeaten in 35 fights before losing on points to Barrera in Las Vegas. It was a dismal performance and he tarnished his reputation further by refusing to enforce a rematch clause. A few weeks after Hamed's loss, Lennox Lewis was knocked out by Hasim Rahman and demanded a rematch before he had even left the ring.

"We are looking at a new contract now with HBO," confirmed Riath, who in the past has kept negotiations private. "Naseem is happy and he is looking forward to boxing again."

Four months ago Hamed had a small gym built for him in his home town of Sheffield and that is where he will begin his preparation in solitude for his return.

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