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Cash-wrangle Hamed gives up title

Prince Naseem Hamed, widely regarded as the world's top featherweight, has relinquished his WBO title in a dispute over a mandatory defence.

Prince Naseem Hamed, widely regarded as the world's top featherweight, has relinquished his WBO title in a dispute over a mandatory defence.

The undefeated Hamed, who has held the title since 1995, refused to fight No 1 contender Istvan "Koko" Kovacs.

The fight was due to take place in England on November 4.

Home Box Office, the American cable television network which screens Hamed's fights, said it was not satisfied with Kovacs' credentials and was offering Hamed only a fraction of his usual purse.

Kovacs is now likely to be matched against Mexico's Marco Antonio Barrera for the vacant title, with Hamed to face the winner.

In his most recent fight, Hamed retained the WBO title by stopping Augie Sanchez in the fourth round of their fight in August.

Hamed is 35-0, with 31 KOs.

Boxing fans have been clamoring for Hamed to fight either Barrera or Erik Morales, both super bantamweights.

Hamed's brother and business manager, Riath, sent a letter to WBO president Francisco Valcarcel informing him of the decision to give up the belt.

"Naseem is unable to fulfill his mandatory obligation due to HBO not approving Koko Kovacs as an opponent," he wrote.

"In order to maintain the excellent relationship that we have enjoyed for the last five years, I would like to notify you of Naseem's decision to vacate the title.

"Upon vacating the title, Naseem would still like to be rated No. 1 to allow him the option of fighting for the WBO belt again in the not too distant future."

Naseem Hamed insists losing his title has cleared the way for bouts against the world's best nine-stone fighters.

He came to a mutual decision with the WBO to give up his belt.

Hamed's American cable television paymasters HBO would not meet his purse demands for a fight which they considered a mismatch, but which the WBO - who ranked Kovacs their number one contender - insisted upon.

The WBO is now likely to make a fight between Hungarian Kovacs and Mexican Marco Antonio Barrera for the vacant title, with Hamed first in line to fight the winner.

But the now title-less Hamed, who has come under fire from HBO for not fighting the division's biggest names, today suggested he would shun the sanctioning bodies and pursue the fights that matter.

He said: "My decision stems from my desire to fight the world's top fighters, battle-tested world champions, rather than the manufactured contenders of boxing's governing bodies.

"I carried the WBO belt for five years and defended it 15 times against 10 world champions. My victories over the WBO, IBF, WBA and WBC title holders make me the true featherweight champion of the world."

Hamed has suffered from the farcical nature of boxing politics since he was forced to give up the IBF title he won from Tom Johnson in 1997 when he refused to meet their little-known mandatory contender Hector Lizarraga.

Hamed subsequently beat WBA king Wilfredo Vazquez - who was stripped for agreeing to meet Hamed - and WBC champion Cesar Soto, but was denied that belt because the WBC refuse to recognise WBO champions.

"The titles claimed by Derrick Gainer, Paul Ingle and Guty Espadas are political gifts and each wears a paper crown until they face the true champion," Hamed added.

And Hamed sent out a challenge to Barrera, the man he is still pencilled in to meet in his first fight next year.

"My immediate goal is to fight the man widely considered the greatest threat to my dominance of the featherweight division, the great Mexican champion Marco Antonio Barrera.

"Marco Barrera, hear this: I hereby challenge you to face me, man-to-man, in the first quarter of the year 2001, at a site to be determined, for the linear featherweight championship of the world, with the winner to be recognised as the one true featherweight champion."