Hamed in race to make weight

CESAR SOTO bought chewing gum with his first purse, and the Mexican is still displaying some of that product's durability 62 fights and 13 years later. The WBC featherweight champion, from the Mexican border town of Durango, has never been knocked down, stopped or even cut.

CESAR SOTO bought chewing gum with his first purse, and the Mexican is still displaying some of that product's durability 62 fights and 13 years later. The WBC featherweight champion, from the Mexican border town of Durango, has never been knocked down, stopped or even cut.

So, Naseem Hamed's much-vaunted punching power may have to attain new levels of ferocity to put that first blot on Soto's permanently upright and scar-free record. It is a tally which began with an opening-round knockout over a man 12 years his senior, and was the first of 39 stoppages, 27 inside three rounds.

Though the Mexican is not classed as an exceptionally big hitter, Hamed cannot leave himself underprotected in tomorrow's fight at the Joe Louis Arena here. Soto, 27, outscored the Filipino champion, Luisito Espinosa, in May to land his WBC title after narrowly failing to beat the same man in 1996, the last of his seven defeats.

The Sheffield-based Hamed is typically full of confidence. He said: "Have you seen the size of his jaw? I can't miss that. He's going to go down against me." But it would be foolish to underestimate the threat of Soto, who will receive a career-best $1m (£606,000) for the fight and acknowledges the ability of Hamed. "He's a good champion, very difficult, very awkward, and he's eccentric - but it's part of the show," said Soto.

"Yes, he has power, but it doesn't bother me at all. Hamed should be the one who's concerned. I've never been down in 62 fights, not been on the canvas, and have never cut. Hamed makes his big entries to the ring and he makes his money from dancing and not for fighting."

Soto began fighting for money at the age of 13, not unusual in a Latin environment. Now he owns three houses and three cars, adding: "It's been hard work but it's been worth it. I was very enthusiastic about the sport, so I started very early. Before my first fight I was very afraid, I'm always afraid, but when I'm in the ring the feeling goes away."

The Mexican can be one-dimensional and predictable but it would appear that Hamed has something of a fight on his hands. Hamed's camp are sticking to a 2pm weigh-in time in Detroit today, despite complaints from Soto's handlers.

The Mexican's trainer, Manuel Diaz, argues that the two nine-stoners should step on the scales three hours later to comply with WBC rules.

The British promoter Barry Hearn, who is working with Hamed, contends that the WBC regulations state that weigh-ins should take place not less than 24 hours and not more than 30 prior to the event, so it will remain at its original time.

Soto's management obviously believe that Hamed, a big featherweight, may be having difficulty making the correct weight, and an earlier weigh-in will give the World Boxing Organisation champion extra time to resume peak strength before the fight.

During Hamed's final days at his training camp, in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, he was thought to be around two pounds above the limit, which is just about on target. But Diaz said: "They are already going against WBC rules. They have set the weigh-in at two o'clock. But that should be five o'clock, so we are three hours early. They should comply by the WBC rules."

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