Hamed lines up Barrera

Naseem Hamed's decision to relinquish the World Boxing Organisation featherweight title after five years and 15 defences will lead directly to a match in Las Vegas before May next year against Mexico's Marco Antonio Barrera.

Naseem Hamed's decision to relinquish the World Boxing Organisation featherweight title after five years and 15 defences will lead directly to a match in Las Vegas before May next year against Mexico's Marco Antonio Barrera.

Barrera, who holds the WBO's super-bantamweight title, is the fighter that Hamed's television paymasters HBO want for the British boxer's long overdue appearance in Las Vegas in what will be his first time on pay-per-view in the United States. "If they both enter the ring without belts the fight will be easier to make," admitted Hamed's brother Riath, who looks after the boxer's personal interests.

Hamed had been under pressure from the Puerto Rican-based sanctioning body to defend his title against their mandatory challenger, the Hungarian Istavan Kovacs. However, HBO in New York rejected Kovacs, who as an amateur won the world and Olympic titles, and told Hamed that if he fought him his purse would be reduced by 35 per cent.

"It is not our fault that this has happened," claimed Riath. "There was a problem with HBO because they didn't want the Kovacs fight. We are not prepared to take a pay cut. That is not realistic.

"The WBO wanted us to come up with a solution and we have worked hard to find a way to satisfy everybody but it has not been enough. We offered Kovacs a place on the undercard of Naz's next fight for good money. He said no," continued Riath, who insisted that existing deals with BSkyB in the United Kingdom and HBO in the USA would not be affected by Hamed's new status.

Hamed is the best featherweight in the world and has also won both the International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Council versions in unified title fights. He was forced to surrender both when it was obvious that his loyalties were to the WBO.

The WBO has benefited by collecting over $1m (£690,000) in sanctioning fees from Hamed since he beat Steve Robinson to win the title in Cardiff in September 1995 at a time when the organisation needed a main attraction. Hamed will now be the WBO's No 1 contender for his old title and will in theory be eligible to fight the winner of a title fight involving Kovacs and another, as yet unknown, fighter but only if HBO approve. It is farcical.

The stance taken by HBO's is the most alarming development so far in the ongoing power struggle between television money and boxing's traditional powerbrokers; the manager and the promoters. Kovacs is an excellent fighter and HBO's decision to reduce Hamed's pay because the Hungarian was not marketable sends a clear warning that being good is not enough.

Hamed's last opponent, Augie Sanchez, who was passed by HBO, had been knocked out in one round as a professional and failed to secure a place in the USA Olympic team for the 1996 Games. Kovacs is unbeaten in 18 fights and won a gold medal in Atlanta. "We are not matchmakers," said the head of HBO, Kery Davis. "We exercise our approval rights." In the case of Hamed against Kovacs it is more like abuse of approval rights.

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