Jones lined up for tilt at Hamed crown

America's Junior Jones has emerged as candidate for Prince Naseem Hamed's next featherweight title defence.

America's Junior Jones has emerged as candidate for Prince Naseem Hamed's next featherweight title defence.

Jones, a former WBO super-bantamweight champion, outpointed Tracey Harris Patterson last night to strengthen his claims for a date with the Prince in March or April.

It is a fight which is interesting Lou DiBella, the senior vice-president of cable network Home Box Office, who is beginning to plan for Hamed's next assignment.

Ideally, DiBella would like to pit Hamed with either super-bantam champion Erik Morales (WBC) or Marco Antonio Barrera (WBO) - twice a Jones victim - but negotiations are proving difficult and Jones would be ready-made, good class opposition.

Hamed-Jones should have happened in 1998, but the contract had to be torn up when Jones was beaten by Kennedy McKinney on the same night the Prince made his American debut against Kevin Kelley at Madison Square Garden.

For the moment, Hamed and HBO are reflecting on the awful wrestling match with WBC champion Cesar Soto in Detroit last month.

But DiBella still rates Hamed as the best nine-stoner in the world by some distance.

DiBella said: "Naz knows that next time he has to put on as much of a show in the ring as he does on the way to the ring.

"He knows what he has to do, and I'm comforted by the fact he has said to me personally I want the biggest fights.

"But right now, Morales' promoter Bob Arum doesn't want to talk, and I'm in conversations with Frank Warren about Barrera. He is asking for a lot of money, but we'll continue to talk.

"Jones has beaten Tom Johnson and Patterson back-to-back. And a Jones-Jamed fight is a great match-up. I'm confident Naz will come back in March or April against a very high quality opponent and I think he know what he has to do this time.

"It takes a whole lot of class for a fighter to apologise for a performance, especially when he's unified a title and I was pleased with him (Hamed) for doing that.

"It re-forced my view that he's a good kid and a good fighter. For all the criticism he gets, some of which may be deserved, he is still the best featherweight in the world and I don't think anyone's a close second."

Former WBC champion Luisito Espinosa is another opponent being mentioned for Hamed, but Di Bella adds: "Espinosa is an old fighter, he lost to Soto. And I feel that Espinosa against Hamed might be as unpleasing a match style-wise as Soto-Hamed."

Hamed has until the end of the month to decide which of his titles he keeps, the WBO or the newly-won WBC.

World Boxing Council president Jose Sulaiman recently extended the decision deadline to November 30.

Unfortunately, the politics of the alphabet men will not allow Hamed to retain both belts.

HBO, for their part, are not concerned either way. And titles are not necessarily their priority, as long as they screen good, appealing fights.

European heavyweight champion Vladimir Klitschko, brother of WBO holder Vitaly, made a successful American television debut by stopping Phil Jackson, a loser to Lennox Lewis in 1994, in the second round on Friday.

The German-based Ukranian, who won the 1996 Olympic gold medal, used a four-punch combination to complete the job after keeping the shorter Jackson on the end of his jab in the opening round.

The brothers Klitschko are big in Germany and are threatening to become major players on the heavyweight scene.