Inside Lines: Naz returns with 'new Tyson' and an eye on 2012 hopefuls

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The Independent Online

Half-time was approaching in the Arsenal-West Ham game at the Emirates last Saturday when into Frank Warren's hospitality box bounded a familiar figure, if somewhat podgier than in his fighting days. Naseem Hamed, the boxer formerly known as Prince, had in tow the new Commonwealth Games light-heavyweight champ Callum Johnson. Blithely he announced that he is to become a manager and that the 25-year-old big-hitter who won gold for Scotland is his first signing – as we reported exclusively last week. "When I watched him on television in Delhi and saw him knock out a guy with the sweetest of left hooks I leapt out of my chair. He reminds me of Mike Tyson," Hamed told us. He has mellowed at 36 but has he missed boxing? "Not as much as it has missed me," he retorts with a flash of that once-familiar arrogance. But Naz's renaissance may spell danger for amateur boxing as London 2012 approaches, for signing Johnson is just the start, he says. He is also likely to bag for his new stable at least one of the three Indian boxers who won gold in Delhi, and you can bet he will be eyeing the talent at the inaugural GB Championships in Liverpool which start on Friday. It will be a blow to Rob McCracken's Team GB to lose Johnson, who makes his pro debut in Glasgow on 4 December. He was a member of the podium squad and looked set for a 2012 berth after his display in Delhi. But he explained: "I am 25 now and the opportunity of being trained and managed by a legend like Naz was too good to turn down." Someone who doesn't feel the same way – yet – is Liverpool's 26-year-old Tom Stalker, the Amateur Boxer of the Year who captained England in Delhi, where he too won a gold medal to add to his European silver. He admits there was a temptation to follow Johnson's route, but has elected to stay with McCracken (worthily nominated for UK Coach of the Year) until after the Games because "winning an Olympic gold medal is my dream. It would be the best feeling in the world and I'd hate to miss out on that chance". Stalker is set to star in a tournament designed to show that British amateur boxing has got talent. It will be televised by the BBC who, for the first time, will screen women's boxing as several of Britain's ladies who punch will be on show, including world silver medallists Nicola Adams and Savannah Marshall. It should be a tasty fistic treat at the Echo Arena (tickets from or call 0844 8000 400).

Bully for Barry, world No 1?

Our homegrown footballers may be embarrassingly absent from the nominations for Europe's Ballon d'Or, but at least there is one ball game where we might yet claim the world's best player. Fingers – and hockey sticks – crossed for England captain Barry Middleton, short-listed for World Player of the Year for the third successive time. The Yorkshireman, a 26-year-old forward, led England's World Cup and Commonwealth Games teams in Delhi and has had a terrific season in Holland, where his club qualified for hockey's version of the Champions' League. He says he was "gutted" when England lost on a penalty shoot-out to India at the Games, watched by 1.2 billion, the sport's biggest-ever TV audience. With Ashley Jackson named as the world's best young player last year and Frank Warren promoting England's 2014 World Cup bid, hockey is on the up.

Singapore means business

As someone who worked in Singapore in the Eighties, news that it has been named the world's top sporting city – yes, ahead of London – is something of a shock. When I was there, sport was at the foot of the autocratic premier Lee Kuan Yew's league of priorities, education being everything. Evidently his son, who succeeded him, has seen the light, and that sport means big business, with the hosting of the inaugural Youth Olympics and the only night-time Formula One grand prix bringing in tourists – and kudos.