Prince branded 'a paper champ'

Bob Mee in Detroit sees Hamed risk disqualification
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The Independent Online

The question of whether or not Naseem Hamed should have been disqualified against Cesar Soto continued long after the boos which rumbled around the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit at the end of their dismal 12-round fight had died away.

The question of whether or not Naseem Hamed should have been disqualified against Cesar Soto continued long after the boos which rumbled around the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit at the end of their dismal 12-round fight had died away.

Hamed had a point deducted for unsportsmanlike conduct in round four when he locked Soto's head under his arm but the controversy centred on a nasty incident in round five when he body-slammed the Mexican to the canvas. The American referee Dale Grable satisfied himself by taking away a second point and Hamed eventually won a dull, mauling fight on a unanimous decision.

Soto, a 28-year-old from the border town of Juarez, also lost a point for use of the head in round eight but this offence was insignificant alongside that committed by Hamed. Afterwards Soto, with his trainer Miguel Diaz interpreting, said: "He's a paper champion. When he threw me in the air any referee in the world should have disqualified him immediately. I was fighting a wrestler. How can he win a fight when he didn't come to fight but to wrestle?"

Soto's promoter, Bob Arum, called Hamed clownish and said he would be reluctant to allow another of his boxers to share a ring with the man who now holds both the World Boxing Organisation and World Boxing Council versions of the featherweight title. "I have been in this sport for 35 years and what I saw in the ring there made me puke," he said. "That body slam could have broken Soto's back."

Hamed, perhaps predictably, saw nothing untoward in the incident which ended with his falling over the angry, astonished Soto in a tangle of limbs. He called it "a nice body slam". He said: "I needed to show him psychologically that I was stronger than him. He just tried to rough me up."

Hamed accused Soto of making the fight such an ugly, foul-filled maul. "He tried to bully me but he just couldn't do it." Hamed said he was disappointed rather than upset by the boos of the 13,000 crowd but felt the result justified the means. "What the hell, I am the WBC and WBO champion. The crowd booed - no problem. The next fight I'm going to shine. I know I always say that but the fact of the matter is he came to have a rough-house and that's what he got."

Once again, the way boxing governs itself comes into question. Referees are given guidelines by the authorities who appoint them but in the end are left to control the fight. The referee visits both boxers before the fight to make sure they understand the basic rules but once the action starts, at the top level at least, officials appear reluctant to disqualify.

It happened to Mike Tyson in June 1997 when he bit Evander Holyfield's ears. He was fined $3m and banished from the sport for over a year. The image of Holyfield's disfigured right ear, a chunk of which Tyson spat on to the canvas, remains as evidence of one of the vilest moments in sporting history.

Yet few remember that Tyson was not disqualified for that bite. The referee Mills Lane merely deducted a point. It was only when, seconds after the action had restarted, Tyson bit Holyfield's left ear, that Lane, following a lengthy pause, threw him out. Incredibly, the referee was praised for his courage.

Disqualifications in major fights are rare because they provide an unsatisfactory conclusion to the action - spoil the fun if you like. Nevertheless Arum, who of course had an agenda for complaining because his fighter had lost, was right. Soto could have been seriously hurt and the foul was blatant and intentional. Hamed was lucky to be allowed to go on.

Hamed did not box well and his third American appearance will have impressed few. The legendary status he craves remains elusive. Pressures from outside the ring could be blamed for his flawed performances in beating Kevin Kelley and Wayne McCullough in his first two American visits. This time there was no excuse.

His brother Riaf's decision to house the fight in Detroit raised eyebrows but had logic. As the Motor City not only houses the world famous Kronk Gym of his trainer Emanuel Steward but the biggest Arabian population outside the Middle East, the 25-year-old champion born of Yemeni parents in Sheffield was able to relax during the days preceding the fight.

But for the first half of the fight he seemed to struggle to come to terms with it. Hamed was caught cleanly and forced to cling on by fast hooks to the head in round two and it took him five rounds - until the body slam - to assert some kind of authority. Over the second half the fight drifted into an almost endless stream of clinches.

On points scored, Hamed deserved his unanimous decision - the judges saw it 115-110, 114-110 and a ridiculously generous 116-108 - but boxing is sometimes about more than victory.