Sheika substitutes power for precision

Joe Calzaghe's opponent at Wembley this weekend aims to join the list of boxing greats
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The Independent Online

On Saturday night Omar Sheika will add his name to the list of quality fighters who have fought for super-middleweight world titles over the last 10 years in a series of fights in Britain and Ireland which have established the division as one of the finest in the business of boxing.

On Saturday night Omar Sheika will add his name to the list of quality fighters who have fought for super-middleweight world titles over the last 10 years in a series of fights in Britain and Ireland which have established the division as one of the finest in the business of boxing.

Sheika, from New Jersey, will challenge the Welshman Joe Calzaghe for the World Boxing Organisation version at Wembley's Grand Hall in what could be the best fight since the series started in September 1991, when Chris Eubank beat Michael Watson at White Hart Lane.

Sheika can hit and hurt anybody fool enough to leave his chin within striking distance. He has more power than sense and in the boxing ring that is perfect when the opponent possesses similar skills. On Saturday the fight will be a slaughter of ringcraft.

"I just want to bring dignity back to boxing," said Sheika this week at the All Stars gym in west London. "The division needs a lift and I want to take my name to the same place where the greats are. I want to be recognised as a fighter alongside Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and Roy Jones.

"I believe, God willing, that I'm the fighter to bring the excitement back in a division that needs something now. There is nothing hard to understand about the way I fight. I just give excitement each time I get in the ring," added Sheika, the son of a Palestinian immigrant.

There is a loss on Sheika's record. An odd affair when he boxed the Hull fisherman Tony Booth in Sheffield in 1998 and was sent lunging again and again by the artful Booth who just did enough to take the decision. It was close, Sheika complained, but in the grand scheme of boxing development it was a lesson acquired without too much pain. Since that night Sheika has added six more wins, taking his total to one defeat in 21 fights with 13 stoppages.

Sheika has been masterfully managed and guided by Bill Cayton and Steve Lott, part of the quartet that created Mike Tyson back in the early 1980s. Cayton was the manager of record back then and Lott was in charge of filling in the gaps that exist between fighters, managers, promoters and the other important people that inhabit the world of professional boxing. Lott was a facilitator, a job he still does very well.

In 1996 Sheika narrowly failed to secure a place on the United States boxing team for the Olympics when he was beaten on a dubious decision by Rhoshii Wells, the only member of the team who was actually from Atlanta. Wells won the most fortunate of bronze medals - his quarter-final decision was booed by the American fans in the stadium - and has stumbled miserably as a professional.

"I never watched any of the Olympic boxing even though a lot of my friends like Fernando Vargas were in the team," said Sheika. "It was hard to catch any of the fights because every time I tried to watch there was gymnastics or beach volleyball. I gave up in the end."

In addition to the expertise of Lott and Cayton, Sheika also has by his side a retinue of friends, family and trainers. They are male and they gather in the gym when he hits the pads to coo their approval of his slicing hooks and jab. He has a tremendous straight jab but he seldom indulges in classic boxing during a fight, which is a pity.

Sheika has been with his trainers now for eight weeks at camps in the Pocono Mountains, close to the boxer's home in New Jersey, and for a brief time at Big Bear in California.

In Big Bear he worked with his friend Vargas and not with Naseem Hamed as has been reported, but Hamed did call Sheika last week to wish him luck.

The negotiations for Saturday's championship fight started last summer and since then Sheika has watched all of the available Calzaghe fights on tape. He is not impressed.

"I know everything about Calzaghe. I have studied him for one whole year and I can taste him, I can sense him and I know what he can do. I have a plan, a strategy from the opening bell," Sheika insisted. If either of them has a plan, it would perhaps be a first.

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