Hamed an object of desire

Harry Mullan looks at the riches that await a charismatic boxer
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The Independent Online
THE women are there already. "They come in droves," says Brendan Ingle, harassed manager and guru of British boxing's prodigy, Naseem Hamed. "Every night they are at the gym trying to get near him. I have told him: 'Watch yourself - one day there'll be a hotel room, a girl and a camera and you will be in trouble.' But he's 21, he's rich, famous, and good- looking, so it is going to be hard work."

It is not just female admirers who have forced Hamed to change his training routine to a timetable which many of the sport's traditionalists would consider eccentric to the point of absurdity. "When Naz was training at four or five in the afternoon with the rest of the lads," Ingle recalls. "the place would be full of people, especially schoolkids. Whole parties of them, maybe 40 or 50, would come to watch him work out. It got so bad that we even installed an entryphone buzzer. But then we were driven mad anyway: the buzzer kept going every couple of minutes.

"Now, Naz trains whenever he wants to: 11 at night, midnight, whenever. It's the only way he can get some peace."

Anyone wishing access to British boxing's hottest property must now deal through Ingle, and only the favoured few are admitted. "It's all happened so quickly," he says. " A year ago we didn't have this problem, but now he can't walk down the street in Sheffield without being recognised," It is not all welcome attention, though. "There is a lot of poverty in Sheffield and some people are very jealous of Naz and what he is earning," says Ingle. "He's had some nasty experiences with people like that, and so have his family."

Ingle, more than any other trainer in Britain, has always scorned the conventional approach and so the one-time preliminary class middleweight is quite happy to let his protg do his own thing. But he recognises that being a big star in a small town is becoming a dangerous burden for Hamed.

"I've told him that, very soon, we're going to have to think about moving away from Sheffield to prepare for big fights," he says. "He loves the town and wherever he goes people want to stop him for a chat, but he just doesn't get any peace to get on with his work."

Any more performances of the quality of that with which he dispatched Enrique Angeles in two rounds at Shepton Mallet last Saturday, and Hamed may have to consider switching his training camp to the Shetland Isles. At 21, before he has even challenged for a world title, Hamed is already such a draw that his presence in the Frank Warren promotional orbit was reason enough for Sky TV to invest in him so heavily that, after just one of his contracted eight fights, the youngster is already closing in on his target of millionaire status.

He will have achieved that by the time his package with Warren and Sky is up for renewal, since he is almost certain to have won a world title in the meantime. The plan had been for him to challenge Wilfredo Vasquez, the 33-year-old veteran who holds the WBA super bantamweight title, but Vasquez apparently owes options to pro- moters unsympathetic to Warren and his American partner Don King. That may force Hamed into a change of direction, towards the WBO featherweight title held by the Welshman Steve Robinson.

Ironically, it is the existence of the option system (under which boxers challenging for a title must concede to the title fight's promoter the right to stage a specified number of his defences for predetermined amounts) which will facilitate the making of the Robinson-Hamed match.

The Welshman is almost £160,000 out of pocket after losing a legal battle with the promoters Barry Hearn and Tommy Gilmour, who promoted his title win over John Davison. Robinson agreed to make his first defence for £35,000, the second for £65,000 and the third for £75,000 but, after fulfilling the first two obligations, he walked away from the deal to fight Paul Hodkinson under the Warren banner for £117,000. Kearn and Gilmour sued for breach of contract and were awarded £100,000 damages and Robinson faces legal costs estimated at £60,000.

The man who was working as a £52-a-week storeman when he got his world title opportunity will face hard times again, unless he makes a lot of money quickly - and a fight against Hamed, in Cardiff this summer, will surely keep the lawyers happy.