Hamed maintains his irresistible form

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BOXING critics are notoriously hard to please, as Naseem Hamed is learning. His problem, as he demonstrated yet again last night at the Albert Hall in London by dismantling the former IBF super-flyweight champion Juan-Polo Perez in two rounds, is that he is simply too good for his own good.

When he wins easily, as he invaribly does, they complain that the opposition was useless even when, as in Perez's case, that is a slur on a competent professional. Yet if Perez had given him the tough test which some had predicted, that would have been regarded as proof positive that Hamed has always flattered to deceive.

Nobody ever complained about the inadeqaucies of the defence when George Best would shimmy past three tackles, nutmeg the full-back, wrong-foot the goalkeeper and walk the ball into an empty net, but fight fans are different.

Fortunately, Hamed's thick skin is developing at the same startling rate as his talent, and he can afford to ignore the doubters and carry on doing his own eccentric but hugely entertaining thing.

He knows better than anyone precisely what he is doing in the ring, and with each successive virtuoso performance it becomes ever more difficult to see anyone, even the various world title claimants, who could define his limits.

Perez was good enough only last October to hold the then WBA champion Wilfredo Vasquez to a controversial decision, and even though he has been beaten twice since then, both defeats were against world-class men.

Yet Hamed dominated him as thoroughly as he has any of the lesser opponents he has conquered in his unbeaten 19-fight career, and his WBC International title, which he retained for the fifth time, was never under serious threat.

Perez had stated his warrior's intent: "Either I knock him out inside four rounds, or he knocks me out." And he meant it. But his fighting spirit quickly evaporated as he realised the difficulty of the task he had undertaken. Hamed slammed right jabs through his guard in the opening 30 seconds and, almost lazily, made the Colombian miss by raising his arms aloft and twisting his body out of range.

Perez had clearly never encountered anything quite like Hamed in his 50 previous fights and his bewilderment increased as Hamed did his trademark trick of staring at his opponent's feet and then hitting him with radar- guided accuracy. Late in the round Hamed swung his right glove back and forth in pendulum fashion, then jarred Perez with a straight left. Perez landed a decent right to the head, his only success of the round, but Hamed, who was in irresistible form, ignored it.

Perez launched a desperate floundering attack early in the second round but Hamed danced away from danger before stepping in with a short inch- perfect straight left which drove through the Colombian's defences and dumped him on the seat of his multi-coloured shorts, shaking his head in resignation. He got up at eight, but Hamed backed him to the ropes and landed two more rights, an upper cut and a hook, which sent Perez sprawling full length.

He was fully conscious, but had no intention of rising despite Hamed's shouted exhortation to him to get up, and sat out the full count, which referee Mickey Vann completed after exactly two minutes of the round.

Hamed said afterwards: "I'm the best out there. No one hits as hard as me. I'll be a world champion by the end of the year."

The promoter Frank Warren, who enjoyed a virtual sell-out for his first promotion at the Albert Hall in three years, agreed enthusiastically. "We want the world title," he said. "Naz is number one with the WBO and will soon be number one with the WBC. One of them must fight him."

lLennox Lewis will have an advantage of more than two stones when he takes on Australian heavyweight Justin Fortune in Dublin tonight. The former WBC world champion scaled 17st 8lb at today's weigh-in with Fortune at 15st 61/2lb.