Hamed's chance to dispel doubts

"Prince" Naseem Hamed is smarting from the sting of critical assault and tonight at The Point in Dublin, Mexico's Manuel Medina is likely to be made to pay for the damage done to one of mankind's larger egos.

As Hamed approaches his third defence of the World Boxing Organisation featherweight title, his cage has clearly been rattled by those who have dared suggest he might not attain the legendary status.

There have always been doubters, those who believe that, in Hamed, substance might be secondary to style, that a real fighter would expose the 22-year- old boy wonder from Sheffield. But the whispers gave way to screaming when Hamed found himself on the floor in the first round against Puerto Rico's Daniel Alicea in June.

That Hamed went on to knock out his previously undefeated mandatory challenger in the following round made no difference: a chink in the brash youngster's armour had been revealed.

"I wasn't up to my normal standard in the first round," Hamed said. "There wasn't the fire in my belly that I normally have. But that knock-down brought it back.''

The rumours persisted that success and celebrity had softened Hamed, that the talent he believes comes from Allah was no longer being nurtured in the gym, that Hamed's increasing fame had left him too busy to train for fights.

His trainer and mentor, Brendan Ingle, gives credence to this allegation: "Naz was only training once a day and when we got closer to the fight, he was trying to cram his training in order to catch up. But for this fight, he's been training twice a day. He's in tremendous shape."

And Hamed will need to be. The Mexican is vastly experienced compared to the champion, with 52 wins from 59 fights as opposed to Hamed's undefeated 22-0 - with 20 KOs. Medina has also held two verstions of the world title, the last as recently as eight months ago.