Hamed's showcase

Bob Mee on a champion's need to penetrate American awareness on Saturday
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The Independent Online
With his flat Yorkshire accent and his Yemeni family background, any Americanisation of Naseem Hamed is likely to be superficial. Yet, if the flamboyant 22-year-old from Sheffield is to achieve the world-wide stardom he considers his God-given right, conquest of the American market is essential.

Accordingly, it is more than the World Boxing Organisation featherweight title and recently signed sponsorship deals in Britain which are at stake in Newcastle next Saturday.

Hamed's second championship defence, against Daniel Alicea of Puerto Rico, will be screened on a same-day tape delay by Showtime, the American TV company which deals with Don King, who is the associate of Hamed's British promoter, Frank Warren. The persuasion of America is the new priority.

American fight-watchers are generally sceptical of anything British. The tone, if not the detail, of Dorothy Parker's celebrated put-down "If Britain's heavyweights were laid end to end, I wouldn't be at all surprised" remains.

Experts have heard the talk about Hamed but point out, rightly, that he has not yet boxed the best fighters at his weight. Beating the Welshman Steve Robinson in eight rounds to win the title last September was an accomplished performance, and British experts can also point to effortless victories over the respected competitors Freddy Cruz of the Dominican Republic and Juan Polo Perez of Colombia.

Nevertheless, these are preliminary affairs. If he is to be measured against boxing's greats, Hamed must defeat the best men available at, or around, his weight. Publicity surrounding Hamed has been so successful, and his performances so dynamic, that it is easy to be carried away. The Bristol-based Independent World Boxing Rankings organisation is not infallible, but is at least free of the bias based on business interests which corrupts the ratings of all the main world authorities. The May edition put Hamed only eighth in the list of world featherweights.

While the fighter talks engagingly of himself as a legend, he is aware of the reality of the marketing. With the demise of Frank Bruno and Nigel Benn, Hamed is the central pillar of Sky Sports' British operations, and has massive popular support in the Middle East via MBC, but America is the key to his lofty ambition of a pounds 40m bank balance.

When Warren's Sports Network organisation was based in Las Vegas for the duration of the Bruno-Tyson episode, a tape of Hamed's win over Robinson was screened in the press tent. It attracted rapt attention from a variety of international journalists and evoked an enthusiastic response from a minor US trade writer who likes to be known as "Scoop", but only passing sniffs from the leading American writers. For whatever reason, they appeared to have better things to be doing.

Beating Alicea, a former world junior amateur champion with 15 consecutive professionally victories, will not convince them overnight, but will establish a platform for what must be the next stage; an appearance in the fight capital of the world, Las Vegas.

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