Hearn pays for his vision

Harry Mullan bemoans the double standards behind a cancelled title fight
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IN A business where the real suffering is done by the men in the ring, it is not often that one can find room for sympathy with the poor promoter. But Barry Hearn, several thousand pounds out of pocket after the cancellation of his show in Belfast scheduled for last night, deserves a consoling pat on the shoulder.

He did everything right, insisting that the South African, Luvuyo Kakaza, have a complete medical clearance from his national commission before leaving for his World Boxing Organisation welterweight title fight against Hearn's boxer Eamonn Loughran.

Kakaza was duly tested on 11 July and passed fit, so Hearn bought round- trip air tickets for the fighter and his entourage. Despite the South African clearance, Hearn required the challenger to undergo a further medical on arrival in London at the weekend, and Kakaza was found to have a cataract on the right eye. Specialists in Harley Street and Belfast confirmed the diagnosis, and the British Board duly withdrew their permission for him to box.

Sky Sports, funding the show, refused to go ahead with a replacement main event and pulled the plug, leaving Hearn with the bill for the air tickets, hire of the venue, hotel expenses and Loughran's training costs. Yet had he taken the South African authority's clearances at face value the show would have gone ahead, he would have finished in profit, and Loughran would in all probability have had an easy defence. An alternative title bout has now been scheduled for 26 August, with the opponent and venue to be announced later.

At least the episode illustrated that Britain's claim to have stricter standards is not just smug self-congratulation. There have been many instances where matches have been given the red light, although the "opponent" was permitted to box elsewhere.

Former World Boxing Association heavyweight champion James "Bonecrusher" Smith was refused permission to fight Henry Akinwande here last year, even though he had recently taken Axel Schulz the full distance in Germany, and has continued his trade around the world since.

The Kakaza affair underlines the merits of the British Board's call for universal medical and licensing standards. As matters stand, there is nothing to prevent a boxer who has been refused a licence in Britain going abroad and fighting there.

The Board's campaign for uniformity deserves support, but the prognosis is not good. Some 20 years ago Elliot Harvith, publisher of the "underground" American Boxing News, set out to expose the absurdity of the free-for- all system in the hope of making a case for boxing to be put under the control of a Federal commissioner. He invented a Jewish heavyweight called Sol "Bagel Boy" Nazerman, and started recording fights from obscure corners of the US in which there was no authority.

Finally, after Nazerman had "scored" 30 straight knockouts in places such as Whispering Falls, Tennessee, and Dead Racoon, Arkansas, the inevitable happened: news agencies picked up on his spectacular progress, and newspapers around the world carried his latest successes. When one mainstream boxing magazine included Bagel Boy in their world ratings, Harvith knew the game was up. His next issue carried a long and lachrymose obituary on Nazerman, who had been killed that week in a tragic road accident.

Boxing insiders haven't stopped laughing yet... but don't expect Hearn to see the joke.