Hide the strong and silent type

Ken Jones in Las Vegas considers the form for the WBO showdown
Upon discovering that a family vacation in Las Vegas coincides with Herbie Hide's defence of the World Boxing Organisation heavyweight championship, Nigel Benn introduced him to the benefits of positive thinking.

Benn, who is greatly relieved by the news that Gerald McClellan is recovering from the dreadful injury sustained two weeks ago when they fought for the World Boxing Council super-middleweight title, pointed out the advantages of being an underdog. "Make it work for you like it worked for me," Benn told his compatriot. "The fact that I wasn't given much of a chance against McClellan made me more determined."

The lecture contained further advice on mental preparation gained from personal experience. In the long days leading up to the contest, fighters are not alone but often they feel lonely. Wisdom is imparted to them but it does not always sink in because they are thinking in the future. Even in a crowd, they sometimes convey a sense of reclusion. "You can look out from a window and just see nothing," Benn told Hide. "So move around. Speak to people. The title is at stake but in fact you haven't got anything to lose. All the pressure is on Riddick Bowe."

What Benn sees is an opportunity for Hide to make a big impact in the heavyweight division. Clearly, the champion, who is given little chance by the Las Vegas odds-makers, has reached a similar conclusion. "Defending the title so far from home puts me under a bit of strain but it's thrilling to think of all the great boxers who have fought here, men like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, and Tommy Hearns."

Often, Hide looks solemnly pleased with himself. It makes up for difficulties in communication that contrast with Bowe's verbal clarity. The challenger who is attempting to regain lost status talks a better fight and is probably capable of delivering one.

This does not appear to deter the champion. If many of his 26 opponents were from the lunge-and-shove school of boxing, he draws confidence from an unbeaten record and the knowledge that his style can be confusing. A decent heavyweight, David Bey, was asked this week whether Hide took a good punch in sparring. "I can't rightly tell," Bey replied, "because I haven't been able to land a good one on him." As Bey is not given to memorising scripts, Bowe may think this information revealing.

In the moments when public statements are required of him, Hide utters predictable optimism. "There is no doubt in my mind," he said. "I am going to beat Bowe and if it isn't a decision I shall stop him in the later rounds. Bowe is easily the toughest man I've fought but he hasn't met anyone as fast as I am, who can throw better combinations or was more awkward."

Hide looked so awkward in 1993 when gaining the British heavyweight championship that ITV was put off showing his contests, a decision reached at the highest executive level. The word on Hide was distinctly negative.

However, Hide, at 23, insists that he is about to discredit that point of view utterly, quickly rising in people's estimation. "You've seen the best of Bowe, but you haven't seen the best of me," he said. "If Bowe is taking me lightly he is in for a big shock."

A few days ago, Hide was told that his eight-year-old brother, Alan, who suffers from leukaemia, saw Bowe being knocked out in a dream. "He woke up shouting, `Herbie's done it'," Hide said. As the boy also dreamed last year's victory over Michael Bentt that brought the title, Hide takes encouragement from the vision.

This week, Hide was waiting his turn to speak at an outdoor press conference when Bowe drew up in the sort of mobile home that serves as quarters for grand prix racers. If Hide was impressed he did not show it. Hide's promoter, Barry Hearn who has taken the extraordinary decision to invest in Leyton Orient Football Club, looked equally disdainful.

He then pulled off the difficult task of taking play away from Bowe's habitually loquacious manager, Rock Newman. Hearn speaks the language of promotion. "This is the dawn of an era in heavyweight boxing," he said. It is no such thing but Hearn, the epitome of Essex man, deals in exaggeration. Seeing Benn in the audience, he pointed him out as a prime example of what he considers to be an improvement in the attitude of British boxers. They have no longer got a reputation for lying down, is more or less what Hearn could be heard saying. Plenty in the past acquitted themselves with considerable distinction internationally but boxing history did not begin for Hearn until he got a slice of the action.

By tomorrow night, Hearn may no longer have a share of the heavyweight championship. This is a majority view but he will have none of it. Glancing in Hide's direction, he said: "You are looking at an exceptional heavyweight." Bowe did not appear to be listening. There was an aeroplane overhead and he was idly following its progress.