Naseem's lightning double-take

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IN A quite remarkable non-fight last night, Naseem Hamed retained his WBO featherweight title by throwing just three punches in 35 seconds. It could not possibly count as a contest for a proper defence of the title and the crowd packing in the SEC here were as stunned as the challenger, Said Lawal. Understandably, they immediately protested at the quality - not to mention the quantity - of what they had just witnessed.

For what it was worth, and as a boxing contest it was worthless, it was the Prince's 21st win in as many fights, though it made any sort of coronation as a pukkah world champion still some distance away. At least he might just have put paid to those who doubted his reluctance to throw the right hand which he injured late last year and which has already forced the postponement of two title fights. Naseem himself declared afterwards that he saw it as a lesson for those who had bad-mouthed him.

Amid the habitual ceremony, which took much longer than the bout itself, Naseem was typically outrageous. As his name burned in lights behind him, he waved to the packed stadium as though we were his courtiers. He strode out from his corner with characteristic bravura, unfolded a left and connected with a right and his Nigerian challenger went down. Those at ringside could scarcely believe what had happened, for while Naseem's punches are packed with thunder these were surely only probing efforts. He had time for a little jig and unfurled a second right and then, calm as you like, with Lawal showing scant interest in the proceedings, he threw a third. The challenger buckled again and the referee immediately stepped in.

This was breathtaking stuff, but nobody could quite comprehend why it had happened. In British rings there has been nothing to compare with the swiftness of the action and the lack of violence - which must have delighted abolitionists - has also not been a common feature of many fights.

Naseem attempted to make the best of it in the immediate aftermath, but one sensed that if the crowd had had anything to throw it might have been thrown. The odd programme would not have come amiss, but they restricted themselves to saying: "What a load of rubbish." And they were as accurate as the Prince's punches usually are.

In Berlin last night, Joe Bugner, the former British and European champion, decided to retire after he was stopped in six rounds by Brighton's Scott Welch, who retained his WBO Intercontinental heavyweight title. "There's no question about it. This is the end of the story," he said. Bugner, attempting a third comeback at 46, was in trouble from the second round when a right hook from Welch appeared to leave him with a broken rib. The fight ended after he was floored by a straight right in the sixth.

l Lennox Lewis will be the next challenger for the WBC heavyweight championship after a New Jersey court ruled that the British fighter should face the winner of the title fight between Frank Bruno and Mike Tyson. Lewis failed to have that contest downgraded to a non-title fight, but Judge Amos Saunders blocked the WBC from sanctioning any heavyweight title fights until Lewis's lawsuit is settled. "He was promised this fight and should have had this fight," the judge said.