Night of destiny for Hamed

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The Independent Online


Naseem Hamed's yellow, red or blue fists have ruined the ambitions of 19 men since his first professional fight in 1992. Tonight he will weave his way from the warmth and funky music of his dressing-room to challenge Steve Robinson for the World Organisation featherweight title at Cardiff Rugby Club's ground.

Hamed the upstart, the little genius, the punk in shades, is also the favourite.

Robinson appears resigned to his role as a bit-player. Despite being confident of keeping his title, he is a lonely figure surrounded by the gentle characters who have guided him since his inauspicious debut in Cardiff six years ago.

At Robinson's side, his trainer Ronnie Rush and his manager Dai Gardiner are eloquent examples of sport's haves and have-nots. In the serious world of boxing the Welsh trio have been unlikely wanderers since Robinson shocked John Davison to win the title in April 1993. When the first bell goes nearly 16,000 people will place their faith in the Ely boy.

Hamed is just 21, but he is the star. He has been since winning his first schoolboy title at Derby in 1987. He expects to win and to win in style. "It is my destiny," he has repeatedly stated. "Since he was seven I have watched him. I told everybody he would be champion," said Hamed's manager, Brendan Ingle.

There appears no other plot, no final twist to the tale of the Sheffield boxer and by midnight tonight there are few who believe Robinson will still be champion. But there are many who want him to silence Hamed.

"I just hope Naz gets the respect he deserves when he beats Steve because Steve has been a real champion," continued Ingle. "It is not just a case of showing up, the Naz fella will have to perform and right now he is hitting so hard it is frightening."

Ingle's fear is justified as Robinson's reign has been neglected and if a Mexican had beaten Colin McMillan, wrecked Paul Hodkinson and left Duke McKenzie a sad heap on the canvas and not the aesthetic Welsh boxer, there would be a degree of concern for Hamed's health. Instead Robinson is portrayed as little more than a good pro, rather than a ruthless, merciless world champion who enters every fight with a look of grim determination on his face and a blank and disturbing coldness in his eyes.

It will be an exceptional encounter. Hamed punches harder than anybody Robinson has met, he moves better, he is faster and he is meaner. Forget Hamed's baby face, his devotion to schoolboy behaviour and his loyalty to a small band of friends because under the flapping Bet Lynch-like leopard print shorts lurks a boy with a chilling attitude.

When the cornermen clear the ring tonight and the howling fans compete with the stormy cold for the attentions of the two protagonists it could be the start of something truly memorable. Hamed's victory will be one of the best by a British boxer in a world title fight, but if Robinson wins, Hamed's critics will scream "I told you so" and immediately diminish the Welshman's achievement. The apparent contradiction is simple to explain: Robinson is established but Hamed is, in theory, still untested.

Hamed's versatility will amaze Robinson and as the eerie blur of his yellow gloves slice through the champion's basic defence the wounds will start to form; Robinson's face is now a tender target. But there is no suggestion that his jaw is vulnerable - just one knockdown in 1990 against Tim Driscoll.

Hamed has never been on the floor but three minor cuts have formed under his eyes during the last year. It is possible Robinson will attempt to get his cropped head dangerously close to Hamed's eyebrows. However, the moment Robinson emerges from his crouch to lean forward his face will be exposed to Hamed's clinical efforts.

Hamed seldom wastes a punch. Tonight his bright gloves will provide vicious testimony of his talent.