Piper may pick a new tune

The career of Welsh light-heavyweight Nicky Piper proves yet again that in this business it's who you know rather than what you do that really counts.

He has failed twice in world title fights and lost a British championship thriller to Crawford Ashley in 1994, yet it is Piper who challenges Darius Michalczewski for the WBO title in Hanover, Germany, on Saturday while Ashley has to make do with a European title defence against Ole Klemetsen of Norway in the night's other major show, at Alexandra Palace.

Like his compatriot Joe Calzaghe, who challenges Steve Collins on 11 October, Piper has done nothing to justify his position as mandatory WBO challenger, but both are promoted by Frank Warren, whose influence with that organisation seems limitless. Nothing wrong with that, of course - a manager's obligation is to do the best he can for his boxers and Warren has fulfilled that nobly.

In a sane world, this fight would also involve the WBA belt, which Michalczewski won from Virgil Hill in June, but the German-based, Polish-born champion relinquished the WBA version rather than face conflicting obligations. The win over Hill was his 34th in an unbeaten career and he looks too accomplished for Piper.

The Welshman, a Mensa member, who also holds the Commonwealth title, has enhanced the sport's image during his eight-year career, but Michalczewski is likely to convince him that his future lies in expanding his impressive work as a TV analyst and commentator.

On the same show, Manchester's Carl Thompson has a long-overdue rematch with Ralf Rocchigiani for the WBO cruiserweight title. The Englishman was coasting to victory until a dislocated shoulder forced him out of the fight in the 11th round when they met for the vacant title in Manchester two years ago.

Rocchigiani has made the most of his good fortune: this will be his sixth defence, while Thompson has managed only a couple of nondescript eight- rounders in the same period. That inactivity is likely to tell, although 15 quick wins in 20 victories indicate that he has the traditional "puncher's chance".

Big hitting, one way or the other, is likely to settle Ashley's European light-heavyweight title defence at Alexandra Palace. Both he and Klemetsen are better known for punching power than for orthodox skills. The Yorkshireman is maturing late at 33, and is undefeated since a creditable points loss to Virgin Hill in a WBA title bid two years ago. He is the tentative selection, but this is not a fight on which to invest the housekeeping.

Super-bantamweight champion Spencer Oliver of Barnet is on safer ground in the show's other European championship, when he takes on the durable but well-worn Italian Vincenzo Belcastro. Oliver's manager Jess Harding, the former British heavyweight title challenger, has struck a substantial bet that his man will win a version of the world title by the end of 1998, and that looks increasingly like easy money.

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