By Derek Cusack

For those who are not familiar with my presence on this site, I decided to take a sabbatical from writing about the fight game about six months ago due to other commitments and a growing disillusionment with the sport. I am reluctant to return, as boxing has been reversing steadily away from the steep cliff of obscurity since I left it alone.

We are finally watching the real fights happen – Eubank v. Thompson II, Lewis v.   Mavrovic (yeah, most people didn’t give the Croatian much of a chance, but he had more than earned a shot at the title), Gatti v. Manfredy, Lewis v. Holyfield (touch wood), De La Hoya v. Quartey, Tapia v. Romero II (touch more wood), Gatti v. Robinson II, Hernandez v. Mayweather , Jones v. Del Valle and Holyfield v. Bean (just checking to see if you were still awake).

However, I have been reliably informed by my editor Mr. Bucket (or Spit, as his friends affectionately call him), that “a lot of people” have requested that I make a comeback for the purpose of covering the forthcoming Hamed v. Mc Cullough affair. Spit didn’t say who these people were, or at which psychiatric institutions they reside, but I’ll take his word for it this once.

The first time I saw Hamed box was in Dublin on the undercard of a bill topped by Wayne Mc Cullough in September 1993. The next time I saw him fight live was again in Dublin in a WBO title defence against Manuel Medina in August 1996. It was this fight, over two years ago, which started tongues wagging about the prospect of Hamed and Mc Cullough meeting inside the square ring.

To begin the hype, the posters advertising Hamed’s visit on Dublin’s streets were not of the traditional variety. They were designed in a similar fashion to the cover of the Sex Pistols’ debut album, and bore the slogan, “Never mind the Mc Culloughs, here’s Naz.” Another surprise development was the appearance of Mc Cullough himself at the weigh-in (he was at the time, and still is based in Las Vegas).

The traditionally accepted and expected taunts took place between the fighters, and also between Frank Warren (Hamed’s promoter) and Mc Cullough. There was also an alleged handshake between Warren and Mc Cullough (bear in mind that Mc Cullough was the undefeated WBC bantamweight champion at the time while Hamed held the same featherweight crown he holds today) ‘sealing’ a fight deal. But as we know, phoney handshakes are far more commonplace in boxing than genuine intentions.

Naturally it was a surprise to see Mc Cullough’s ringside seat unoccupied at the beginning of the Hamed-Medina clash. All became clear in the middle rounds however, when Hamed was encountering difficulties inside the ropes and Mc Cullough took the long route to his seat, waving to his hometown fans as he went. Naz doesn’t fight the way he fights because he’s shy, and he was visibly distracted when the crowd’s collective attention wavered from the drama in the ring.

So Mc Cullough won that battle then. I hope he cherished it, because no matter how patriotic I am I can’t see him emerging from the real duel with a smile on his face. This is his first real featherweight fight, and he has chosen to dive in at the deepest end.

When I first heard this fight was made I had a creeping suspicion that the timing was ominous: Mc Cullough is no. 1 WBC contender at super bantamweight, and champion Eric Morales must be due a mandatory defence round about now. The dangerous Mexican would be strongly favoured against Mc Cullough given both fighters’ styles, level of opposition and form of late, yet Mc Cullough would be paid substantially less to challenge the relatively unknown Morales. I hope Mc Cullough is taking the Hamed fight for the right reasons, I just wonder…

You may remember Mc Cullough was embroiled in a feud with career-long promoter and manager Mat Tinley about a year ago. The main subject of the dispute was Mrs. Cheryl Mc Cullough’s growing insistence on controlling the direction of her husband’s career, and it paradoxically almost spelled the end of said career due to contractual ties. This situation was thankfully resolved however, and culminated in Mrs. Mc Cullough replacing Tinley as manager while Tinley remained Mc Cullough’s promoter. Not content with this level of interference, Cheryl has muscled in on Wayne’s training camp and rid him of top
trainer Thel Torrance – right before the toughest fight of Mc Cullough’s career.

Allow me to elaborate…Eddie Futch, who stopped training Mc Cullough a year and a half ago, has stated that Cheryl was already beginning to suggest training ideas in the gym before he and Wayne parted company. Torrance (a Futch protégé) tells a similar tale: “The decision for him to split with me (last month) came about because Cheryl got other ideas about how to run my camp…She started dictating who should work with him, for how long and how much they should get paid. Once somebody
violates my training agreement, that’s it for me.”

Futch had grown disillusioned with the atmosphere in the Mc Cullough camp by the time he retired from boxing after the Mc Cullough v. Zaragoza bout. “If he had gone out and done what I sent him out to do that night, he would have knocked Zaragoza out,” said Futch, the man who successfully sent Ken Norton and Joe Frazier out to beat Muhummad Ali a generation ago.

Mc Cullough, who is now trained by Kenny Croom in the Torrance gym, has implied since the split that Torrance wasn’t focusing enough attention on the Belfast fighter. The fact is however that when Mc Cullough first joined the Torrance camp he chose to share a trainer with Riddick Bowe, Virgil Hill, Mike Mc Callum and Montell Griffin among others. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on that matter.

There are rumours that some of his training is now done in the garage of his Las Vegas home, with Cheryl holding the pads. This I would like to see, for sheer comedy value alone. Eddie Futch put it best when he said, “What does she know? As far as I know, she ain’t trained no world champions before.”

Hamed’s preparations haven’t been going swimmingly in the training department either. His lifelong trainer and renowned King of hyperbole Brendan Ingle recently contributed quotes to a novel entitled “The Paddy and the Prince” which accused his protégé of being unbearably obnoxious at times, and of favouring the nightlife over the training life in the past. Ingle detailed occasions when Hamed was rude and arrogant to everybody he encountered, including the police who have become accustomed to stopping Hamed for speeding in his extravagant sports cars. Ingle however is a serial – Blaney stone kisser, and whether you believe his account or not is for you to decide. Hamed describes the allegations as “the greatest load of rubbish I have ever heard in my life.”

Whether the stories are true is secondary to the fact that Ingle should have had the decency and respect to resolve his problems with Hamed man-to-man behind closed doors rather than in the pages of the latest best seller. Although Hamed still trains in the Dubliner’s stable, the animosity between the two is far from settled. Ingle has been appointed ‘supervisor’ of Hamed’s training, while his sons John and Dominic do the actual training.

Hamed still refers to Ingle as "a Judas," describes him as “completely money-orientated,” and in my opinion the likelihood is that they will part company after the Mc Cullough fight. Trust is the most important element in a fighter – trainer relationship, and this ingredient is currently missing from the Hamed–Ingle recipe. Although Ingle maintains he has invested seventeen years into Naz, a seventeen-year professional relationship is a two-way affair. And if he can’t represent his fighter publicly after such a lengthy period, I fear many will be slow to trust Ingle as a trainer in future.    

I feel that the turmoil in Mc Cullough’s camp will have more bearing on the fight than Hamed’s problems. Hamed is not really the kind of fighter who needs to turn to his corner for ongoing advice during a contest, whereas Mc Cullough is to fierce wars as a moth is to light. Wayne is also known as a ‘goalkeeper’ in boxing terms: he catches everything. And the shots he will catch on October 31st will hurt a lot more than the punches he is accustomed to taking at bantam and super bantamweight.

Like me, I’m sure Futch and Torrance also began to throw the idea of a Hamed v. Mc Cullough clash around in their heads when the two fighters shared a bill five years ago. Mc Cullough would have been wise to avail of Torrance’s knowledge and experience for this one, but I guess the priest who married him didn’t have a crystal ball either. As Eddie Futch says, “You need a lot of study to come up with a winning formula to combat (Hamed’s) quickness and power. Wayne will have to hit Hamed without getting hit and from what I’ve seen of Wayne’s last couple of fights, I can’t see him doing that. However, if he can draw him into a fight, he has a chance.”

I am not even as optimistic as Mr. Futch about Wayne’s chances. Though he is a gifted pressure fighter, and his heart is unquestionable, I feel this may well be his last hurrah. He was an Olympic silver medallist, he won the WBC bantamweight title on his first attempt, but he failed against Daniel Zaragoza at super bantamweight and this is his first major fight since the Zaragoza loss. And if he does lose to Hamed, Wayne’s big-time boxing avenues will effectively have closed.

Hamed on the other hand has married and watched the birth of his first child since he last fought. This, and the fact that he has a score to settle with Mc Cullough since the Irishman interrupted Hamed’s defence against Medina, should add an extra edge to Hamed’s performance on the night. Although both have been inactive for some time, Hamed's last fight was a seven-round dissection of WBA champion Wilfredo Vasquez while the last time Mc Cullough stepped out of a ring he had just struggled to outpoint a terribly faded Juan Polo Perez over ten rounds. I expect the Prince to end Mc Cullough’s challenge inside three rounds.

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