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Hamed Defeats Soto on Decision

October 23, 1999

DETROIT (AP) _ They called the referee names. They called each other names. Too bad their bout didn’t match the post-fight debate.

Flamboyant WBO featherweight champion Prince Naseem Hamed and WBC titleholder Cesar Soto did more wrestling than boxing in their unification match Friday night.

Hamed won by unanimous decision, and as a result, almost no one went home happy.

``He’s a paper champion,″ Soto, from Mexico, said through an interpreter. ``I know in my heart that I’m the real champion because I came to fight. He came to wrestle.

``I didn’t know if I was fighting a fighter or Hulk Hogan.″

Bob Arum, who runs Top Rank Boxing and promotes Soto, called it the worst fight he had ever seen.

``It made me puke,″ Arum said. ``That wasn’t boxing. That was wrestling.″

Hamed said it was Soto, who has never been knocked out, who started the rough stuff.

``Bob Arum was watching a totally different fight,″ Hamed said. ``He just didn’t want his guy to get beat.″

Hamed, an Englishman of Yemeni descent, was clearly the favorite of the Joe Louis Arena crowd, announced at 12,500. There are an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 people of Arab heritage in the Detroit area and chants of ``Naseem, Naseem″ echoed around the arena as the fight wore on.

With celebrities like retired Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders, local boxing favorite Thomas Hearns and heavyweight Lennox Lewis looking on, Hamed cut his entrance _ which can last up to 10 minutes _ to just four.

Still, it looked like he was still playing for entertainment alone as the fight started slowly with few punches thrown.

Hamed used his quickness to dance out of harm’s way most of the night, to the chagrin of the crowd which had been primed by an exciting fight during which Mexican Erik Morales won a 12-round decision over Irishman Wayne McCullough in the preceding bout.

``Hamed is a very difficult fighter,″ said Morales, who stayed to watch the main event. ``But he doesn’t come to fight. He doesn’t want to get hit.″

Referee Dale Grable took one point away from Hamed for holding Soto in the fourth round. In the fifth, Hamed flipped Soto over his shoulder and body-slammed him to the mat _ and lost another point as a result.

``The referee was inept,″ Soto said. ``A real referee would have disqualified Hamed when he threw me in the air.″

Emanuel Steward, the trainer for Hamed and founder of Detroit’s famed Kronk Gym, rushed across the ring between rounds and yelled at Soto’s trainer that the Mexican was fighting dirty, too.

``It was not a beautiful fight,″ Steward said. ``But, a lot of fights are different.″

Soto was pushed to the mat coming out of a clinch during the eighth round, and lost a point later in the round for a head butt.

``I can’t believe he got away with what he did,″ said Hamed, heavily bankrolled by HBO, which televised the bout. ``I body-slammed him. I’m not going to say I didn’t. But he brought it on.″

This was the 12th successful defense for Hamed (33-0), his 14th in world championship fights. It was the first attempt at a title defense for Soto (53-8-2), who took the crown from Luisito Espinosa in May.

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