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Boxing: Beware mark of a champion.

IF European lightweight king Jason Cook thinks he is fighting just anybody at Bridgend Sports Centre next Saturday, a glance at his opponent's tattoos should convince him otherwise.

"World champ", reads one, which Italian southpaw Dino Zoff had inscribed after dethroning WBA boss Julien Lorcy before his own French fans back in 1999. Zoff lost that title in his first defence, but wore this European crown until last year, when he gave it up for a vain challenge to WBO ruler Artur Grigorian and left the opening that 27-year-old Cook filled so dramatically.

The former postman, whose career had looked on the rocks in 2001 when he was jailed for fraud, flew to Italy at two days' notice last August and flattened hometown-hero Sandro Casamonica to claim the vacant throne.

It seemed the whole of the Llynfi Valley crammed into Maesteg Sports Centre two months later to cheer their prodigal son to fifth-round victory over Frenchman Nasser Lakrib in his first defence. And most of them will be heading for Bridgend next weekend.

"It looks like a sellout and I'm sure the crowd will be a big help to me," said Cook. "My confidence is sky high. Everything's going great. Training's going according to plan and I can't wait."

Zoff, now 36, has been a pro for 14 years and has vast experience. But Cook, a Commonwealth Games silver medallist in 1994, boxed around the world as an amateur.

"I've studied him on tape," says Cook. "He looks very awkward, but he doesn't look so good on the back foot. So as long as I keep the pressure on, I should be OK."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 19, 2003
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