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Fallen HEROL; I don't want to be a legend, I just want to make a few quid.

Prince Naseem Hamed's boxing idol, Herol Bomber Graham, hits the comeback trail tomorrow at the age of 37.

Graham, Naz's boyhood hero, has overturned a medical ruling banning him from the ring, because he needs the money.

He will make just pounds 3,000 from his ring return on a small hall show in Sheffield against rugged American Terry Ford.

And as Naz counts his millions, the Yorkshire Yemeni fighter knows he owes it all to the ageing warrior now fighting for peanuts.

The Prince, whose mission is to be legend, learned his flamboyant style from the man who now wears a hearing aid when he's not trading punches.

In the 80s, the former British and European middleweight champ was the master of the hands down limbo-style borrowed and perfected by Sheffield's boxing sensation.

"Naz can be a legend if he wants to," says the softly spoken Graham with a wry smile. "But I couldn't care less about being a legend. I just want to make a few quid and prove a point - that I've still got something left."

Naz, 22, the WBO featherweight champ, was a star-struck 12-year-old in 1986 when Sheffield-based Graham was the king of Europe.

The two trained together in the 80s at Brendan Ingle's Sheffield gym and Naz dreamed one day of emulating his idol's success.

At his peak, opponents said being in the ring with Graham was like fighting a ghost. Nobody could lay a glove on him.

Thomas Hearns, Marvellous Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran, all avoided the master craftsman with astonishing reflexes and moves not found in any boxing textbook.

But when Graham finally landed a crack at a world title in 1990 against Julian Jackson, he was on the brink of a sensational stoppage victory when the big-punching champ knocked him out cold.

Back then, Graham lived in a luxury house and had more "friends" than he could count.

Naz used to turn up on his doorstep with his sports bag to ask the champ if he would train with him.

"He was a skinny little squirt in those days," recalls Graham. "I was his hero at that time."

But after the Jackson fight it was all downhill for Graham.

He lost his British title in 1992 to Frank Grant at Elland Road in Leeds and the "friends" drifted away one by one.

Then the British Boxing Board of Control withdrew his licence, claiming he had a balance problem. Graham was on the boxing scrap heap, his huge potential unfulfilled.

Six years on, he lives in a three-bedroom semi with his girlfriend, Nina, 27, and six-year-old son Oliver, and has a "modest" income from a business interest in a taxi firm.

In the meantime, massive TV purses and a lucrative sponsorship with Adidas have made the Prince a millionaire.

"Hey, I'm taking nothing away from Naz," says Graham.

"But sure, he learned a hell of a lot from me. We all learn from somebody." Now, driven by a desire to shake the tag: "The champ that never was" and attracted by big TV money, Graham is back in training and plans to manage himself .

He has prepared for tomorrow night's come-back in the super middleweight division with trainer Glyn Rhodes at a gym across the city from Naz's camp with Brendan Ingle.

He has successfully appealed against the Board's medical ruling by ploughing pounds 1,000 of his own dwindling funds into tests to prove he is fit to fight. He won his licence back four months ago.

"I should never have been banned and the fact that I have my licence back, proves it," he says.

"I'm not going to start mouthing off about what I might do this time round, because I don't know. You never do in boxing.

"But if there's anything left in the tank, I'll be looking for Steve Collins, Chris Eubank and even Nigel Benn if he comes back again."

Graham has been sparring with German lightheavyweight IBF world champion Henry Maske and says he feels good.

There's no question he looks in great shape and doesn't look his 37 years. But there are those who believe Graham, whose greatest assets as a fighter were his defensive reflexes, is making a big mistake.

As boxing sage Eddie Futch once memorably put it: "There are certain things you can't get back, like the elastic in your socks."

But Rhodes is quick to defend Graham.

"When Herol lost to Frank Grant he had a lot of personal problems and he shouldn't be judged on that night."

But he warns: "Having said that, I will not let Herol fight on if he starts taking punishment.

"We've known each other since we were teenagers and I like him too much. I'll ban him from the gym if I have to."

Graham starts to laugh at Rhodes' threat as a TV set perched high on the wall of the Sheffield Boxing Centre is surrounded by eager youths.

Naz's flickering image fills the screen. "I'm blessed. I'm going to die a legend," he brags for the umpteenth time.

"So what's new," mutters one youngster. These Sheffield lads are clearly not impressed.

Herol is smiling, happy to see his protege succeeding. But it's groans all round as Naz's image fades and the youngsters shuffle away.

Naz is not their hero. Graham is. Some have left Ingle's Gym to join Graham and Rhodes in Hillsborough on the other side of the city because they get more attention.

A city traditionally divided by loyalty to either United or Wednesday is now on the brink of a boxing divide.

And it's no secret many Sheffielders are growing weary of Naz's brash act.

Rhodes says: "Nobody, least of all Herol, is taking anything away from Naz.

"He's a great fighter and deserves his success.

"But nobody, and I mean nobody used to box like Herol. Naz learned everything from him.

"At the time Herol wasn't just Naz's hero, he was everyone's hero, me included.

"Everyone wanted to be Herol. Now everyone wants to be Naz. But Herol was the prototype.

"There's plenty of folk round here who haven't forgotten where it all started. Back then, Herol was the man. To many of us he still is."
COPYRIGHT 1996 MGN LTD
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Jarvis, David
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 25, 1996
Words:1040
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