Ingle's gym is a grim converted church school with cut-your-throat bright lighting. Plum-and cherry-colored heavy bags dangle from the ceiling, and a sign on the wall warns: BOXING CAN DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH. Ingle, 57, started the club in 1960, two years after he came over from Dublin. "My methods have been called unorthodox," the sweet-natured ex-pug says in a bit of classic understatement. After all, this is a guy who remedied the image problem of middleweight Fidel Castro Smith by stitching a shamrock onto his trunks and renaming him Slugger O'Toole.
As part of their training, Ingle's fighters turn cartwheels, perform backflips and copy the dance steps of Fred Astaire. "Basically, boxers are shy," Ingle says. "You've got to build their confidence." Which is why he lines up his boys in the ring and has them sing ditties—Danny Boy, say, or Mammy—as they introduce themselves. He even has them do stand-up. "An opponent may try to intimidate my fighter about his nationality or color or birth," Ingle says. "I've got to prepare him mentally."
Hamed had plenty of cheek when he debuted as an 11-year-old amateur. What he lacked was ballast. Ingle stuffed eight pounds of lead into Hamed's jockstrap and trunks to help him make the 60-pound minimum. He won his bout and was named fighter of the night. Success bred more success. Ingle inspired the 12-year-old Hamed on to his first national schoolboy title by telling him, "When you're 21, you'll win a world title."
By 16, the 95-pound Hamed packed such a potent punch that nobody his age would take him on. "I had him spar with heavyweights," Ingle says. "One 200-pounder was so frustrated of getting the runaround that he leveled Naz. But Naz popped straight to his feet, leaped up and broke the bloke's nose." The inmates of Doncaster Prison had no better luck. Ingle took Hamed there six times for seasoning. Convicts were allowed to hit anywhere above the belt; Hamed could only dodge and feint. "Any prisoner who decked my man got a tenner," says Ingle, who never lost a cent.
These days Hamed's toughest sparring partners are seven-, eight-and nine-year-olds. Doncaster rules apply: The kids can hit him, but he can't hit back. "These lads give me the best training possible," Hamed insists. "They're hungry and unpredictable and sling punches from every direction. They hit me with everything they've got, and all I can do is get out of the way."
Hamed's self-absorption and demand for obeisance can exasperate even Ingle. "Now and again Naz thinks he's done it all himself," Ingle says. "When he's nice, he's very nice; but when he's awful, he drives me to despair."
After defeating Vincenzo Belcastro for the European bantamweight title in 1994, Hamed told Ingle: "I'm not doing any more roadwork."
"I think you're mad!" protested Ingle. "Roadwork helps your legs and your breathing."
"Running is for runners. I'm a boxer," Hamed said. So he stopped running. He didn't start again until he watched Evander Holyfield wear down Mike Tyson in November.
"Naz wanted to put a million pounds on Tyson," Ingle says. "I told him, 'Never bet on anything that can talk.' "