Doom and gloom after High Noon

MORE than 100 boxing fans turned up for yesterday's 'High Noon in Hong Kong' showdown, unaware it had been scrapped at the last minute.

The ticket holders arrived at the Hong Kong Stadium before 10 am, the scheduled start of the event, oblivious to the Saturday night cancellation until they read notices on the arena's locked gates.

The fans, many from overseas, said refunds on tickets alone were not enough.

'What about our air tickets and hotel rooms?' said an American fan. 'We just flew in yesterday specifically to see the fights, especially the title fight, and what happens? I can't believe they can just drop it the day before.' The event was scrapped during a free-for-all verbal confrontation at Saturday night's weigh-in in which promoters, managers and fighters blamed each other for the $31 million tournament's lack of funding and ticket sales.

About 8,000 tickets were sold by late on Saturday. The stadium has a capacity of 40,000.

British heavyweight Frank Bruno, who was scheduled to fight American Ray Mercer, checked out of his hotel suite last night disappointed with the weekend's proceedings but none-the-less eager to return.

'It's a disappointment but that's life, you know. But I like Hong Kong . . . I'll be back.' He was joined by the equally disappointed heavyweight title holder, Herbie Hide, and middleweight champ Steve Collins on a night flight back to Heathrow.

Retired local amateur boxer Cheng Pui-po, one of those who turned up for the event, said the tournament was doomed from the start because Hong Kong had no audience for boxing willing to pay the hefty prices.

Tickets were priced up to $3,900.

The stadium was far too big and expensive for such an event, which would have been much better at a smaller venue such as the Queen Elizabeth Stadium, Mr Cheng said.

'Local people don't have an appreciation for boxing which will make them spend this sort of money for a ticket.

'The prices for even the cheap tickets are more than a week's salary for many people.' Former chairman of the Hong Kong Boxing Association and World Boxing Council member, Dave Gilhooly, said outside the Hong Kong Stadium that the event was far too ambitious.

'They had a great bill for the tournament but it's far too ambitious for a place like Hong Kong. It should have been one major fight with about three smaller events held in a smaller venue.

'Hong Kong will be a laughing stock overseas, they should have kept the event on. Hong Kong people have a tendency to rush to an event on the day rather than buy tickets in advance.' Fellow local World Boxing Council member and former president of the Hong Kong Boxing Association, Tony Martinez, said initial local interest was low because there was no local representative competing in the tournament.