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Strangers in the same gym // Honeyghan, Breland don't bother with talk

Prefight hype is almost standard operating procedure before a title fight these days. So you might expect the rift between World Boxing Association welterweight champion Mark Breland and challenger Lloyd Honeyghan to benefit the show. But it's not.

"He's arrogant," Breland said this week.

Honeyghan countered. "Take away his height and reach advantage," the former unified welterweight champion said, "and you've just got an ordinary fighter."

But both are training in extraordinary circumstances: at the same facility, the Safety Harbor Health Spa, for the same fight, a March 3 bout against each other in London. It has been nearly three years in the making.

So if Breland (26-1-1, 19 knockouts) and Honeyghan (33-2, 22 knockouts) do happen to see each other while at the Spa - they have completely different training schedules and go out of their way to avoid each other - they might offer a semi-wave before moving on.

Talking is basically out, although there really isn't much to say to each other anyway.

"Honeyghan's not friendly with too many people," Breland said after a workout Thursday.

"I saw him across the gym one time and waved," Honeyghan said. "But I'm not here to make friends. I'm here to get myself in the best shape possible to fight."

The fight is an important one for both men. For Breland, it's an

opportunity to defend his title against a quality opponent. The 26-year-old former Olympic champion has come under recent criticism for a series of bouts against lesser talent, including a second-round knockout of Mauro Martelli in October and a fourth-round win over Tokyo's Fujio Ozaki in December.

For Honeyghan, a fight with Breland is a chance to show the boxing world that at age 29, he's not through as a serious contender.

The animosity between the two can be traced to 1987 when Honeyghan, then the unified welterweight champion, learned the WBA was arranging for him to defend his title against the winner of a bout between Breland and South African Harold Volbrecht. Honeyghan would have none of it.

As a protest against South Africa's apartheid, he publicly dumped his belt - and WBA title - into a garbage can.

At the time, the Breland camp suggested Honeyghan resigned his title to avoid fighting Breland, but Honeyghan scoffed, saying fighting Breland would be "an easy fight."

"He threw away his title," Breland said this week. "He knew it wouldn't be an easy fight."

Honeyghan says he relinquished his WBA title three years ago as a show of support for the oppressed in South Africa, a movement he says Breland should have recognized.

"I certainly don't regret what I did. And I disrespect Breland for fighting a South African fighter," Honeyghan said. "He put money ahead of values and principles."

Will the site of London give England-resident Honeyghan an unfair

home-field advantage? Probably not. "My feeling is Mark can knock him out in London as well as Atlantic City," said Joe Fariello, Breland's trainer and manager.

Honeyghan, a native of Jamaica, points to the fact that he has beaten several American opponents in American cities. "A fight is a fight," he said. "There's no advantage."

But the winner will have a definite advantage in getting something each desperately wants - a rematch with WBC welterweight champion Marlon Starling.

It was Starling who handed Breland his only loss (and later a draw). And it was Starling who stripped the WBC crown from Honeyghan with a ninth-round knockout last spring. It was on the undercard of that fight that Breland pummeled South Korean Seung Soon Lee in one round to capture his WBA crown.

Honeyghan has leveled a serious charge against Starling, claiming that he felt Starling's knuckles through the glove when he was struck, a blow that "felt like it shattered" the inside of Honeyghan's face.

"You're not supposed to feel the knuckles through the glove, certainly not," Honeyghan said while relaxing at the Spa. "And I'm not making excuses. But I think they purposely moved the padding in the glove before the fight."

These aren't new accusations. Honeyghan made similar charges shortly after the fight, although he thought most people simply assumed he "wasn't thinking straight," and so he waited before making the same claim later in the year. Starling, Honeyghan says, has not satisfactorily responded.

But will Honeyghan get his rematch?

"I want one, but I'm not going to beg," Honeyghan said. "Money is the root of all evil and if there is enough money, I think he would fight again. But I don't think he would fight voluntarily. He knows he got off lucky."

"It sounds logical that he would" get a rematch, said Mickey Duff, Honeyghan's manager. "But that isn't the most important thing in my life or Lloyd's. I've learned over the years that you don't worry about getting even, but getting ahead."

Breland's manager, Fariello, says Starling backed out of a $600,000 deal to fight Breland last spring on Home Box Office - a bout that would have led to a $1.3-million fight against Julio Cesar Chavez, the WBC junior-welterweight (140 pounds) champion.

"He's been going around saying he's beat Mark twice (although one was a draw)," Fariello said of Starling. "Well, if that's the case, why wouldn't he want to fight again for the easy money?"

"We had it planned last April, but he pulled out," Breland said of Starling. "Pulled some stunt. Said he hurt his back, then his arm.

He owes it (rematch) to me, but I'm not going to dwell on that one.

We'll fight for a big payday. Someday."

For now Breland and Honeyghan are concentrating on each other. "I'm not looking past Breland," Honeyghan said. "I've got a plateful because of his height and reach."

"I'll fight the same as I always have," Breland said. "Run right in and throw a lot of punches. I'll keep my championship."