Prince Naseem Hamed: A Career Retrospective
By Matthew Thomas Potter: It has now been over seven years since ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed’s (37-0-1) supposedly career defining loss to Marco Antonio Barrera. Detractors of the Prince often use this loss to highlight the inadequacies of Hamed’s style, and his lack of the skills that were needed to compete at the highest level, against the toughest opposition.
However, this does not mean that Hamed’s career should be judged on that one loss to a prime version of legendary fighter. For many fans and critics who are not familiar with the intricacies of Hamed’s career, ‘lost to Barrera’ will be the first words written in Hamed’s obituary. But Hamed achieved so much more than most boxers ever dream of achieving, and he is one of the few fighters to ever garner a wider and more mainstream crossover cultural appeal.
In the second half of the 1990’s Hamed was something like a phenomenon, with news of his fights being broadcast around the world, from London to Lagos, from Tokyo to Toronto and everywhere in-between. Hamed had commercial tie-ins, with music labels like The Ministry of Sound, sportswear manufactures like Adidas, and consumer electronics giant, Sony. He was one of the most recognisable sportsmen in Britain, perhaps on Earth. His brashness, ultra self confidence, and arrogance and talent inside the ring attracted many new fans to the sport, fans that stayed interested, long after the Prince had prematurely retired.
But it is not just outside of the ring where Hamed’s achievements are notable and unique; inside the ring he was a maverick talent. His unorthodox style was a consequence of that amazing natural talent, his reflexes were second to none, perhaps the most honed and effective reflexes any fighter has ever possessed. These reflexes combined with his agility, made him hard to find and even harder to hit cleanly, with his one punch power helping to give him an impressive KO ration of well over 83%. But Hamed was not just a celebrity boxer who could full sporting arenas at the drop of a hat; as he also possesses an impressive resume and a long list of achievements:
Hamed defeated good domestic talent like Steve Robinson (WBO Champion) Paul Ingle (future IBF Champion) and the British, Commonwealth and European Champion, Billy Hardy, who was defeated by Hamed inside the first round.
Hamed also beat the big punching Augie Sanchez, a fighter who had stopped 25 of his first 27 opponents before meeting Hamed; who destroyed Sanchez inside four rounds. Vuyani Bungu was a former IBF Super-Bantamweight World Champion who had successfully defended his title on 13 occasions, Hamed disposed of him, again, inside four rounds.
WBC Champion, Wayne McCullough took Hamed the distance, as did another WBC World Champion, Cesar Soto, but on both occasions Hamed got a very wide unanimous decision.
Remiogo Moliana, an untested fighter, but still unbeaten in 27 contents, was destroyed by Hamed inside two rounds. Hamed also defeated Wilfredo Vasquez, a 3 weight World Champion, inside seven rounds. Vasquez was undoubtedly past his best, but subsequently went on to win 6 of his last 7 fights after losing to Hamed.
Hamed came up against an inconsistent but very tough Mexican, Manuel Medina, a five time World Champion, who Hamed defeated by TKO in the eleventh round.
Perhaps the biggest name on Hamed’s resume is Tom ‘Boom-Boom’ Johnson. The IBF Champion had made 10 successful defences of his title before meeting Hamed, who won by TKO in the eighth round.
If Johnson was the most notable name on Hamed’s resume, then his contest against Kevin Kelley must be the most notable fight. Kelley was a former World Champion, with only one loss on his record prior to facing Hamed; who was thoroughly tested by the strong American, but managed to comeback off the floor to win by KO in the fourth round of The Ring Magazine’s ‘Fight of the Year’ in 1997.
Hamed did more in his career than lose to a prime Barrera. He captured the IBF, WBO, and WBC titles, and beat the WBA Champion (Vasquez). He brought new fans and fresh money into the sport and captured the imaginations of an entire nation with his brash, unorthodox style and brutal one punch power. There is no doubt that Hamed relied too much on his natural talent, and never fully developed his actual boxing skills. There is also no doubt that after the demoralizing defeat to Barrera, and the subsequent derision from the fans who had once cheered him, he lost his fighting heart and fell out of love with the sport that he had given, and that had given him, so much. But when we look at Hamed and his career in its entirety, we should do so objectively, and when we do this, we realize and understand that Hamed was one of the best of his era, and a very special and unique fighting talent.