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Edwin Valero and the Prince Naseem Hamed

By Thomas Greengrass: Today I am going to focus on two of the most exciting champions of this century who had some interesting parallels in their respective careers and who will both be ultimately remembered as unfulfilled potential. Edwin Valero 27-0 with 27 knockouts and Prince Naseem Hamed 37-1 with 31 knockouts. These two unorthodox southpaws had it all in the ring.

Although they were very different stylistically, they both had tremendous power and speed. Both were such aggressive fighters that they had little regard for the defensive aspects of the game, relying more on fast reflexes. This is what made them such an exciting watch.

Edwin Valero, for those of you who haven’t heard of him was a Venezuelan who primarily fought at lightweight and super featherweight. If you haven’t seen any of his fights then get on you tube now. At 5 foot 6, this guy was an absolute beast. His destruction’s of Vicente Mosquera and Antonio DeMarco will give you a glimpse of what could’ve been had he not had such a tragic and brutal early death.

Valero started boxing at the age of 12 and amassed an amateur record of 86-6 with 57 knockouts before turning professional in 2002. After his 12th professional fight he was signed by the prestigious golden boy promotions. However, due to complications involving a brain injury that was sustained in a motorbike accident in 2001 Valero was not cleared to fight in the US again until 2009. As a result he was forced to do most of his fighting in South America and Japan, where he quickly became a star. Unfortunately this was just the first of a catalog of personal problems that robbed fans of a potential all-time great.

From an early age, the heavily tattooed Valero had built up a reputation as a petty criminal or gangster. His life was plagued with rumors of drug and alcohol abuse as well as petty crime and street fighting. Towards the back end of his career and life he was twice arrested for assaults involving domestic violence – once involving his mother and sister, and once involving his beautiful wife. In April 2010 having been in the process of moving up to the light welterweight division and amidst rumors of a future fight with Manny Pacquiao, Valero was arrested for the murder of his wife in a Valencia hotel. The following day he was found dead in his prison cell in an apparent suicide.

Prince Naseem Hamed was born in Sheffield, UK. He won world titles at bantamweight and super bantamweight before stepping up to featherweight and unofficially unifying the IBF, WBO, WBC and lineal titles. When he fought Said Lawal in his first ever title defense, Lawal was knocked down with the first punch of the fight before being finished cheekily inside 30 seconds. His US debut fight with Kevin Kelley was the Hagler/Hearns of its day, with both fighters hitting the deck three times in the space of four rounds. He was without doubt my most exciting fighter of his generation and one of few Brits who have made a successful trip across the pond. Hamed did suffer a loss to the great Marco Antonio Barrera, however I think most informed fans accept that this was not Naseem anyway near his best.

Having been schooled from an early age in the famous Brendan Ingle Gym. Respected British journalist Steve Bunce still maintains that Hamed was the best British boxer of all time and I have to agree. However, shortly after making the successful move across the pond Naz replaced his long time influences in Warren and Ingle, believing he was not getting a fair slice of the pie. Emmanuel Stewart (part time) became part of his training team, however, Naz was to take care of his own conditioning with a family team involved in his management. This ultimately was a great mistake as he ballooned in weight between fights and lacked real intense and quality sparring in the build up to his biggest fight. The prince finally retired in 2002 at the age of just 28 years, citing hand injuries and a desire to dedicate himself to his family and his strong Muslim faith.

To be a true champion there are a multitude of things that you need to be able to keep on top of. Not only do you need to show heart and desire in the ring but also out of the ring. Great champions keep in great shape and are dedicated to training routines. Great champions have longevity and desire to keep challenging themselves. They have self-discipline and surround themselves with positive influences. Unfortunately for these two tremendous talents they could not keep a lid on their inner demons and as a result robbed fans of what could have been some legendary match ups.

I have no doubt in my mind that if Hamed got himself back in prime shape he could have defeated Barrera in a rematch before going on to mega fights such as Pacquiao or Mayweather (who was rumored to have called him out previously on more than one occasion). Valero was also on the way to meeting these two all-time greats a few years later as his move up to light welterweight indicated. I think Valero v Pacquiao would have been one of the greatest bouts of all time as stylistically neither would take a backwards step and it would have been an all-out war.

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