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Controversial And Captivating – The Story Of Prince Naseem Hamed

Controversial And Captivating – The Story Of Prince Naseem Hamed

Naseem Hamed vs Wayne McCullough

31 Oct 1998: General view of the action during the Prince Naseem Hamed v Wayne McCullough fight for the WBO belt at the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Prince Naseem Hamed defeated Wayne McCullough by a decision in the 12th round. Mandatory Credit: Al Bello /Allsport

One of only seven post-war British fighters to be inducted into the International Hall of Fame, Prince Naseem Hamed is still regarded to be one of our sports most iconic and talented stars.

A three-time world champion who the great Emanuel Stewart called the best featherweight of all time, between 1995-2000 nobody could argue that Hamed was simply untouchable.

Famed for his leopard print trunks and his ring walks that varied from a flying carpet to reenacting Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ music video, while he is ranked as the third greatest featherweight of all time, there is still an element of what could have been?

Child Prodigy To World Champion

Like Mayweather and like Ali, Hamed had the ora of someone special from a young age. The son of Yemeni’s immigrants, Nas’ family corner shop was less than 100 yards from Brendan Ingle’s renowned Wincobank Gym, it appeared that fate was leading the future prince into a fighter’s life.

A breeding ground of British talent, before reaching his teens a young Hamed was already shadowboxing his way around the Wincobank Gym while world champions such as Johnny Nelson would work the pads. Immediately recognizing his natural talent, Ingle devoted his life to keeping the easily distracted youngster on track.

Guiding the teenager to the stage and the attention he had so longed for, the first 16 years of the Ingle-Hamed relationship was a match made in heaven. Along with Hamed having the platform to showcase his talents, Ingle had a once in a generation talent who could bring more world titles back to the Wincobank Gym.

After a stellar amateur career that saw him win back to back ABA flyweight titles, by 18, Hamed had already gained a reputation as one of Britain’s most talented prospects. With the ever vigilant Ingle deeming his protege ready to transition into the paid ranks, it only took 12 professional contest for Hamed to capture the European super bantamweight title.

Making six successful defense of his European title, winning all by knockout, Hamed decided to move up to featherweight for a showdown with rugged 126Ibs champion Steve Robinson.

While Robinson had a few losses on his resume, the Welshman was in possession of the WBO title and was regarded as a clear favorite. For Hamed, his transition into the featherweight division was eerily similar to Manny Pacquiao, although he was adding weight and power, he managed to retain his speed and poise.

Desperate to test himself on the grandest of stages, the 21-year-old Hamed immediately agreed to the fight with Robinson to take place in Cardiff, the champion’s hometown. With the youngster already gaining the reputation a cocksure prospect, 16,000 Welshman packed out the Cardiff Arms Park Arena believing that their hometown hero would blow away the novice.

However, it was to be a night that Hamed announced himself on the world stage. While Robinson’s career was in its final chapter, the veteran was labeled as a tough and brave fighter who had a string of world championship defenses under his belt.

Although Robinson held the experience, we doubt that any elite level fighter on the planet could have answered the questions Nas was asking that night. For eight rounds, the dazzling Hamed sent the champion to the canvas three times and dominated the contest from the opening bell.

With the referee deeming he had seen enough, the bout was brought to a halt and in front of a hostile crowd, a star was born. Emphatically taking the WBO featherweight title, Hamed had propelled himself into boxing superstardom.

A Polarizing Personality

With the whole world asking how to solve to Hamed’s puzzle, Nas embarked on a roller-coaster five years that had the British public sat on the edge of their seat.

As the world looked on, Hamed successfully defended his WBO world championship 15 times and scooped the IBF and WBC versions with wins over Tom “Boom Boom” Johnson and Cesar Soto, respectively. He cleaned up the division. He redefined the division. Some went as far as to call him the greatest featherweight of all time. And, for a while, nobody dared argue. It sounded good.

However, behind the scenes, Nas’ status as the hottest star in British boxing was slowly going to his head and his willingness to stay on top of the mountain was rapidly fading. Spending more time on planning his ring walks rather than preparing for his fights, Ingle was unable to keep his young champions feet grounded.

After almost so famously dropping his WBO title to Kevin Kelly at Madison Square Garden in 1997, Hamed was dropped twice early on, Nas simply survived on a fighters instinct and his natural power advantage.

With Nas still refusing to change his ways outside of the ring and his drastic struggles to make the 126Ibs weight limit, after a lackluster performance against Wayne McCullough in October ’98 he parted ways with Brendan Ingle and left the Wincobank altogether. Looking back, many believe it signaled the beginning of the end for Hamed.

Before leaving, Ingle gave his former protege one more prediction, he told Hamed that he would not last four fights without him, Ingle’s prediction proved to be a correct one. Despite the great Emanuel Steward taking over in his corner as Ingle’s replacement, Hamed picked up a handful of victories before his lifestyle finally caught up to him in 2001 under the bright lights of Vegas.

Scheduled to meet accomplished Mexican warrior, Marco Antonio Barrera, ‘The Baby Faced Assassin’ was stepping up from super bantamweight after a brutal Fight of the Year contender against arch nemesis Erik Morales.

Although many to this day believe that a fully fit and a fully committed Nas would have easily dispatched of Barrera, Hamed’s natural talents were not enough to cover over the cracks.

Instead, Hamed was a shell of the fighter who blew away Steve Robinson. Barrera completely dominated the now former prince who looked underprepared and incredibly drained, the grace and fluidity of his early years was just a distant memory now.

Hamed lost a unanimous decision to Barerra, as well as his perfect record, his air of invincibility and his mystique. Many who were angered at how Nas had neglected his talents still believe that his only professional defeat will always be a black mark on his legacy.

The Prince’s Legacy

After 13 months in boxing wilderness, the Prince returned for what turned out to be his final show in May 2002 against Manuel Calvo. Although many regarded Nas to be the now former Prince after a rematch with Barrera failed to materialize, his final contest is one of the biggest testaments to the grip he still had on British boxing. Despite his absence, 11million fans tuned in to watch his comeback on ITV, a record-breaking figure for a boxing show.

Although his unanimous points decision did see him pick up the vacant IBO featherweight title, Nas would never do that iconic flip into the ring again. By just the age of 29, well before many believed he would reach the peak of his power, Nas lost his love for the sport.

While he would never officially announce that he was retiring from the ring, by just 29 Nassem Hamed had created more memories than most would in a lifetime. it was far from a fairytale story, but Nas is still regarded to be the most talented boxer his country has produced.

He was as boldly brash outside the ring as he was destructive and devastating inside of it. With just one defeat on his resume, the Prince ended his career with a knockout ratio of 84%, one of the highest in the history of boxing, Nas was a middleweight trapped inside a featherweight’s body.

Although his discipline may have lacked, Nas had boxing in his DNA. He possessed the natural talent, the ability to throw shots from any angle, dazzling hand speed, concussive punch power and oozed charisma.

He may still have question marks hanging over what he could have fully achieved but in a story that barely spanned a decade, Nas is ranked as the third greatest featherweight of all time, some will argue he could possibly the best fighter the 126Ibs division has ever seen.

He may not have crossed the paths of Erik Morales, Manny Pacquiao, and Juan Manuel Marquez, but Prince Nas stands proudly in the International Hall of Fame as one of only seven post-war British fighters. Like many, Nas’ legacy will differ depending on who you ask, but one thing that can not be questioned is the systemic effect he made on his way to becoming a British icon.

A true trailblazer for his time, the world may never see another character quite like Prince Naseem Hamed.

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Boxing writer for Combat Sport - Sports journalist from Essex, England - Formerly of The Independent and a 2014 graduate of the University of Falmouth - A fan of boxing? Well, give me follow! @IamTomDunstan

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