Great Night in the Garden: Hamed V Kelley 10 years on

naseem hamedBy Joan Lefflins: December the 19th 1997 will always hold a special place in my heart, for on that date, I witnessed one of the greatest fights imaginable. Razzmatazz, showmanship, high drama and unbelievable action.

This was the first visit of the cocky Prince Naseem Hamed to the US. It was a much hyped fight. Kelley was an extremely talented fighter with a superb record of 47-1-2 with 31 KO's. Kelley was (and still is) a favourite fighter of mine. He was all business in the ring. He was a truly superb boxer with excellent balance, a terrific jab and he could put you to sleep with either hand. He was the man I was supporting that night..

Hamed was a bit of an unknown quantity in the states. He was supposed to be a bit of a showman, he was flashy and arrogant, had a reputation as a puncher and had a record of 28-0-0 with 26 KO's, however, This was Kelley's town, Kelley's arena and Kelley held all the cards. He was 4 inches taller with a 7 inch reach advantage. He had a lot more experience and for my money was the favourite to win this fight.

Come fight night, expectations were high, the atmosphere in the Garden was electric to say the least and Junior Jones had just been handed a shock loss by Kennedy McKinney! How could Hamed and Kelley follow that? But follow it they did...and some!!

Kelley entered the ring looking fired up and ready to go, however no one could have imagined what we were in for with Hamed's entrance!

He appeared behind a screen to the tune of "Men in Black" dancing and dawdling. The music changed and eventually he came from behind the screen and danced (very slowly I may add) down a catwalk, more suited to a fashion show. I could not quite believe what I was witnessing. Neither could the rest of the crowd, but Hamed's fans were in good voice, the confetti and music built up the atmosphere to a crescendo.

There was one man in there who was far from impressed. Kelley was literally furious at how long all this was taking (I believe it was about 10 minutes till Hamed Vaulted over the top rope into the ring, nearly colliding with Phil Borgia, Kelley's trainer) and he looked ready to burst.

I could not imagine how an entrance like this could be surpassed by the action (I thought we may have been in for a bit of an anti climax) but surpass it was an understatement. From the first bell Hamed looked like no other fighter I had ever seen before. He slipped and slid, ducked and whirled, wiggled his shoulders and led Kevin a merry dance, dodging nearly all of Kevin's punches whilst landing his own, right up to the last minute of the round anyway, then after throwing a flurry and leaning back Kevin threw a right hand that landed right on Hamed's left cheek and decked the cocky Prince! The crowd went wild. This was what we had come to see! Hamed got straight back up, however, I thought it would only be a matter of time before Kevin finished the job!

Round two started with Kelley backing Hamed up and landing powerful jabs. He continued to stalk Hamed and landed a solid left hand that caused Hamed to touch his glove on the canvas! he was straight back up, but Kevin jumped on him straight away and caught him with a good right hand causing him to touch down again before referee Benjy Esteves could even begin to count! What a fight! Kevin's fight I thought! Kelley looked for the big finish, however he appeared to be countered by a lightning fast left right combination as Hamed spun him round, and went down himself, however, thankfully the referee ruled it a slip. The fight escalated into a war, Kelley was landing the more meaningful blows and nailed Hamed with a beautiful right hand on the inside. This was fantastic stuff but there was way more to come! Hamed landed a superb right hand that caught Kevin Flush on the jaw. Kelley went down and looked visibly stunned. He got up at 3 but the look on his face said it all. He was hurt!! Kevin tried to get his revenge by jumping straight back on Hamed, and had some success, however at the close of the round, the fight was even as Hamed's knockdown of Kelley was way more convincing.

The 3rd round started right where the second left off. Neither fighter wanted to box. It was pure war and Kelley landed a wicked left hand that would have put a lot of fighters away, but Hamed responded with a right of his own. Kelley started to establish his jab and had a lot of success with it as Hameds work rate dropped. It appeared that the jab would be the key to a Kelley victory. Hamed got a little more aggressive towards the end of the round, however I scored it for Kelley.

The 4th round was something else. It was straight back to war with Hamed taking the early advantage. The action continued and at about half way through the round, Hamed landed two successive left hand's that decked Kevin for a second time. What action! Kelley looked really shaken up as he rose at the count of six. It was evident that although Kelley was a hard puncher, Hamed was in a different league with his power. Hamed jumped on Kelley this time and nailed him with a short, but blistering right hand that looked to have Kelley really hurt but Kevin was not done as Hamed seemed to get over anxious, Kelley caught him with a grazing right hand that caused Hamed to touch down again. This was sensational, but we were still not done! Kelley got straight after the Prince and landed an excellent right left combination that backed his man up but back came Hamed with a leaping right hand followed up a second or so later with a devastating short left that caused Kelley to crumple to the canvas. Kelley rose at the count of 9 but his legs were gone and his eyes seemed to be in orbit. This was a chilling ending to an unbelievable fight. The crowd were delirious. This was one of the most (if not THE most) memorable fight I had seen. Both fighters embraced each other afterwards and why not? each had earned the others respect.

The Prince proved me wrong. I thought he was all style and no substance but he showed he could fight, he showed he could really punch and he showed he had an excellent chin. As for Kelley, there was no shame in losing this fight. He had his moments and showed he was still one of the best in the world, however had he used his jab more, I am sure he could have boxed to victory.

There you have it unbelievable action and if you haven't seen this fight I strongly recommend you do. It does not disappoint. I can promise you that. Put your feelings for each fighter aside and just watch 4 rounds of scintillating action.

I want to thank Kevin and Naseem for the memories, but this is a classic that will live on forever in the minds of those who have seen it.

Article posted on 16.12.2007

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