Naseem Hamed - Is "The Prince" Hall Of Fame Worthy?

Naseem Hamedby James Slater: He was one of, if not the most, devastating punchers in featherweight history. His athleticism, grace and speed were something to behold. And the excitement he brought to the ring when he was in action was palpable. With wins over fine fighters such as Tom "Boom Boom" Johnson, Steve Robinson, Manuel Medina, Kevin Kelley, Wilfredo Vazquez, Wayne McCullough, Paul Ingle and Vuyani Bungu, he has a resume that many would envy. The question is, is "Prince" Naseem Hamed an all-time great who is worthy of being enshrined in The Hall of Fame?

Hamed who never officially announced his retirement, but last boxed way back in May of 2002 and finished up with a superb 36-1(31) record, has been absent from the ring for more than the five years needed to be inducted into The Hall. But will the Sheffield man ever get the call? Many fans will no doubt cry out a resounding YES! And with good reason. After all, Hamed defeated the quality fighters listed above, was a reigning WBO, IBF and WBC featherweight king, and he lit up the boxing world like few before him with his awesome punching power, ring theatrics and flamboyant attitude. The question of whether Hamed belongs or not is no easy one to answer, though.

For on the other side of the coin, there are a few unpalatable facts for Hamed supporters to accept. Above all, and giving those people who give a deafening NO to Hamed's worth as a Hall of Famer the most ammo, is the fact that in the biggest fight of his career - against great Mexican Marco Antonio Barrera - Hamed was soundly beaten. Not only that, but after being humbled by Barrera, "The Prince" all but vanished from the boxing arena. Not even attempting to avenge his lone defeat, even though a rematch clause was his property, made things look decidedly un-great for the big hitter. It is arguable that Barrera was Hamed's best ever opponent. Losing to the very first great he encountered isn't a good thing on Hamed's legacy, that's for sure.

Then again, when we look at some of the fighters who are in The Hall, are we perhaps being unkind to Hamed? Was Barry McGuigan, for instance, a greater fighter than "The Prince?" Hamed lost to Barrera, yes, but McGuigan lost to Jim McDonnell - and inside the distance at that! Sure, "The Clones Cyclone" was at the end of his career at the time, but maybe Hamed was when he boxed Barrera. Age has nothing to do with it at times, as we know. Maybe Hamed had peaked by the time he clashed with Barrera at age 27. But does the loss to Barrera take away all Hamed's previous accomplishments anyway?

Assuming he was at least slightly past his very best by April of 2001, this doesn't detract from what Hamed did beforehand. During the years 1995 to 2000, Hamed looked as though he might never lose. With his crippling power and unorthodox boxing style, Hamed made good fighters look almost hopeless in there. Who can forget the way the precocious feather made a tough and capable fighter like Steve Robinson look like a rank amateur desperately trying to hit the target? Or what about the way in which Hamed, with one spectacular punch, turned long-reigning IBF champ Tom Johnson's legs to jelly? Those were undeniably great performances.

Still, fans like to see a fighter respond to adversity. And though Hamed proved on more than one occasion that he could both take a good shot as well as get back up if knocked down by one, "The Prince" never even tried to get revenge over the one man to have ever beaten him. His critics demanded the answer to one question, where was Hamed's sense of pride? The fact that Hamed, slightly past his dazzling peak or not, all but vanished after the loss to Barrera hurts his reputation in a major way. Imagine how we'd all look at Muhammad Ali if he'd never gone near Joe Frazier again after their first fight? Despite what he'd done, and what he would go on to do after his loss to Joe, Ali's rep would be severely compromised today for not getting it back on with the first fighter to defeat him.

It's the same with Hamed. To all but quit the sport after tasting defeat for the first time, when he had boasted beforehand that he would be "a legend," turns the fans off in a big way when debating the Sheffield man's overall worth as a prize-fighter.

The question of Hamed's chances of one day being invited to Canastota is an interesting and at least somewhat debatable one, but at the end of the day Hamed doesn't quite make it in.

He made a very big impression on those who saw him doing his thing back in the mid-to-late 1990s, when he entertained at the highest level. And Hamed surely ranks as perhaps the single hardest hitter in featherweight boxing history. But as a complete fighter, Naseem Hamed falls short in all-time great terms.

Article posted on 06.03.2008

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