No Return: Why Naseem Hamed Isnít Coming Back

Painful as it may be, ability donít last Ė Pulp Fiction

10.11.05 - By Cris Neill: Itís official: Prince Naseem is making a comeback. OK, he said he might be making a comeback. Perhaps. Amid all the excitement about his mooted return to the ring, letís remind ourselves that as usual, Hamedís assurances that he will box again are wilfully vague. There are assurances of a six-fight contract with an unnamed American TV network, nothing more substantial. Iím an admirer of Hamed, and Iíd like nothing better than to see him stage a sensational comeback, but Iím going to stick my neck out here: itís ainít gonna happen. Not now, not ever. He will never be world champion again. Who knows why he makes repeated claims that he will fight again? Perhaps the rise of Amir Khan has goaded Hamedís sense of what-might-have-been.

Like Tyson, Hamed was able to trade on his aura of invincibility while his boxing began to look increasingly one-dimensional. By the time he fought Barrera, Hamed was virtually unrecognisable as the fighter who dismantled Steve Robinson. Many boxing pundits would argue that the Barrera fight was an answer to the questions that had dogged Hamed throughout his career, but the truth is more complex. Hamedís application to his craft had gradually waning long before the Barrera fight. His power, startling for such a small man, had made him complacent, and he neglected his brilliant and unorthodox boxing skills. The Robinson fight Ė Hamedís first outing as a featherweight Ė was a masterclass in skilled aggression. The 21-year-old pretender to the throne received less than a dozen meaningful punches during the fight, and outmuscled the older, more experienced Robinson. During the course of the bout, Hamed demonstrated that he could box orthodox, southpaw, square-on; just about anything a boxer was capable of.

Fast-forward to the Barrera fight and a very different Hamed emerges. It was apparent after the first three minutes that Hamed had nothing new to bring to the table, just a dogged insistence in trying to land bombs. He looked off-balance and was frustrated by Barreraís watertight defence and skilful counter-punching. The ring is merciless in its exposure of a fighterís shortcomings, and Hamed paid the price for believing his own hype. That Hamed, to put politely, had lost touch with reality was confirmed in a documentary released after the bout Ė The Little Prince Ė The Big Fight. It makes for uncomfortable viewing; Hamed agonising over his haircut just days before the fight, pettishly wrangling over his gloves and looking awkward and amateurish in sparring. The behaviour of his entourage wasnít exactly endearing either, as elder brother Riath sanctimoniously condemned Las Vegas as a den of iniquity, a place of fornication and gambling, but was more than happy to take the money of the punters who queued up to watch the fight. Of course, documentary-makers are biased, just like anyone else, but it was apparent that Hamedís heart wasnít in the fight. It went beyond the softness and luxury he had surrounded himself with Ė you just sensed that he had lost the hunger. Thereís not much reason to assume that he had rekindled this desire in exile from the ring - £30 million in the bank, his estimated career earnings, must deaden the impulse to put his life and reputation on the line.

Letís assume that Hamed does make a come-back. He will face the arduous task of getting his body and mind back into a state of ring-fitness, which at the age of 31, after a three-year absence, will be a daunting task. Time isnít kind to boxers who trade off their reflexes, as Roy Jones has discovered. Once Hamed has made inroads into regaining his fitness, thereís the question of who will he fight? It seems likely that his camp will have worked out a strategy whereby he takes a few warm-up fights, before having a shot at a world title. There are parallels here with the return of Iron Mike, where the glamour of his name was enough to fill seats, but the quality of opponents was sadly lacking. Tyson at least had the advantage of returning to an impoverished heavyweight decision Ė Hamed will not face such an easy ride. His punching power will remain, and can be worked back to what it was, but his timing and coordination will never be what they were, and he would surely fare badly in a rematch with Barrera or a bout with Pacquiao.

Probably Hamedís greatest chance of at least partially recovering what he once was would be a reunion with Brendan Ingle; a scenario about as likely as Hamed becoming undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. There have been criticisms of Ingleís methods, but it canít be denied that he made the best use of Hamedís physical attributes and skills. He succeeded where other notable trainers have failed. For example, at least part of the blame for Hamedís lacklustre display in the Paul Ingle fight can be levelled at Oscar Suarez. Hamed looked drained against a fighter he should have mastered with ease, due to Suarezís harsh physical training regime. This was inappropriate for Hamed, who for years had dodged regular training runs. Equally, Manny Steward, although a great trainer, failed to appreciate many of the qualities that made Hamed such a great proposition as a fighter, such as his unorthodox balance and timing. But all of this is academic, because Hamed wonít be coming back. Rumours of his impending return will doubtless crop up over the next few years, like recurring bouts of malaria, but the Prince will never become King.

Article posted on 10.11.2005

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