Naseem Hamed – Loathed but Missed

19.01.06 - By Neil Thompson: Personality wise, I have always disliked Naseem Hamed. During his rise to the top of the Featherweight division and during his 5 year reign as World Champion, I always found his ring entrances embarrassing, his post-fight interviews annoying, his trash talking pitiful and his showboating disrespectful. Throughout his career he’s tried to emulate his idols persona (Muhammad Ali), like Ali he’s tried to talk and boast like the great one himself but unfortunately Hamed never possessed either the wit or humour to pull it off and simply came across as annoying. I’ve watched Hamed many times humiliating an opponent he’s beating easily with over the top showboating, hurting his opponent with his fists then stepping back to smile at his foe and to showboat some more. This desire to not only beat his opponent but to humiliate and ridicule him aswell left me with a deep desire to see him get his comupance. Such arrogant behaviour was not only for the cameras, by all accounts he was an arse out of the ring aswell..

I have also heard stories of another side of Hamed’s character. In the gym Hamed has been labelled a ‘bully’ with younger and less talented fighters than himself. Brendan Ingle (Hamed’s first trainer) says Hamed punched a younger fighter in the stomach for criticising Hamed’s lack of politeness when talking to his trainer, leaving the younger fighter doubled up and winded. That younger fighter was rumoured to be a young Junior Witter during his early days as a fighter.

A friend of mine actually met the ‘Prince’ in a club in Sheffield. My friend introduced himself as a former amateur boxer and stated that he had great respect for Hamed ability. Hamed responded with a smirk and then basically told my friend to ‘fuck off’ before turning his back to him. Hamed’s number of friends then stepped in between the two until my friend walked away having just been disrespected by one of his hero’s.

Such stories like these have always strengthened my dislike for Hamed but as much as I dislike Hamed the man, I respect Hamed the fighter. Without a shadow of doubt, I rate Nassem as the heaviest hitting featherweight I have ever seen before or since.

I have followed Hamed’s career since his easy points win over the world rated Vincenzo Belcastro for the European Title in May 1994. For the next two and a half years Hamed continued his rise to the top winning and defending the WBO World Title. By November 1996 he had defended his title 4 times and looked untouchable. His awkward style, cat-like reflexes and freakish power made Hamed appear unbeatable. However, having such natural talent made the Prince lose focus in Training. Hamed’s next fight was a unification bout with IBF champ Tom Johnson. Hamed won impressively in the 8th round. Despite this victory some people noticed that Hamed was now getting hit more than he used too. Many of you would say that this was because Tom Johnson was at that time Hamed’s best opponent to date. Hamed’s trainer saw things differently and years later would say the following:

“The Tom Johnson fight was the first where he really got hit a few times. He didn’t look too comfortable as he had done so in the past, although it was a convincing victory. From then on, rather than improving which he should have been at that youthful age, Naseem faded in terms of ability, he was over confident, its as simple as that, he didn’t put the work in training and actually decreased in boxing standard which is such a shame and sad. It could have been so different. I would say that Naseem of 1995 would beat Naz of 1997 onwards”.

For the next 2 years Hamed continued his reign as the best featherweight on the planet, during this time he had his American debut in December 1997 against New Yorker, Kevin Kelly and I remember being shocked at how slow Hamed looked, he was awful and was knocked down several times, but Hamed’s power got him through to score a 4th round stoppage. Hamed was once again victorious but I had never seen him look so bad. In October 1998 he outpointed Wayne McCullough, after this poor performance Hamed split with his long time trainer Brendan Ingle. Brendan had trained Hamed since he was 7 years old. Years later Brendan would shed some light on the split and was quoted as saying the following:

‘Its no secret that there was friction between us in 1997 and 1998, he became uncharacteristically unreliable in training, rarely breaking sweat and clearly more interested in fame and fortune which was sad. Something got between us, he basically became over confident and way too big for his boots. The split was brewing for sometime”.

It was clear Hamed wanted a ‘yes man’ instead of a no-nonsense trainer so Hamed employed Oscar Suarez. Hamed wanted to call the shots in training. It was well known that he hated road work, so he stopped running. He didn’t like too much sparring, so the sparring was cut down. Also, he brought in his brothers to over see his business interests. He was now surrounded by ‘yes-men’.

Next for Hamed was a defence in Manchester against Scarborough’s Paul Ingle (no relation to Brendan). Despite a couple of early knock downs, Paul Ingle surprised Hamed and in the 11th round he was a couple of punches away from giving Hamed his first defeat, but Hamed's one punch power got him out of trouble and he stopped Ingle with one punch. The Hamed circus went on. Hamed’s next performance was even worse, a 12 round messy points win over Cesar Soto adding his WBC belt to Hamed’s trophy cabinet. Hamed returned to form in his next fight with a perfect performance against the dangerous Vuyani Bungu. Next was Augie Sanchez in which Hamed once again had to rely on his power to get him out of trouble, prevailing in a 4 round war. Next up was the big one, Hamed’s first true super fight against a legend in his own right …. Marco Antonio Bererra.

As everyone knows this was judgement night for Hamed. He met a fighter who he could not bully or humiliate like all his other opponents he’d faced. Bererra didn’t just beat Hamed he destroyed him. Sure Hamed went the distance but I don’t think he won a single round, it was a master class performance from Bererra and at some points I thought it looked like a boy against a man. I will never forget the look on Hamed’s face when Bererra grabbed hold of Hamed and pushed him into the corner post. After humiliating and ridiculing all of his previous opponents in the ring, now it was Hamed’s time to be humiliated and I must admit it gave me some satisfaction. However, I have to give Hamed some praise …… he took his first defeat like a man and that is something I always respect in people. After this fight he made a return to the ring after one successful comeback fight he disappeared and was rarely seen for almost the next 3 years, apparently he’d pilled on the weight and was seriously of out shape. Announcements of comebacks kept surfacing every few months but always amounted to nothing.

Many in the US first saw Hamed during the Kevin Kelly fight and judge his boxing ability based on his performances after this fight. The fact is Hamed was not the same fighter. His lack of motivation during training brought about a premature decline in his abilities. Many comparisons can be made with Mike Tyson, like Mike he reached his peak early in his career and like Mike he was responsible for his own premature downfall. Hamed stopped training properly and thus increased the rate of his decline. Despite this he still managed to stay at the top of the Featherweight division for a good 5 years until Bererra pushed him off it. I’m NOT saying that a peak Hamed would beat Bererra because it is my belief that Bererra had Hamed’s number no matter when they might of fought each other, but style-wise a peak Hamed may of beaten Morales and a fight with Pacquio would have been a sluggers dream. However, in historic terms Hamed will always be in the shadow of Bererra and Morales.

Now Naseem Hamed says he’s coming back and he says he has Bererra in his sights and I for one believe him. I think he’ll sign a contract with HBO and return as a super featherweight but I doubt he’ll be able to beat Berrera, Morales or even Pacquio but I would still pay to see him try. A more realistic goal would be for Hamed to target the tough Scotsman Scott Harrison (proving he gets past Guzman) who will be moving to super featherweight himself. Recently I saw him being interviewed during the Hatton v Maussa event, he looked a bit slimmer than the last time I saw him and he’s still an arrogant little twat …… but boxing needs characters, even one as annoying as Hamed. Even though I still dislike him I have come to accept that I miss him and boxing misses him even more.

Article posted on 19.01.2006

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