By James Slater – I can vividly remember Emanuel Steward, who was training featherweight sensation Naseem Hamed at the time, telling an interviewer that Hamed would, in time, go down in history as the greatest featherweight of all-time. I was shocked by those words, coming as they did from a highly knowledgeable and respected trainer. No way did I agree then (the statement was made by Emanuel just prior to the Barrera fight, back in 2001) and no way do I agree now.
Just where then, does “The Prince” rank amongst the very best in featherweight history? Many will disagree, but to my mind he does not belong in a list of the top ten finest featherweights of all-time. In fact, when Steward made his amazing statement I fully believe the likes of Sandy Saddler, Henry Armstrong and Salvador Sanchez were turning over in their graves! And as for the truly gifted featherweight boxers from yesteryear who are still with us, along with quite a few from more recent years – some of whom are still active-they too must have at the very least raised an eyebrow or two upon hearing the lavish praise Emanuel was bestowing on his fighter at the time.
Hamed was blessed with awesome punch power and early on in his career – when he trained with diligence- his speed and accuracy, as well as his work rate were very good indeed. It wasn’t too long though, before Naseem began to rely on his KO power and this alone to pull out the victory. Men like Kevin Kelley, Augie Sanchez and of course Barrera, found massive holes in Hamed’s style of fighting, as the former two names knocked him down in alarming fashion, while Marco became the only man to defeat him.
And while Hamed’s overall record is impressive – what with one solitary loss- what he did after this loss speaks volumes regarding his true fighting heart when it is compared with the legends from his division. Instead of putting the rematch clause option he had for a return with the Mexican great into operation Naseem let its year long validity expire. Even though he could have met Barrera in his hometown in a second encounter. This is not how true champions, let alone all-time greats, react.
Imagine someone like Willie Pep, for example, losing to Saddler for the first time and then never facing him again. No way would he have been able to live with himself without at least trying to get revenge. To have actually done so is the mark of a true champion. Hamed never showed this quality. To have virtually retired after his first ever defeat is a fact that really hurts his legacy. I just cannot in good conscience rate Hamed above fighters such as Pep and Saddler, Armstrong, Sanchez, Barrera, Morales, Pacquiao, Arguello, Nelson or even McGuigan.
To me these fighters showed more desire, guts and heart than Naseem ever did.
Though I’m full aware many will disagree, in my opinion Naseem Hamed has no place in the all-time top ten featherweights in history. Top-20, maybe even top-15, but not top-10.