Naseem Hamed was such a huge star in 1997, in the UK especially (the US would have to be conquered later) that he could feast on over-matched triers like Billy Hardy and we fans were both expected to and were willing to shell out for the carnage on pay-per-view. It was 25 years ago today when “The Prince” took on Hardy in a Box-Office event on Sky Sports. We should have known going in that the fight, such as it was, would not last long at all. Maybe plenty of us did know.
Hamed, at or around his fighting peak at age 23, was spotless as 25-0(23) and he was making the first defence of his two belts, the IBF and WBO featherweight titles (Hamed having added the WBO belt to his growing collection in his previous fight, this a superb win over the superb Tom Johnson). Hardy was nine years the older man and he had been around. Hardy earned great respect for his brave but losing fights with the excellent Orlando Canizales, these fights taking place down at bantamweight.
Hardy was a workhorse in the ring and his sheer determination often saw him to victory. 36-7-2 going into the Hamed fight, Hardy said he would “come through with flying colours,” and that his record showed he had made a habit of doing so whenever the odds were against him. Sadly for Hardy this was not to be the case on this night.
Hamed, as cocksure as he was both popular and disliked in equal measure, predicted a first-round win ahead of the fight in Manchester. Hamed was as good as his word.
Going to work at the sound of the bell, Hamed scored two painful knockdowns, his rights and powerful lefts smashing into Hardy’s face. A right hand broke Hardy’s nose, while the challenger also suffered a busted cheekbone. Hardy went down in acute agony from the first big fight, his face twisted. Hardy bravely got up, before he was the sent down again, this time by a monster left hand. Once again Hardy got up but this time he was saved from perhaps permanent damage by the referee. It was all over in a fraction over a minute-and-a-half.
Aside from his almost pathetically easy night’s work against the ill-equipped Said Lawal – who Naz crushed in a little over :30 seconds in his maiden WBO title defence (and how on earth was Lawal awarded a world title opportunity?) – the Hardy fight marked Hamed’s easiest, most hassle-free night in the ring.
Hamed was a star, a huge star, and he could get away with cherry-picking. For a while at least. There would have to be bigger, riskier fights in the future. For a while, Hamed came through these tests. At the time of the Hardy massacre, Hamed’s fight with Marco Antonio Barrera was still some four years away.