When did the world see the peak Naseem Hamed? When did the boxing world see “The Prince” at his dazzling best? It might be that Hamed was most impressive, truly threatening greatness, the night he won his first world title. It was a quarter of a century ago today when a 21-year-old Hamed put on a flawless display of speed, power, defence and showmanship against Welsh warrior Steve Robinson.
Hamed, already a big star in the UK, made a good, solid and so, so determined fighter look ordinary that night in Cardiff, Wales. Robinson didn’t have the most impressive looking record with nine losses on his record (none of them coming via stoppage), but the proud and physicaly strong WBO featherweight champ was making the eighth defence of his belt against the 19-0 Hamed.
The fight was dubbed “A Bridge Too Far,” and it proved to be. For Robinson.
16,000 fans showed up, most of them firmly on 26-year-old Robinson’s side. Soon enough it was clear the local hero was not going to send his army of fans home happy. Trudging forward stoically, Robinson kept his guard up and put pressure on his flamboyant yet untested challenger. Hamed fought with his custom switch-hitting approach, confusing Robinson and not allowing the champ to get set or to land anything. It was a frustrating night for Robinson and his fans.
Hamed danced, he teased his rival, he show-boated. When unleashing his zinging shots, Hamed was able to score simply because he was so darn fast. Robinson took what came his way, often not even seeing the punches. Hamed could not stop smiling. Hamed unleashed a savage attack in the fifth round, his hooks and uppercut sending the champion down heavily. Somehow, Robinson dragged himself up and saw out the round. Hamed was in complete control.
“The Prince” who would be king closed the show three rounds later, his powerful left hand ruining the brave Robinson, the referee stopping the fight. Hamed was the new champion and the boxing world braced itself for further displays of the special stuff he had shown in Cardiff.
But while Hamed did beat other good fighters – Tom Johnson, Manuel Medina, Kevin Kelley, Wayne McCullough, Vuyani Bungu – he never quite achieved everything he had looked like achieving. Hamed added the IBF belt to his WBO strap, and later the WBC title. Overall, Hamed made an impressive 15 retentions of the WBO title, yet he is best known today for the fight he lost. Marco Antonio Barrera, by a mile Hamed’s most formidable opponent, schooled the Sheffield man in April of 2001. A struggle to make weight was partially blamed, and even before 2001 Hamed had lost his desire to train like he used to train. Still, it was a humbling night for Hamed as he lost a wide 12 round decision to the Mexican great; Hamed never being knocked down, but bounced around pretty good a number of times.
Who knows how different things might have been had the Hamed who tortured Steve Robinson met Barrera? On the night of September 30, 1995, Hamed looked all but unbeatable.