Former featherweight king “Prince” Naseem Hamed, by his own admission, retired too soon. Just 28 when he decided to hang up the gloves, the cocky and powerful southpaw passed up potential £$millions in further purses, and he left many fans wondering what might have been had he managed to retain the desire to fight. Imagine, if you can, Hamed against the likes of Manny Pacquiao, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez.
This is of course the pre-Marco Antonio Barrera version of “The Prince,” a version of the man who hadn’t been severely dented confidence-wise by defeat – this version the only one with any real chance of beating either of these titans. And a pretty humbling defeat it was against Barrera. Hamed, in April of 2001, was clearly beaten by the Mexican warrior turned technician. Hamed was not knocked out in Las Vegas (he was bounced around pretty good by Barrera though) but he was suitably embarrassed. And, aside from one dud of a 12-round win over a guy from Spain named Manuel Calvo a little over a year later, that was it.
Bad hands and the fact that long training camps robbed him of precious family time were forwarded as the reasons for Hamed’s early departure from the sport, but the critics point firmly at that Barrera drubbing as the real reason. Hamed, they say, had the wind, and the sheer self-belief he previously enjoyed, knocked clean out of him.
But what if Hamed hadn’t quit when he did? Suppose he didn’t suffer from bad hands and suppose he wasn’t as comfortably wealthy as he still is today. Suppose Hamed never fought Barrera but took the big risk of a fight with Pac Man, Marquez or Morales instead? Had Hamed, 36-1(31) carried on fighting – and there was, some time after the Calvo bout, talk of a HBO fight against Manchester’s Michael Brodie – there would have been no shortage of big fights for him.
There was that rematch clause Hamed could have exercised for the Barrera return, Hamed could certainly have boxed a rematch with Kevin Kelley (Kelley didn’t stop asking, for the longest time, for a second go at the man he lit up New York with in that December 1997 classic), and/or Hamed could have shot for true greatness by taking on either of the three greats listed above.
Hamed, as young as he was, could have boxed on for a further two or three years had he had the desire to do so. But while he might have be able to beat Brodie, a 29 or 30 year old Hamed would likely have struggled mightily against either Barrera in a return, or against Marquez or Morales. While it seems likely Hamed would have struggled mightily to see the final bell in a fight with Pacquiao.
Still, win or lose, Hamed always provided us with red-hot entertainment and if he had fought any of the guys mentioned here, the action would surely have been special, and memorable. There’s no doubt about it, Naseem name brings one big questions: what if?