In his dazzling, seemingly all too brief prime – 1995 to 2000 – “Prince” Naseem Hamed was, whether you loved him or loathed him, one hell of an exciting fighter. Today, long retired (and almost unrecognisable from his younger days, Naz having piled on the pounds in retirement), Hamed has some career to look back on.
Hamed celebrates his 48th birthday today, and if he has been reading the fascinating, sure-to-cause-fierce-debate Top 100 Greatest Fighters Ever countdown from “The Bible of Boxing,” Ring Magazine, Hamed will have reason to smile. Or maybe, when we consider the enormous ego Hamed had (and maybe still has), Naz will frown when he finds where he has been ranked by Ring (read the article over at Ringtv.com, and with it all the conditions and reasons for the fighters being ranked where they have been ranked – with the fighters being chiefly gauged on their respective performances using Ring’s rating system).
Hamed has been placed at #75 in the 100 Greatest Ever Fighters list (again, the ranking achieved due to Hamed’s performances as gauged by Ring’s ratings system). Too high? You may think so; especially when you read some of the names Hamed has been ranked above – Harry Greb! Aaron Pryor! Juan Manuel Marquez! Erik Morales! Joe Frazier! And Marco Antonio Barrera!
You may even think it sacrilegious for the folks at “The Bible” to have ranked Hamed above these greats; Barrera of course being the man who defeated Hamed and all but ended his career. And upon reading the 100 list, it is tempting to believe Ring have got it wrong. Badly wrong (even when accepting the manner in which the writers have come to their conclusions).
Hamed had genuinely great power, no doubt about it. In fact, Hamed is perhaps deserving of being ranked as THE hardest punching featherweight in history. And the hype, the mass attention and interest Hamed brought his sport was hugely impressive and important. But still, can Hamed really be seriously looked at as the 75th greatest fighter ever – on any list; no matter the criteria by which it is compiled?
Hamed was a natural talent. He had that unearthly power, the kind no 126 pound man should have been able to generate, much less from those crazy, off-balance angles and positions. Also blessed with razor-sharp reflexes and speed, Hamed’s biggest asset just might have been his chin. Hamed was, later in his career – when a combination of him getting lazy in training/falling too deeply in love with his power and of scoring the KO served to hinder him – saved by his chin/recuperative powers numerous times (see his wars with Kevin Kelley, Augie Sanchez, Paul Ingle and, slightly earlier, Manuel Medina).
Yes, Hamed could take a punch. But Hamed’s blend of raw power, of switch-hitting and having a tremendous chin proved to be nowhere near enough to get the job done when he met Barrera in 2001. Here, Hamed was outboxed, some say schooled. There were tales of hand trouble, of an agonising effort at making weight. Hamed was finished.
To many fans, Hamed’s actions after losing for the first time hurt his legacy. With a rematch with Barrera his for the asking due to a rematch clause (and Barrera was more than happy to fight Hamed a second time; he was hoping for the fight in fact) – Naz instead allowed the clause to expire. There was no return fight, no attempt from “The Prince” at getting his revenge. This is not how the greats act, said (and still say) plenty of boxing fans.
Hamed boxed just once more, scoring a dull decision over Manuel Calvo in 2002. And then he was gone. Hamed exited with an impressive 36-1(31) record, and he defeated some fine fighters: Steve Robinson, Tom Johnson, Manuel Medina, Kevin Kelley, Wayne McCullough. But that loss to Barrera, and the memory of what Hamed chose to do after it, lingers.
Hamed was a great puncher, no doubt. Hamed was a great showman, no doubt. Hamed gave us some great fights, no doubt. But there is serious doubt, at least from where this writer sits, when it comes to accepting his ranking as the 75th greatest fighter of all time – on any list, no matter how it is compiled.
What say you guys?