On this day 17 years ago, Britain’s Naseem Hamed, the hardest puncher in featherweight boxing history, scored his final thrilling, memorable ring victory. Facing former amateur standout Augie Sanchez in Mashantucket in a fight that went out on HBO, Hamed scored a brutal KO win in defence of his WBO crown.
The fight, after a relatively uneventful opening round (uneventful compared to the sheer street-fighting element that was to come) became a sensational slugfest, with a ton of leather thrown from both sides, trips to the canvas from both fighters that could so easily have been scored as legit knockdowns, blood and finally a savage KO. Indeed, the action that came thick and fast over four rounds was all but impossible to keep up with.
Skill-wise, Hamed, then 34-0, had slipped; his defence almost non-existent and his total reliance on his withering punching power bordering on total arrogance. Sanchez, who holds an amateur win over Floyd Mayweather Junior, carried dangerous power himself and at times only Hamed’s underrated chin kept him upright.
The 2nd round was wild, as was the remainder of the short, incredible fight. Sanchez, 26-1, scored a knockdown, landing two rights that snapped back the head of “The Prince.” Blood now seeping from his nose, Hamed was lucky that referee Mike Ortega – who had a tough night, with plenty of work to do and nothing but split seconds in which to do it – made an error in ruling the knockdown a slip.
Sanchez, though, landed more hurtful shots throughout the remainder of the round and the fight; his lefts and rights seriously rocking Hamed’s head around. But Hamed had a big edge in power and he badly hurt his challenger on numerous occasions. Both men were marked up by the 3rd, around the eyes especially. In this session, Hamed was again wobbled, yet refused to keep his hands up.
The 4th saw Hamed put Sanchez, just 22 years old at the time, on the canvas, but then get a point taken off for hitting him while he was down – no knockdown was scored. Hamed seemed enraged, as well as obsessed with scoring a lights-out KO. This he did seconds later as he cracked “Kid Vegas,” as Sanchez was known, with a thunderous four-punch combination to the head. Sanchez, incredibly, tried to get up after being floored so heavily, but the fight was over.
Soon after being hit with what could be argued as the hardest punches the 25 year old Hamed ever threw and landed during his pro career, Sanchez was placed on a stretcher and was given medical attention. Thankfully he recovered, amazingly to the point where he fought again just five months later.
Hamed took on his biggest and most accomplished rival in his next fight, in Las Vegas the following April. Marco Antonio Barrera, who certainly watched the Hamed-Sanchez fight, was waiting with anticipation.
Just one fight followed for Naz after the humbling at the hands of “The Baby Faced Assassin;” a dull points win over largely unknown Spanish fighter Manuel Calvo in May of 2002.
It really was surprising how such an exciting fighter, such a great puncher, could lose so much in the space of two fights. The Hamed of the Sanchez war, his defensive lapses aside, looked for all the world like a star who would continue to shine brightly for a few good years to come.
Like him or loathe him, Hamed lit up the featherweight division like few other fighters ever have.