Hamed 25 years on: Remember when...? Part 1
Twenty-five years since Naseem Hamed made his professional debut, Chris Williamson takes a trip through the Boxing Monthly archives to see how BM covered some key moments in the Prince's career...
When I agreed to write something celebrating the 25th anniversary of Prince Naseem Hamed's professional debut, I had in mind a personal recollection of watching Naz's astonishing early career as a teenager and the connection I felt with this brash little fighter who walked, talked and fought as though breathtakingly free of shackles, be they rules, the establishment or general boxing protocol.
Naz seemed to really cross over and transcend sport. His WBO world title challenge against Welshman Steve Robinson was scheduled during my first week of university and I was anxious about finding somewhere to watch it live. I needn't have worried because it seemed that virtually all my new friends - regardless of sex or background - knew who Naz was and were also keen to see if if would back up his boasts. The 'television room' (doesn't that sound quaint?) was packed to the rafters for Hamed's dominant eighth-round stoppage victory.
Luke G. Williams' vivid personal recollection was so similar (and much more eloquently written than I could manage...) to mine that instead I've plundered the Boxing Monthly archives to recall some iconic and perhaps more forgotten elements of the Prince Naseem Hamed story. A huge thanks goes to Bob Mee for providing many of the magazines.
June 1996 vs Daniel Alicea: "Blessing in disguise"
Puerto Rican Alicea came to the UK as a relative unknown mandatory challenger and left with his reputation much enhanced as he dropped Hamed for the first time in his career. The late Glyn Leach was ringside for BM and his delicious sense of humour noted that "fighters who are carried to the ring by six Nubian slaves while at the same time a pair of semi-naked nubiles scatter petals in their paths are not supposed to end up on their backsides..", while noting how impressed he was with Hamed's new found - and no doubt relative - humility at the post-fight press conference.
November 1996 vs Remigio Molina: "Normal service resumed"
It was the original 'Judgement Night' with huge cards on both sides of the Atlantic. Michael Gill reported from ringside in Manchester as Naz blasted out his Argentinian challenger in two rounds. Hamed was at his bombastic best and Gill describes how the Prince modestly described his performance: "This was close to a perfect performance. This boy came to fight and took some great shots but at the end he wasn't good enough. In the second round I stepped up the pace, winked at his corner and finished him. I knew when I felt those rocket launchers go he'd be out of there. You're looking at a legend to be. I'm not going to let Britain or the Arab world down."
May 1995 - new TV deal: "The end of an era"
Glyn Leach reported on the £50 million deal promoter Frank Warren signed with Sky Sports. Warren's previous three ITV shows had peaked at over 10 million viewers - unheard of numbers these days - making the stable with Naz the jewel in the crown very attractive to the subscription network. Hamed was at the top table to announce the deal where Warren said "The ultimate for me, what I really want to do is get the pay-per-view off the ground and I'm gonna do that."
July 1995: "Hamed's hit list"
It's easy to forget that Hamed's challenge to WBO champ Steve Robinson was his first fight at featherweight. Then-American editor Graham Houston looked at a pre-championship Naz's chances against the four super-bantam champs and suggested Marco Antonio Barrera would have had too much for Naz - six years before he became the only man to beat him.
Versus Barrera: "I think Barrera would be a little too much of an insistent, all round professional for Hamed.."
Versus Hector Acero-Sanchez: "Hamed would, I think, dominate the Dominican with power and punching from different angles and could stop him from rounds five to nine."
Versus Vuyani Bungu: "I think Hamed would outpoint Bungu convincingly or stop him in one of the later rounds."
Versus Antonio Cermeno: "Hamed would certainly be able to catch Cermeno, and probably wouldn't let him off the hook once he'd done so."
November 1996 - Naz watches Barrera vs Jones I : "All messed up"
Glyn Leach was ringside for BM alongside Hamed - and Burt Reynolds incidentally - who was watching arch-rival Marco Antonio Barrera live for the first time. The signs were ominous to the Prince early on who said of Barrera within minutes of the fight beginning: "He's too slow. Look at him - dummy left hook, right hand and good-night."
Of course, Barrera did go down to his first defeat that night but those comments about the only man to eventually beat the Prince look laced with hubris with the benefit of hindsight.
October 1997 issue: "Escaping the stranglehold"
Naz starred on the cover but such was the difficulty in finding opponents for Hamed, Glyn Leach previewed the October 'Full Monty' main event before the challenger - who turned out to be Remigio Molina - being confirmed. Instead Leach wrote about how boxing politics was in danger of stunting Hamed's career at just 23 years of age as attempts to unify were met with resistance and failure.
April 1993: Ranking young Hamed...
How odd does this look?! After seven fights and seven wins - all scheduled for six rounds - BM ranked the young Yorkshireman as the tenth best bantamweight in Britain.
March 1996: "Bang to rights"
On the same night as Bruno vs Tyson II, Hamed destroyed Nigerian challenger Said Lawal in just 35 seconds and phoned through to Frank Warren, who told Naz from Las Vegas: "You're gonna be a legend, mate."
December 1997: "Phew what a debut!"
Hamed made his long-awaited US debut in dramatic style at New York's Madison Square Garden, knocking out Kevin Kelley in the fourth of a breathless up-and-down thriller. Steve Farhood was ringside for BM and described "the flashiest entrance Madison Square Garden has ever seen" followed by "a peach of a Christmas present: a classic fight that more than one observer described as the little man's Hagler-Hearns".
February 1997 : "Boom time for Hamed"
From a personal perspective this issue is easily my favourite as Hamed signed it for me. I was covering a bill in April last year at London's Copper Box which featured the debut of a fighter Naz was managing, Tony Bange. Anticipating Hamed's appearance, I slipped this copy of BM into my laptop bag in case a signing opportunity arose. Hamed was with his wife Eleasha and one of his children so I didn't wish to bother him.
Luckily for me, there was a window where Hamed's family left for a few moments and, as he casually walked around the ring mixing with people, I shamelessly ignored usual media protocol by asking if he'd be kind enough to sign the mag. Happily, Hamed couldn't have been more willing and we exchanged some nice words before the next bout started.
As for the issue itself, Glyn Leach looked ahead to the big unification match with IBF champ Tom 'Boom Boom' Johnson and predicted an early win for Hamed in three rounds or less. In the event, of course, Hamed was victorious with a stunning eighth-round KO.