The Big Question: 25 years since his debut what's your assessment of Naseem Hamed?
25 years since his debut and 15 years since his last fight, we asked James Oddy, Colin Harris and Michael Montero from the BM online team for their assessment of the ever controversial Naseem Hamed ...
I’ll always been indebted and therefore biased when it comes to ‘Naz’, as he is probably responsible for me even being a sports writer.
Like many children of the 90s, I was a wrestling obsessive. My first memory of boxing is going to watch a WWF event, of all things, in Sheffield. All the biggest stars were present - Stone Cold, The Rock etc. They all got huge reactions but the biggest reception, by far, was reserved for ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed, who made an entrance and dared to face down some of wrestling's biggest bad guys, in what was, in retrospect, a badly acted 'scene’.
The pre-teen me was stunned. How could this scrawny looking guy, who had a similar accent to me, be so bold, cocky, confident and, above all, loved? My dad explained that Hamed fought people ‘for real’ and - probably sensing my fascination - showed me some of Naz's fights on VHS and on Sky Sports over the next few months.
I was soon hooked on boxing but, mostly, I was hooked on Naz. Looking back, he brought that ridiculous showbiz element from wrestling - the entrances, the trash talking, even his Adidas advert seemed like a promo from the WWF.
But, crucially, he could back up his talk with that explosive power and, as a kid, I found it terrifying and mesmerising.
Was Naseem the best ever? No, but as a kid his blowouts were thrilling and, as I’ve got older, the fights against Paul Ingle, Kevin Kelley and Steve Robinson are the ones I revisit, as much as for nostalgia value as anything else.
I can't be objective about Naz as much as I try. If I want to be critical, Barrera did ‘expose’ him slightly. But thinking as a 26-year-old and not a 10-year-old, Hamed’s style was always running the risk of coming a cropper against someone like Barrera.
I like to think about Hamed's career as being like a can of Tizer, another childhood favourite of mine. Naz wasn’t a refined flavor, or one with much depth. He wasn't subtle. But his career was a sugar rush, and exhilarating whilst it lasted.
- James Oddy
I still think it's strange: a man who was world champion at 21, made 15 defences of his world title, unified with two other versions (and, if not for politics, he would have held all four of the relevant versions) of the world title, was a P4P claimant, huge on both sides of the Atlantic, led British boxing for several years (in the post-Benn/Eubank/Bruno era) and epitomised the 'Generation X' of the late 90s ... and yet we feel as though Hamed somehow fell short of what he should have accomplished, and was a 'bit of a disappointment'.
I still remember thinking Naz had missed a boat when leaving both bantam and (especially) super bantam behind so quickly as he could/should have been a world champ at each of these weights and I'd have favoured him to beat the world champions at the time. Having said that, when he went to 9st he brought such excitement, such confidence, such swagger: the advert for him invading America ("it's too late - he's already here!") was so cool I used to pause whenever it came on TV.
Hamed gripped the nation, was one of the best ever, and deserves to be mentioned with the very best fighters of the 1990s. I thought he was awesome, was a huge fan and loved his tenure in boxing: I do, however, think that when his family started running his career it was not for the better. I wish he'd stayed with Brendan Ingle, I wish he'd stopped relying on his one-punch power, and I wish he'd been more active (by relying on his power, he hurt his hands more, and thus fought less). I also remember actually going red with embarrassment watching the documentary covering the lead-up to the Barrera fight.
Having said all of that, when he and the Wincobank Team visited our gym before the Tom Johnson bout it was pure excitement. I have a wonderful story from Hamed's visit which showed what a lovely guy he could be... I got on well with him during his visit and only have great memories of it.
Was Naseem, as he proclaimed, the greatest featherweight ever? No.
Was he the best Featherweight of the 1990s? Yes.
And to be the best fighter in a division's decade is not too bad at all.
- Colin Harris.
Prince Naseem was one of the first 'little guys' to bring significant attention to the lower weight classes with his unique blend of showmanship, catlike reflexes and KO power. Big wins over Tom Johnson (to unify titles), an ancient Wilfredo Vazquez and others were enough to briefly make him 'the man' of the featherweight division, but Naz never defeated a great fighter in their prime.
In April 2001, Marco Antonio Barrera stained Hamed’s glossy record and left him with a choice – rebound from the loss to prove his greatness, or fade away. Naz chose the latter and it was a shame because a golden era was brewing around 126 pounds at that time - Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao would have been heavy favourites to continue where Barrera left off.
Hamed had great potential but never proved himself against the greats of his era. Still, he made a remarkable impact on the sport that paved the way for other little fighters to prosper after him like never before.
That is his legacy.
- Michael Montero