The Prince Belongs in the Hall

I think at one stage he was the most exciting fighter that I’d ever been involved with. At one stage, in the early part of his career, he could have gone on to become one of the great fighters. But that disappeared when he didn’t fight as regularly as he should have done, when he was cutting corners on his training. It just didn’t work out for him from that point on.” – Frank Warren]

“I had hand trouble and could not take the power of my punch,” Hamed said. “I needed cortisone injections to take away the pain when I fought, then after every fight the gloves would be whipped off and my hands would be as big as balloons.” – Prince Naseem Hamed

“… with his unique, unorthodox, frankly crazy style of boxing, his speed, reflexes and bone crushing power, and the way in which he took the boxing world as a young bright eyed swaggering kid, ruled his division for years, and was a verifiable icon for confidence-crisis suffering kids the world over, Naseem Hamed was a personal childhood hero, the most talented fighter I have ever seen, the most accomplished young fighter ever, and the fact that he retired somewhat prematurely aged 28 should not detract from the golden memories he gave us in the relatively short time he did compete”.- Daniel Fletcher

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Let’s cut right to the chase. This unorthodox, flashy and supremely talented southpaw, born in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, should be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame forthwith.

With a final record of 36-1, he was the WBO, WBC, IBF, and Lineal featherweight champion, and European bantamweight champion. He also knocked out Wilfredo Vazquez who had just been stripped of the WBA title prior to their fight. He also won a number of regional and international titles. Daniel Fletcher describes his dominance best in a lengthy and compelling article dated May 18, 2012 on FIGHTSPORTASIA

“… at the end of the day, let it never be doubted that beyond the show and “unfulfilled potential”, Prince Naseem Hamed still accomplished a remarkable decade-long ledger in the sport to go along with his talent, and it reads as follows:

* European Bantamweight champion (1994)
*WBC International Super-Bantamweight champion (1994-95)
*WBO World Featherweight champion (1995-2001 – 15 defences)
*IBF World Featherweight champion (1997 – 2 defences)
*WBC World Featherweight champion (1999)
*Lineal WBA World Featherweight champion 1998 – WBA stripped Wilfredo Vazquez prior to his bout with Naseem
*Lineal World Featherweight champion (with Vazquez win – 5 “defences”)
*IBO World Featherweight champion (2002)
*36 wins, 1 loss (31 knockouts)
*17 world championship wins
*10 world champion opponents beaten

“In short, he dominated the featherweight division for six years, winning 17 world championship fights against 10 world champion opponents, and he unified all the titles. That dominance against tough opposition should count heavily when evaluating his candidacy for nomination into the Hall.

With swagger, style,  and showmanship aplenty, Hamed was known for his many spectacular ring entrances and flashy showboating. Not unlike the late Hector “Macho: Camacho, his boxing antics made him the new poster-boy for lighter-weight boxers and his extraordinary charisma attracted large numbers of fans, but despite the flash, there was plenty of substance. He was a very talented, skilled, and had sledgehammer power (with an impressive 83.78 KO percentage) who scored spectacular highlight reel knockouts. Here is a highlight video:

As for his ring entrances, this video captures them in their full splendor:

Among his victims were Paul Ingle (21-0), Cesar Soto (54-7-2), Vuyani Bungu (37-2), Wayne McCullough (22-1), Wilfredo Vazquez (50-7-2), Kevin Kelley (47-1-2) in a classic 1997 shootout that feature multiple knockdowns in Madison Square Garden, Tom Johnson (44-2), and the always game Manuel Medina (52-7).

He successfully defended his WBO title for the fifteenth and final time in August 2000 against Augie “Kid Vegas” Sanchez (26-1) at Foxwoods Resort in Connecticut with a devastating fourth round knockout. In this one (which I saw live), Hamed seemed to have come down from above on a Flying Carpet as he landed the final KO punch flush. It was a concussive, sudden, and very scary ending to what had been a surprisingly competitive bout. Sanchez remained prone on the canvas for several minutes before he was placed in a neck brace, given oxygen, and removed from the ring on a stretcher. The chief ringside physician, the esteemed Dr. Michael Schwartz, believed that he had suffered a concussion, and he was taken to nearby Backus Medical Hospital where he remained overnight. “Sanchez was very lethargic and slow to respond to commands,” Dr. Schwartz said. “He was talking with slurred speech. His pupils were sluggish.” It was altogether a tense scene.

The main thing is I wish that Allah makes him nice and safe and there’s nothing wrong with him at all,” Hamed said after the fight.

Hamed broke his hand in the bout, and following surgery he spent six months out of the gym, gaining 35 pounds in weight. He then signed to for a much-anticipated Superlight with long-time rival Marco Antonio Barrera (52-3) in April 2001, but some said his performance against Sanchez in the early rounds suggested something was amiss. At any rate, he lost to Barrera by scores of 111-116, 112-115, and 112-115.

In an interview after the Barrera shocker, a candid Hamed stated that he regretted taking the fight, due to his inactivity and weight gain, and that he felt drained going in. Despite the poor preparation for the fight, he admitted complacency also had set in and that he never envisaged getting beaten, and added the multimillion dollar offer from HBO was also a motivating factor for taking the fight. But for all practical purposes this was the end of his boxing career, though he did beat Spaniard Manuel Calvo (33-4-1) a year later. Calvo had split a pair with Steve Robinson and had some chops. Again, Daniel Fletcher sums it up nicely, albeit with a tad of bias:

“The more sensible train of thought is that his long known dislike of training camps (as stated by the Prince) and greater dislike of being away from his family (ditto) combined with the gross sum of wealth he accumulated throughout his career, the fact his invincible aura and spot at the top had gone and his “day was done” as he may have sensed, combined with chronic hand injuries and tendinitis, not to mention the frankly disgusting reaction to his solid comeback after his first (and only) loss after 13 months out of the ring, against Calvo, all factored into Naseem Hamed’s decision to never re-enter the gladiatorial ring via somersault ever again.”

Later, after his retirement, Prince Naseem was stripped of his MBE after being jailed over a high-speed crash in his sports car, which left the person in the other car with fractures to every major bone in his body. The crash happened in May 2005, and the honour was removed in 2007 – nine years after he received it.

This perhaps may have played some sublime and/or indirect role in his not being inducted into the Hall, but if it did, then many others should not be in as well. Another reason might be that his career ended prematurely (at the young age of 28) with unfilled potential in the eyes of many.

Since leaving the sport and being inactive for the best part of 10 years Prince has recently founded a sports management company with Clive Richardson, Questa Talent Championships.

Says Daniel Fletcher, “…some stars are so bright they burn out fast, rather than fading away slowly. In this case, while it still hurts that it did, one must be thankful that we saw the star at all.”

It’s time for The Prince to be inducted into the IBHOF.

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