A Prince Who Burned Out and Faded Away at the Same Time

By G.E. Simons on April 15, 2013
A Prince Who Burned Out and Faded Away at the Same Time
Hamed was an infuriating content king, decades before the technology could catch up.

Naseem Hamed was spoiled and spectacular. Exciting and egregious. Magnificent and misguided. Ludicrous and legendary…

In 2013, modern athletics plays out on an endless neon loop that perpetually blinks through the thundering compound eyes of vivid Sportstainment broadcasting. Exponential marketing copy promotes it. Sponsored action replays reiterate it. And groomed punditry vivisects it.

Sportstainment delivers HD content that is almost indistinguishable from CGI scenes or X-Box gameplay. It pulses across flat screens in bars and beats on the black mirrors of tablets and Smartphones in cars, cafes and everywhere. 

A Head Coach in a crested club tie kicking a crate of Isotonic drinks. A referee caught in two minds on a split-second decision. Or a protracted agreement on next year’s shirt sponsor can rotate for hours on the loop because content is king and there is an insatiable, albeit disposable, demand for it. The irony is that this is also an age where there are few if any kings of sporting content provision left or as we used to call it, personality.

It is an era where many top-level British boxers speak an awful lot but say very little. Often taking the royal “we” whilst delivering media-training honed statements that keep sponsors, demographics and broadcast paymasters onside. Which is ironic as there is more demand for intelligent articulacy and sublime provocation to fill the channels and promote the battles than ever.

Throughout his own career, Prince Naseem Hamed was a spectacular showman of such epic proportions that he felt like an escapee from the curls of celluloid scattered on Stallone’s cutting room floor. He was a violent P.T. Barnum who punched and talked with the force of nature. And a man whose ring entrances often took longer than his actual fights, which in the first two acts of his career wasn’t very long at all.

Hamed was a sparkling, infuriating and engaging content king, decades before the technology could catch up. American impresario, director and playwright David Belasco once said that “Boxing is show business with blood,” and Naz definitely agreed with him.

In April 1999, he inked a contract to fight the then British featherweight champion, Paul “The Yorkshire Hunter” Ingle, in the 12th defense of his WBO title at the same weight, in a contemporary War of the Roses at Manchester’s MEN Arena.

Paul Ingle was the very antithesis of his opponent. A proper tough, military-fit fighter, all tangled with sinews and hard muscle that had been honed on the punishing rise and fall of the cold, wet Yorkshire Moors. As Naz collected a fleet of personally plated supercars, Ingle had once famously said, “Who needs Lamborghinis and Ferraris when you’ve got two whippets and a ferret?”

The only two things that they would ever share in common was the County they came from in the English North and the square ring on that night of the April 10, 1999, in an arena deep within the heart of sprawling Cottonopolis.

But for Naseem Hamed, this fight came at a difficult time and with hindsight can now clearly be seen as the first chapter of what ultimately proved to be the third and final act of his boxing career.

In the rear-view mirror of time it was also a career that matched the man himself, punch-for-punch.

One that was spoiled and spectacular. Exciting and egregious. Magnificent and misguided. Ludicrous and legendary.

His previous fight had been an unimaginative Halloween work out in New Jersey with Wayne McCullough, where he punched over a lot of Styrofoam gravestones on the way to the ring but couldn’t do the same to The Pocket Rocket in it.

And it was outside the ring, where the more dramatic holes were being punched into the training and promotional family that had long nurtured, energized and accommodated the young Prince.

Chief Trainer, Brendan Ingle (no relation to Paul), a man whose fighting ideology Hamed literally personified, had been acrimoniously abandoned following months of bitter public squabble. This culminated with the boxer calling Ingle “Judas” for discussing their finances and other matters with journalist Nick Pitt for his book The Paddy and The Prince.

“All Hamed is doing now is picking bodies to fight.” Retorted Ingle, “ He’ll be finished within two years.”

Brendan Ingle was replaced with the relatively unknown Oscar Suarez.

At the same time, the guile and sass of Frank Warren’s managerial and promotional expertise had also been dispensed with in favor of self-management in association with a gloating Barry Hearn.

So for the Paul Ingle camp, there was a belief that such radical changes to a team that had been so critical to Hamed’s meteoric ascendance could leave him fundamentally bereft of support when the going got tough between the ropes.

Paul Ingle was also a genuine and unbeaten challenger, boasting tremendous conditioning, an exceptional work rate, competitive fire and a fighting style built around fast-handed punch volume. A resume, that on paper at least, was tailor made to fracture the natural Hamed rhythm, making Ingle a threat and at least guaranteeing a terrific civil war.

This was the biggest night of Paul Ingle’s career in every way. “The Yorkshire Hunter” entered the arena through a screen bearing his name, shot with bullet holes of light. Emerging shaven headed and dressed in his usual camouflage trunks and robe with a matching team, he appeared calm, focused and ready for what he himself would describe beforehand as a likely “bloody good scrap.”

Even by his own standards Hamed entered the arena spectacularly, through plumes of dry ice and searing spotlights, driven in the back of a classic American custom car, booming confident predictions through a headset microphone. Freakishly muscular and compact he looked dangerous and confident, vaulting the top rope in a way that Monte Barrett might have done well to study years later.

Ingle was floored in round one, a terrible start resulting from a scything left to the body followed by a clip to the head that chopped him down for a few seconds. But it seemed to remove more in the way of confidence than his senses. Quickly flipping back to his feet, he rallied well to survive a bludgeoning opener against one of the most fearful punchers that boxing has ever seen.

Team Ingle had clearly studied the McCullough fight. An encounter which had proposed a blueprint of how Hamed might be beaten. If a fighter was able to withstand his power and apply relentless pressure of his own, then things might get very interesting because a lack of creativity did emerge when Naz accepted that he might not knock you out. Ingle applied this approach diligently and, for periods, certainly made Hamed if not vulnerable then certainly uncomfortable.

Until round six that is, which again saw Ingle take a count on his knees after shipping another sickly body shot. He did well to rise and rally. But the fight was beginning to slip away on the scorecards as the cumulative effect of Hamed’s fists began to tell and Ingle’s lack of power became more evident.  Though he remained industrious and certainly competitive.

Ingle’s uncomplicated, correct and relentless boxing was productive and testing but the panache, guile and power of Hamed meant that the initiative was always with him and only one punch seemed to separate the action from another successful title defense.

Ingle’s durability was ultimately the defining issue of the contest. Unlike the granite McCullough, he couldn’t absorb the brutal punching and finally succumbed to a short jolting left hook to the temple in round 11. He melted to the canvas, head bouncing, arms spread-eagled in knocked out submission where he was counted out.

For both men, tragedy and disintegration would ultimately follow this great domestic night of action, where Ingle had offered a stern and genuine examination of Hamed’s title defense.

A tragic disintegration of dreadful if very different manifestations.

Paul Ingle bounced back to become the IBF world champion with a unanimous verdict over the venerable Manuel Medina the following November. He followed that up almost a year to the day after the Hamed fight with a stunning victory over the still dangerous Junior Jones in Madison Square Garden in the first defense of his title.

As a bona fide world champion and genuine fighting hero in his hometown, Ingle was a clear favorite going into the second defense of his title against the South African mandatory challenger, Mbueleo Botile. That said, rumors of Ingle’s need to cut around three stone in the seven weeks in the lead up to the fight had caused much consternation in camp and was certainly a worry.

After a brutally draining 10 rounds which saw Botile build a convincing points lead, the 11th got much worse with the sheer volume of punches landing and Ingle was floored. In the 12th he was down again and this time remained on the canvas for several minutes receiving emergency medical treatment before leaving the ring on a stretcher. He was rushed to hospital where a blood clot was removed from his brain. It thankfully saved Paul’s life but his boxing career was over.

For Hamed, the ascendancy of his exciting, knockout studded glory years really did feel like they were over too. The Oscar Suarez era, confused by input from Emanuel Steward—which started with the Ingle victory—continued with a points decision over the teak tough veteran Cesar Soto. Stoppage victories against the overmatched Vuyani Bungu and inexperienced glamour boy Augie Sanchez followed, which elevated Hamed’s record to 34 wins, 0 losses with 31 knockouts and a date with Mexico’s Marco Antonio Barrera.

Barrera was already the real deal and has since obviously consolidated his position as one of the true legends of the ring.

He smiled knowingly as Hamed delayed his ring arrival and a date with Las Vegas gambling at its most dangerous. Unable to trouble Barrera with his power, Hamed had no answer for the schooled, precise boxing the Mexican brought and was bullied into a comprehensive defeat that unfairly suggested he had little to offer except power. Brendan Ingle would have taken no real pleasure in watching a defeat he may have been able to help avoid.

Hamed fought only once more. A unanimous points victory over Manuel Calvo in 2002 at London’s ExCel Arena, where he claimed the vacant IBO world title that had ironically been vacated by Barrera prior to their fight. Hamed was booed from the ring following a pedestrian but acceptable points win over a decent comeback opponent, who was reigning European champion and had lost only four times in 38 fights.

Prince Naseem Hamed was the king of Sportstainment before it even existed in the UK. Decades before Re-Tweets, Likes and Timeline updates, the boxer from the steel city of Sheffield had everyone talking on both sides of the Atlantic when the main way to make a name for yourself as a boxer was by talking a good fight and then fighting a good fight. Hamed did both and has been acknowledged by The Ring magazine as the 11th greatest British boxer of all-time and also the 46th best puncher in history. 

In his prime, Naz was one of boxing’s true entertainers, a quicksilver, reflex fighter with dynamite power and one who should surely be judged kindly for the arrogant thrills, hope-he-gets-beat excitement and verbal braggadocio that he brought to the sport during the late 1990s.

Or as he would have put it, “Damn, I’m looking good!” as he flattened his post-fight, yet still immaculately coiffured hair with the curve of his glove and shimmied his jungle cat print hips.

Most great fighters burn out and then fade away, leaving them to deal in the ashes of their incinerated skills. With only the muscle memory of what has been burnt, they are left to fire fight their own middle age, rematch opponents, tattooed journeymen, grasping taxmen and worst of all, hungry young men.

Prince Naseem Hamed, unique as ever, managed to burn out and fade away at exactly the same time.

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  1. the good Dr 04:35am, 09/15/2014

    Hamed believed his own hype and like many other similar boxers, was always going to disintegrate the minute his opponent bullied him. Barrerra had his number and destroyed Naz mentally. there was no way back for him after this because, like all bullies, the minute someone walks over them, they are never the same

  2. Vinny Fatato 10:17am, 03/29/2014

    Thoughts produce energy and Hamed had explosive thoughts which made him an explosive exciting fighter. Yes his personality rubbed most people the wrong way but it’s the same thing for Mike Tyson!!!

  3. DarrelsJustButtHurt 09:59pm, 04/21/2013

    Notice how in Darrell’s post, the reason he hates Hamed has nothing to do with boxing accomplishment and more about how he disliked his personality.  Naseem has to be one of the top 15 greatest featherweights of all time - the best the UK ever produced, and one of the top UK fighters of all time.  Women lie, men lie, numbers don’t lie.  Hamed’s accomplishments are HOF worthy.

  4. Darrell 01:09am, 04/21/2013

    Sorry mate, I couldn’t stand this egg…..Disrespectful, arrogant & full of himself, so glad to see the back of him.  He won’t be remembered fondly except by his fanboys.

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