Born and raised in Sheffield, England, Naseem Hamed strutted on to the boxing scene at an early age with a handful of easy victories. He was the fresh prince, with a style his own that he devolped since a child when he first walked into Brendan Ingles little neighborhod boxing gym. There was much to like abut Hamed, in the early days, at least. He was 15 or so, a guest of the promoters, sitting quietly on the steps of a hotel lobby in Belfast as more recognisable members of the boxing fraternity moved about him. The kid gazed at Chris Eubank, Don King and luminaries of various influence as they soaked up the sycophancy. The kid sat on the steps, watching, not quite a churchmouse, more a student of fame.
"All right, son?"
"Wicked. Are you a writer? I'm the Prince."
He warmed to the exchange. "Keep an eye on me. I'm going to be the greatest fighter in the world, one of the greatest fighters ever. You remember that. OK?"
The bluster did not offend. Naz, if anything, invited a pat on the head. His big, brown eyes blazed not so much with innocence as wonder. How could you not like him? Unless he was going to give you a smack in the mouth with a right hand, slim as he was, that could knock over a heavyweight. Nor was it surprising that he should even then have developed a swagger. The little monarch was the leading protege of Brendan Ingle, whose gift for selling his fighters is still unparalleled in British boxing. "You've seen nothing like the Naz fella," Ingle said. We all wanted to believe him. For a while, we did. I saw Hamed from his first pro fight to his last. At various times in the intervening years, I was convinced he really was as good as he said. Nobody boxed like the Prince. But, as with many stories in the fight game, this one was going bad almost before it got good. Nick Pitt's excellent book, The Paddy and the Prince, identified the tensions. The Paddy, Ingle, and the Prince, Hamed, were too close. As he grew in stature, Hamed began to take over Ingle's sidestreet gym in Wincobank, a refuge for some of Sheffield's wiliest scallywags. What Naz said went. His bullying tendencies soon surfaced. I was there one day when he went to Ingle and, in a tone that regulars did not seem to find unusual, told his trainer his breath stank. "Don't eat those cheese sandwiches around me when I'm training," Hamed barked at him.
"You can't let him talk to you like that," I said later to Ingle.
"He's just a kid," Ingle said. I knew he was hurt. He'd picked him off the street at seven and coached him in his eccentric but effective way for nearly 15 years to the point where he was the best featherweight in boxing. It would not be long before it all collapsed.
Sickening power. The English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish boxing fans would be the first to see and realize this as the early stages of the Prince's career saw him pummel a string of opponents via his unorthodox style. By his 11th fight the Prince had introduced the over the rope-somersault into his ring entrances, entrances that would only grow more elobarote and exciting. After becoming a bantamweight, the now 20-year-old Prince had to face his toughest test in a scrap for the Bantamweight championship of Europe, against notably tough, durable Italian Vicenzo Belcastro, who was the European champion and two-weight world title challenger. Naseem picked him apart, but failed to knock him out, winning on one official scorecard by 120-107, and earning a fresh batch of controversy with his taunting in the 12th and final round. Hamed went on defend the title against Antonio Picardi, whose entourage couldn’t believe the reports that prior to the fight Naseem had spent his pre-fight preparation playing pool and listening to jungle music. He did....
By his 18th fight the Prince introduced the spectacular pyrotechnics filled ring entrances that would make him a fan favorite....
Hamed was now facing international competition, with former world title challengers being brought over to give him rounds. At this stage in his career the Prince was meant to be tested – a young kid facing veterans who’d fought in world championship bouts. But Hamed continued to bang out a succession of hapless Super-Bantamweights in the first, second and third rounds.
Hamed was at the height of youthful confidence, a rising star en route to becoming world champion, and he knew it. As 1994 rolled into 1995, and English and Scottish ambulance staff continued to roll Naseem opponents onto stretchers, the clamor for a world title shot for the Prince became louder and louder. But no one at Super-Bantamweight wanted him. He was too dangerous, too good. He stepped up in weight again, to featherweight, for a shot at a major world title held conveniently by a fellow Brit, and even more conveniently a non-Englishman; WBO World Featherweight champion Steve Robinson from Wales.
Words cannot do justice to how badly the young Prince beat up Robinson who was never the same fighter again. At times like these, videos speak louder than words; bear witness to the most destructive, humiliating, downright terrifying display of cruel, raw, unadulterated talent seen in a 21-yr-old, in a first time world title fight. In the Lion’s Den, Naseem would either cave in to the pressure, or come up trumps and prove he was boxing’s royalty. And in front of tens of thousands of screaming Welshmen, he did just that - with ease.
Hamed's first defense was in Scotland against Said Lawal...
Hamed made his first appearance in America with the Showtime televised broadcast of his fight against undefeated Puerto Rican Daniel Alecia...
Next up was former IBF World champion Manuel Medina, in a fight in Ireland in which Naseem entered to Oasis, then enjoying “Britpop” or “Oasis-mania”, the ’90s equivalent to Beatlemania. Noel Gallagher said publicly, “If Naseem were a musician he’d be in Oasis, and if I were a boxer I’d want to be Prince Naseem.” With a confirmed flu, he beat a world champion in a world championship fight. Naseem next faced Regimio Molina, who he blasted out in the second round.
Hamed made his next three 1997 title defenses in England, against British, Commonwealth and European champion Billy Hardy, then future South American and WBC International champion Juan Gerardo Cabrera, and finally the tough world title challenger Jose Badillo, who had troubled Tom Johnson briefly. All three would be knocked out pretty easily and only one of the fights would be televised in America. The Cabrera fight which was shown on the Saturday morning Wide World of Sports on ABC.
Up next was the first trip to America, to New York City itself and Madison Square Garden, one of the meccas of boxing to face the best featherweight (up to that point) of the 1990’s… 47-1 knockout punching former WBC World champion, and by consensus the only threat to Naseem out there… Kevin Kelley. What followed was the greatest seven-minute entrance, the greatest fight, and the greatest comeback performance of the Prince’s career. It was his magnum opus, his finest moment, the peak of his career leading into a strong 1998. He was tested, and prevailed, and proved himself to have been, and to be, p4p the best featherweight in the world, possibly ever. The Prince signed a huge 7-fight contract with HBO. Hamed took to promoting the fight which was done to amazing effeciency as Naz's New York invasion was broadcast everywhere, including an epic commercial that was seen by millions.
And next up, for the 35-0 mark, was perhaps the last hurrah of Naseem’s career… after begging Morales, Barrera and Tapia to come to the table and fight him, as he had done with the former two since beating Kelley, the young hot prospect and heavy punching Las Vegas man Augie Sanchez stepped in. At 26-1, Sanchez was being tipped for big things, but despite knocking down Naseem, Sanchez was so savagely beaten that the “future champ” was never the same fighter again, having to be stretchered out of the arena unconscious with an oxygen mask in place under fears for his safety. After fighting and winning twice more after this point, it should be noted that Sanchez lost to a relative unknown, and then retired – age 24. It is no exaggeration to say that Prince Naseem Hamed ended his promising career, which is unfortunate, but that is the cruel Darwinian nature of boxing. However cruel would be the fate of Hamed, who broke his hand during the rawkus fight.
After the Sanchez fight, the Prince got fat while healing his broken hand. It would be a long 17 months off for the Prince before HBO came calling with an offer he couldn't refuse. A fight against Marco Antonio Barrera. However, the 27-year-old Hamed was obscenely rich, hugely successful, and completely overtaken by his Islamic faith. The Prince made the huge mistake of introducing Islamic themes and sayings before his fights, even going as far as saying Allah is the greatest to the ring announcer's and so forth. This was certainly annoying to the general boxing audiences and would reach a crescendo in the wake of the Barerra beatdown. As the documentary shows, Hamed cared more about his haircut, hotel room, goat-skin gloves, pre-fight entrance and family, more than about the actual fight, which he mentions little and trains for even less, throughout the show.
Hamed came into the ring via a flying circle after a completely unnecessary overindulgence of Islamic chants. He then infuriated and confused almost everyone when he took the microphone from ring announcer Michael Buffer to announce that, "Allah is the greatest". The look on referee Mills Lane during this moment says it all. However by the time the first round ended Hamed wasn't so confident as it seemed the almighty Allah had abandoned him. He was doused with beer during his ring entrance and jinxed himself by not somersaulting over the ropes because his gloves were wet. He then faced an opponent that not only fooled him, but also everyone watching by simply outboxing the Prince with relative and embarrassing ease. Hamed who barely made weight was sluggish, confused and thoroughly outclassed. But this was no surprise to trainer Emanuel Steward who said that Hamed's huge boxing talent would go to waste unless he completely changed his ways and his attitudes. He didn't.
Steward, the legendary trainer parted company with Hamed shortly after the Prince's stunning defeat in Las Vegas. Steward, who has trained a number of the greats in boxing including Thomas Hearns, Oscar de la Hoya and Lennox Lewis, told The SundayTelegraph that, even if Hamed wanted to extend their partnership, he would refuse. "I've decided that I don't want to work with him any more anyway," he said. "It's not effective, it's a waste of time and money for everyone. Naz has a tremendous amount of talent. My plan was to take it a step further. I really wanted to see him finish up as a legendary featherweight. But I haven't been able to move him up a level and I never would be with the input I had. The way he is, I don't think he'll fulfill his talent. If he did things properly, he could be one of the greatest fighters ever. But I don't know if that's ever going to happen. I've seen mistakes being made and, if you try to make changes, they fall on deaf ears. To have my knowledge and not use it is a waste of time."
Steward was correct, the Prince was done. A year and a half later he made his comeback at the London Docklands. They unearthed every graveyard in London for an opponent and came up with Manuel Calvo. A brute that went the full 12 rounds with Hamed, who didn't show any improvement or punching power and had the crowd booing him for most of the fight. Hamed walked away after the Calvo fight and hasn't seen a ring since. He spent most of his post-boxing career eating cheeseburgers and crashing million dollar cars. But in 2016, the Prince was gifted for the career he might have had if not for the ego, by becoming one of the few post-war British boxers to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. There was a congratulatory tweet from Amir Khan but elsewhere it barely made a ripple. In his prime, Hamed was a global superstar. The trainer Emanuel Steward called him the greatest featherweight of all time. Now, at just 40, he is boxing’s forgotten man.
Six weeks later Ingle told Hamed that he no longer wanted to train him, citing the grievances that had built up over three years. "I've got to the stage, with all the hassle I've had... I don't want to be involved. The way you've been training, the way you've been behaving, you've been horrible." and Naseem responded by saying, "What did you win, Brendan? Nothing. You never even won an area title...You know your trouble, Brendan? You never stood up to anybody. You never stood up to anybody in your life. You always let people bully you. Like that time with Mickey Duff when he slagged you off and you just stood for it'."
Shortly before Hamed defended his title against Kevin Kelley at Madison Square Garden, New York, Ingle received notification of a major change in their financial arrangement. In the Paddy and the Prince, author Pitt records: "His [Ingle's] feelings swung from anger to amusement. Anger because for Brendan the terms of the agreement amounted to servitude, and displayed contempt for his methods and beliefs. Amusement kicked in when Brendan realized the absurdity of the notion that anyone - be it Naseem or Riath, who had no doubt commissioned and dictated the agreement - would agree to its terms." Two days later Hamed came close to losing his title. After going down twice from Kelley's fast punches, he was saved only by natural power and a fighter's instinct. Afterwards the Prince ripped Ingle for the near disaster. Years later Hamed apoligized to Ingle but by this time Ingle could care less. Hamed told the Daily Telegraph last month:
"I want to see Brendan and say sorry for the nasty things I said about him, because I am so grateful for the things he did for me. The person that I want to be honoured with me in Canastota is the first trainer I ever had and that's Brendan. He should be in the Hall of Fame. He's produced so many world champions. The time I had with Brendan was an amazing time. It was priceless. You couldn't put an amount of money on that. What I learnt from that gym and that environment was priceless. The only thing I really want is to sit with Brendan to apologize to him, if I upset him, and to make up with Brendan.I've been asking to go and see him for two or three years and his son keeps saying to me he's not ready. I want to go back. I spent more time with that man than his own gym. You can just see how many world champions and great fighters were created from that stable. It wouldn't be a nice thing if I walked to the actual house and was rejected. I went to a boxing show not long ago and he was there. He looked at me like he could see straight through me I will go there, put my cards on the table and say: 'Listen, I'm a father of three now, them boxing days have gone by the wayside, I'm just here to say to you, I'd love to make up with you. I want to give you a big hug and apologise for everything I said wrong to you or did. I want you to forgive me."
However, Ingle isn't interested in making up with the Prince, "No, thanks" he said at the offer. Leaving Hamed with a lifetime of 'what if's' to dance around in his head. Behind his downfall — if not in material terms, but in every other way — is a story of breathtaking arrogance and hypocrisy. ‘Naz’ has nothing in common with Rocky. He flaunts his Muslim faith; the word ‘Islam’ was sewn into his trademark baggy shorts and he was once theatrically called into the ring by a mullah. But tales are emerging of drugs and prostitutes. Old friends and colleagues have been abandoned; fans treated with contempt. ‘Naz has turned into a monster’ — the verdict not of one of the many people he has fallen out with since his last fight in 2002, but a friend who visits his home regularly.
His status as the brashest, cockiest pugilist, it turns out, was not an act. Take this example: on one occasion, not so long ago, he picked out a gleaming £40,000 vehicle from a prestige car dealer in Sheffield. Later he waltzed back in to the showroom and told the salesman: "I want you to buy this back off me." Hamed was offered £10,000 less than the original price because, like all cars, it had depreciated in value. "No," he snapped. "I want you to buy it off me for the price I bought it."
"What are you talking about?" asked the astonished salesman.
"Look at the name on the log book," Hamed boasted. "I want the same money because the name Prince Naseem Hamed is on it, which means the car is worth a lot more."
At that point, says a friend of the salesman, the former boxer was "told where to go".
Such tales are commonplace in Sheffield. The phrase "Do you know who I am?" could have been invented for Hamed. In fact, the name on his credit card is 'Prince Naseem Hamed', though the royal moniker is merely an affectation to gild a talent which has now evaporated. On a trip to Los Angeles, he was mistaken for royalty in a store on Sunset Boulevard. Staff addressed him as ‘Your Royal Highness’. According to a friend: ‘Naz was happy to go along with it.’ At other times, he has been seen ‘showboating’ in one of his flash cars in the city. Until he wrote it off in that near fatal crash, it was a £320,000 McLaren Mercedes SLR. There have also been a Lamborghini Diablo roadster (£200,000), Aston Martin Vantage (£200,000), Ferrari 335 (£100,000), as well as Porches, BMWs and Range Rovers. On one occasion, he bought a 4x4 simply because it was snowing.
Being brash and obnoxious is one thing; but it doesn’t end there. Hamed was overtaking a queue of traffic on the brow of a hill — something he has being doing for as long as anyone can remember — when he ploughed into Anthony Burgin’s VW Golf.
"He just doesn’t think the normal rules apply to him," said someone who was once a passenger in his car. "He thinks traffic lights are voluntary and will jump a queue of traffic without regard for the consequences." As controversy threatens to all but destroy a once great sporting legacy, more revelations are surfacing. Those who know Hamed say he has always had an eye for the ladies. ‘All he had to do was click his fingers,’ said someone who went out on the town with him before he met Eleasha, the mother of his three children, who converted to Islam before their marriage in 1998.
In May, however, when her husband was on bail, a Sunday newspaper claimed two call girls entertained Hamed and another man at a London penthouse. The ‘madam’ who arranged the rendezvous recognized Hamed and tipped off the paper.
"It’s all lies," said a member of Hamed’s family last night. "He would never do something like that. He has a beautiful wife. I swear to God it’s not true. Nor would he ever take drugs."
In the past, Hamed has claimed he ‘despised’ drugs, saying: "I will never fail a drugs test. You can bank on that 100 per cent."
But the rumours have been rife in Sheffield for years. They were given credibility following reports that Hamed had tested positive for cannabis in prison. Now a close associate alleges he has seen ‘Naz spaced out’ during nights out in the city.
"He was totally out of it on a number of occasions when I bumped into him," he said. These claims come as no surprise to two people who have watched Hamed’s life slowly unravel since he effectively hung up his gloves. One is Johnny Nelson, the WBO cruiserweight world champ. "I have known Naz since he was seven, but I don’t recognise him now," he says.
"The biggest indication that things were going wrong came a few years ago when we were sitting in Naz’s Bentley in London a few days before one of his last fights. This man came up to the car with his daughter, who must have been about seven or eight, and asked for an autograph. Naz told him to 'Fuck off' in front of his kid. When I asked him why he had done that, he just said: 'They are idiots'." It was incidents like this that persuaded Nelson that he wanted nothing more to do with Hamed and the two no longer speak. The other disenchanted former friend is Brendan Ingle, who has produced a string of champions including Hamed and was recently voted one of the top ten trainers in the world by The Ring magazine. Hamed arrived at his gym with his father, Sal, when he was a spindly seven-year-old. Hamed Snr and his wife Ciara had came to England in the Fifties from Yemen. The couple and their nine children lived above the corner shop they ran in the same road as Ingle’s gym.
"He could have been as good as Ali," says Ingle. "But Naz turned into a nightmare."
He began to abuse colleagues at the gym, stopped training and treated his mentor with contempt. One incident, among many, stands out. A sports journalist had arranged to spar with Hamed for a feature. "I said to Naz: 'Just mess around.' But he beat the shit out of him before I could stop him," says Ingle. Later the trainer told his protege: "You can’t be a Muslim on Fridays and a bastard for the rest of the week." That was seven years ago, and following rows over money — "His attitude was: 'Anything you have is mine and anything I have is my own’," says Ingle — they parted company. Ingle and Nelson point the finger of blame for the way Hamed has turned out at his own family. They all live in big houses in Sheffield. It is said that after Hamed became world boxing champion in 1995, he brought two plastic bags stuffed with £50,000 to the corner shop and announced: ‘That’s your spending money for six months.’ In the late Nineties, following his split with Ingle, the family began ‘managing’ Naz’s boxing career. In fact, he would have just two more fights and would suffer his only defeat at the hands of Marco Antonia Berrara in Las Vegas in 2001. These days, his brothers Nabeel, 36, and Murad, 27, are invariably at his side. His entourage of siblings and security guards are not the kind of people you’d wish to cross. Murad once led a vigilante posse that dragged a driver from his car and attacked him. Why? They suspected he had stolen Naseem’s £50,000 Lexus the previous day.
It turned out he had nothing to do with the theft and at Sheffield Crown Court in 2004, Murad admitted affray and was given 150 hours of community service.
"Letting his brothers influence his decisions contributed to Naz’s downfall," said Nelson.
"He is loyal to his family to the point of self-destruction."
Until recently, Hamed had kept a low profile outside Sheffield.
"For a couple of years, we never saw him anywhere," said one boxing correspondent. "Then one day I turned on the TV and there he was — no, not in the ring, but as a guest on . . . Ready Steady Cook. He had a beard and a big belly."
The beard has gone, but the belly hasn’t. It’s easy to see why. On the night before he was jailed, Naz ordered one of his favourite meals.
"He played snooker at home and ate tubs of Kentucky Fried Chicken and ice cream," said a friend who was there.
This is how it has been for Hamed since he hung up his gloves: snooker, junk food and fast cars, in no particular order.
There is a boxing cliche that former fighters invariably end up penniless, punch drunk or both. Naseem Hamed has avoided those fates, but he has perhaps lost something more precious: his reputation and the hard-won respect of the world. 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.