The Rise and Fall of Prince Naseem Hamed



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."

"Really?"

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?"

"OK, son."

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....


Naseem stepped up in weight again, to 122lbs or Super-Bantamweight, and won the WBC Super-Bantamweight international title by banging out the former world title challenger Freddy Cruz. He then Knocked out a string of fighters with frightening displays of punching power.





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.








Despite the epic performance, the Kelley fight would mark the peak of Hamed's career as ego, money and a strained relationship with his trainer would combine to sink the once promising career that verged on boxing immortality. At Madison Square Garden just before Christmas nine years ago, Naz proclaimed to the gobsmacked gathering, "I'm Muhammad Ali and Elvis Presley all rolled into one." His opponent, Kevin Kelley, didn't think so. He put him on his growing backside in the first, second and fourth rounds; Naz replied in kind, having the last punch in that dramatic fourth but, "When he came back at the end of the second, he didn't know where he was, who he was," Ingle told me. It was the last time Hamed and Ingle would share a corner. They split. And Hamed was never the same again. "Four more fights and he's finished," Ingle said. And that's what happened, almost, it was six fights. Hamed didn't want to part of a Kelley rematch and instead returned to England to beat up an old Wilfredo Vasquez. Hamed then returned to America for a much hyped Halloween fight against former World champion Wayne McCullough. But his amazing "Thriller" inspired ring entrance would be the only memorable thing about this fight as the hard-headed Irishman went the distance, breaking Hamed's streak of 18 consective knockouts.



In 1999, Hamed beat two more world champions, and added the final major belt to his collection, that of the WBC when he outpointed Cesar Soto in a dreadful fight in Detroit. Back in England, in slightly more impressive fashion, Naz took apart brave future IBF king Paul Ingle, after his famous Cadillac entrance, but something wasn’t right. Naseem had split from longtime trainer and manager Brendan Ingle. It was the Irishman who’d seen the young Arab having to fight three bullies at once on the schoolyard, and had him come try out in his boxing gym. It was Ingle who’d encouraged the crazy, unorthodox style and in-ring athletics and somersaults. It was Ingle who knew Naseem inside and out, and had taken the young boy into an adult world champion. Then, irreconcilable differences led to the Prince leaving for America for good, to a new camp, and with it, new trainers, new mentors, and a new style. And it didn’t suit him. Blitzing Ingle aside, Naseem couldn’t put away McCullough, despite having sparked out Kevin Kelley and Wilfredo Vazquez in the same year. With all due respect to the former WBC Super-Bantamweight world champion, Kelley and Vazquez were featherweight world titlists and champions of a different calibre – one is arguably still considered a featherweight legend (Kelley), while the other was the undisputed lineal champion of the world and a considered a dangerous fight for Naseem. Hamed showed strain with Ingle during the fight, refusing to sit on his stool, and even being booed by the crowd for avoiding exchanging with the Irish-American. In 1999, Hamed, now under the Emmanuel Steward camp, was switching his game up, obviously under influence, and throwing combinations and boxing more orthodox. It removed that spark from Naseem’s game; the Yorkshire Prince had always gotten by on pure ability, reflexes, speed and timing, plus his own unique movement and punching power. Having been moulded into a set boxing system as written in the manual, Naseem continued to beat world champions, but looked less impressive doing so than in 1994-1998. In 2000, he made one of his most memorable entrances with a flying carpet to face long-time undefeated IBF world champion Vuyani Bungu. Landing at the feet of Puff Daddy, before somersaulting into the ring. What followed was a throwback performance to the watching London fans, as he poleaxed the African and sent a warning that whatever stylistic problems he was having, however less fluid he looked, he still had the killer punch. It would be the last display of the once fearsome punching power the Prince possessed. 


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 took over as Hamed's trainer 20 months ago and was able to help him preserve his unbeaten record through three fights until four weeks ago in Las Vegas when he lost on points to the Mexican, Marco Antonio Barrera. This last fight, says Steward, was the final straw. He found Hamed too distracted by the trappings of fame and too convinced of his own invincibility to apply himself appropriately.

"There are major changes that have to be made," says Steward. "I think a lot of things now are more concerned with convenience and show rather than substance. If he said, 'Forget about the glitter and all that stuff, I'll have someone who tells me what's what and not what I want to hear', then he could be a really great fighter."

It is with something of a heavy heart that Steward makes this appraisal because he genuinely liked Hamed. "I wish him well," he says. "His talent is unbelievable. He's a caring person too. And I liked being with the family, they're a really good family. I want to stay friends with them."

However, Steward is specific about where Hamed has been going wrong. "He has a lot of fantasies that he wants to fulfil," says Steward. "He wants to train in exciting places, for instance. There's nothing wrong with that, but it just doesn't work. I have a whole different philosophy to his for preparing for a fight. Before the last fight I told him I didn't like what I saw in his preparation. He basically said, 'Manny, don't you worry, we've got it all under control'."

Steward clearly does not believe that it works having Oscar Suarez, who has very little track record, as Hamed's main trainer [before the last fight, Steward would fly in and out, more in the role of a consultant]. "Sure," he says, "you can have someone to go running with, to go to the movies with and to go on walks with - these things are for a companion or a conditioner - but you also have to have someone to oversee, someone who knows strategy."

Having both Suarez and himself as the cornermen was unsuccessful. "When you're trying to tell him exact moves which will win him the fight and someone else is speaking generalities without detailed impact, it's too much."

But it was Hamed's casual rejection of his expertise that was particularly galling. "At the beginning it looked like it might work, but though I showed Oscar how to train him and tried to change things, Naz seemed to have developed a feeling that he didn't really need any of that. "Most things I said fell on deaf ears. If I told him things he didn't like, I was told I was being negative. But I just told him he had to face facts. And I never liked the quality of the sparring partners. I said, 'I want to pick the sparring partners', but was told Oscar had already got them."

Staging the fight in Las Vegas was a matter with which Steward took particular issue. "I said, 'Naz, I don't want to do the fight there'. You see, he'd never fought in Vegas. I said, 'You're going to be in a place where there are different attitudes and where you're in a hotbed of Mexican support. It's going to be unlike anything you've ever been through. You don't need that for a fight of this stature'. But when you say that, they just look back at you and say, 'Manny, have another glass of water'. When it came to it, someone threw beer on him at the end of his ring walk and he just seemed to unravel totally. He wasn't ready for a thunderstorm like that. I'd told him he wasn't prepared for it, but everyone told me to shut up."
  

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.

And if not forgotten, he is underappreciated. Can you name a fighter whose stock has plunged further in retirement? After Hamed’s Hall of Fame announcement, his detractors pecked at his achievements with renewed vigour: his solitary defeat, against Marco Antonio Barrera in 2001, turned into a 36-minute plebiscite on his career. It is true Hamed looked awful that night. His body, drained from losing two stones in eight weeks, amateurishly tossing around like a marionette – head flying one way, legs flopping the other – as Barrera worked him over.

But to judge Hamed on that performance is like judging Laurence Olivier on Inchon. Remember he defended the WBO world title 15 times and also held the WBC and IBF belts. His record of 361, with 31 knockouts, stands with the very best. Hamed’s cultural significance should not be forgotten either: he was a proud Muslim who appealed to large chunks of working-class Britain. His last fight was watched by 11 million people on ITV.

The question is not whether Hamed should be in the Hall of Fame. That is a given. It is whether, despite many dramatic and successful nights, he also underachieved. I speak from experience and bias. During the mid-90s, when I was a student in Sheffield, I often went to Brendan Ingle’s gym to get an education of a different kind. There Hamed would spar against much bigger fighters and take them apart. I particularly remember him beating up the British middleweight champion Neville Brown, who fought Steve Collins for a WBO world title, and the future British cruiserweight champion John “Buster” Keeton, a man nine inches taller and five stones heavier. Hamed was that good.

His power was no myth. John Ingle, who held the pads for Hamed, tells me his biggest punches felt like “electric shocks” and after every session he had to stick his hands in a bucket of ice water to stop him getting the shakes. Yes, Hamed was arrogant, difficult, narcissistic. You only have to watch The Little Prince, The Big Fight – the documentary made with his approval before the defeat by Barrera – to realise that. It is part Spinal Tap, part car crash. Hamed sends someone to Mexico to make sure his gloves are made of goatskin. He flies over his barber from Los Angeles and he spends as much time worrying about his ring entrance as fighting Barrera.

After knocking out Augie Sanchez he also shows off his callousness, saying: “I don’t mean to sound horrible but I knew there was going to be a stretcher involved somewhere.” Against Vuyani Bungu he came to the ring on a flying carpet, with P Diddy walking behind him. What was he thinking? What were we all thinking? It does not help that Hamed never fought the other great little men of his era: Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Márquez and Manny Pacquiao. Even so, he wasn’t knocking out bum of the month club contenders. The IBF champion Tom Johnson was Ring magazine’s No1. Kevin Kelley, who Hamed stopped in four rounds of mayhem, had lost once in 50 fights. Bungu, admittedly a super-bantamweight, had not lost in eight years. Hamed also beat other world champions, including Manuel Medina, Wilfredo Vázquez, Wayne McCullough and César Soto. Sure, a few were on the slide. And yes, he never fought Márquez when he was No1 challenger to his WBO crown. But this is boxing: these things happen.

The Ring made Hamed the world’s best featherweight from 19972000, while the combined win/loss record of Hamed’s opponents after he became world champion was 577 wins, 46 losses and 10 draws. And he kept winning, even though he was slipping from the moment he beat Robinson. As John Ingle laments: “Unfortunately the more successful Naz got, the less he trained. He worked harder as an amateur than he did as a professional. He could have been a five-times world champion.”

Ingle is biased but he believes Hamed – the early version, when the venom in his fists was matched by the elusiveness of his feet – had the talent to match the all-time greats. That we will never know is not only a great shame for Hamed but for boxing too. But it was the split from the man who gave him everything that ultimately doomed Hamed. From Brendan Ingle's diary: "Naz trained 5.30pm, trained with heavy gear on, finished around seven o'clock, went to Swallow Hotel to give him a rub-down, got in a car, Naz drove like mad... police followed and stopped Naz. Naz was obnoxious. It is so sad. Money has become his God. He is kidding everyone. But worst of all he is kidding himself. All he wants to hear is... praise and having yes men around him."

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.

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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