To a hunter best remembered as one of Britain’s most entertaining and charismatic showmen, it seems somewhat curious that Prince Naseem Hamed’s glittering and controversial career ended in a chorus of anger.
In fact, none of the 15,000 spectators at the London Arena knew that this slow, disinterested 12-round borefest against Manuel Calvo would be Hamed’s last appearance in the ring.
After all, the Sheffield-born boxing superstar had just turned 28 and just made his first career loss at the hands of Marco Antonio Barrera and made the right noises in his attempt to return to the top of the featherweight division.
Prince Naseem Hamed (right) is remembered as one of Britain’s most entertaining showmen
It remains strange that his sparkling and controversial career ended with a chorus of anger
Hamed’s fight against slender outsider Calvo was sold with the promotional slogan, “This cat has nine lives.” May 18, 2002 was the last straw for Hamed.
Because that fire that had kindled brightly in the 1990s and the Sheffield man was less and less announced by the British public.
Hamed lay deep in a sea far from the coast that represented boxing, and yearned for an escape from the sport he had given so much to.
To understand the mentality of Hamed heading into his fight with Spaniard Calvo, look back on his preparations for his 16th world title defense against Barrera.
Sheffield-born fighter (right) had returned to the UK to face off-man Manuel Calvo
Hamed had suffered his first and only defeat 13 months earlier against Marco Antonio Barerra
It was said that Hamed was released from his profession before being defeated in Sin City.
Legendary trainer Emanuel Steward had taken charge in the last two weeks of that camp, and after seeing Barrera shoot down his previous opponent eight weeks earlier, he was immediately concerned about the featherweight indifference to training, with Hamed not respected his Mexican sparring partners.
The evidence was in the pudding, and Vegas was treated to a disappointing show that stank of petulance, and many questioned whether the mind-blowing showman’s mind that had taken boxing by storm was elsewhere.
And instead of taking on his contractual option to start a rematch to avenge his only defeat, Hamed chose to cut ties with American broadcaster HBO and start over in the UK against Calvo, who career-best victory against Steve Robinson.
Fans in the London Arena did not know that the Calvo match would be his last appearance in the ring
What they saw did not live up to their expectations, and the crowd cheered
Despite not pursuing immediate revenge, Hamed still had his audience behind him. The London Arena was filled to the brim, and 11 million fans voted to see what they thought would be an all-new Prince Naseem Hamed, who took part in this game after a 13-month hiatus.
What they saw did not live up to their expectations.
There was none of the razzmatazz that earned Hamed widespread admiration after career defining victories over Steve Robinson, Tom Johnson and Manuel Medina, but rather a bulky, totally lackluster display that resulted in a point win.
The angry sound duly sounded from the crowd, not for a man they now loathed, but for a man who was willing to rekindle that fire. The press was not so desirable and offered that the writing for the Briton might have been on the wall.
Hamed called an injury to his hands in the second round the reason for his poor performance. Soon Hamed passed, with fans and experts speculating about the star’s disappearing act.
The press believed that post-fight writing for the Briton may have been on the wall
Naz’s former trainer, Brendan Ingle, quickly captured his talent. He told The Guardian, “Naz was a lazy so-and-so when he was champion. It was a nightmare to train him, get him out of bed to do his job.
“You had to be able to motivate and inspire him and he had to have people around him. But he left me and started calling all the shots. Now it all comes to a stop and I don’t see him boxing anymore.
“He could have been fantastic,” he added. “I said he could have been better than Muhammad Ali, and I still say that.
“His potential was limitless, but he forgot the people who put him there and now he’s got to the top and done a runner.”
In an era where farewell fights are increasingly common, Hamed really deserved his moment to bask in the admiration that justified his 36-1 career. It is a special story that does little justice to the journey of one of the sport’s most beloved figures.
Hamed called an injury to his hands in the second round the reason for his poor performance