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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 May, 2003, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Hamed: Clown or Prince?
By Dan Warren

Naseem Hamed
How will boxing history judge Hamed?
When he was just 12, a young Naseem Hamed told Harry Mullan, the then-editor of Boxing News: "You ought to write a story about me. I'm going to be a world champion."

It sounds like the childish boasting of a youngster who had watched too many Rocky films.

But it was just an early indication of the supreme Hamed confidence which would help him fulfil his wish.

He became one of the most talented fighters the United Kingdom has ever produced.

But the Prince's claims that he is a king of boxing have been damaged of late.

Born: 12/02/1974
Turned pro: 14/04/1994
Division: Featherweight
Record: 36-1-0
Alias: Prince Naseem Hamed
Height: 5ft 3in
Reach: 68in
Trainer: Maurice Core
Promoter: Barry Hearn

He has not stepped into the ring for more than 12 months and his former promoter Frank Warren says he does not think the Sheffield star will fight again.

True, Warren may have an axe to grind - but one unconvincing win and one sound defeat is not much return for the past two years' work.

Naseem - the name literally means 'gentle breeze' - rose through the ranks with all the fury of a tornado.

His professional debut saw him flatten Ricky Beard inside two rounds and that set the tone for anyone unfortunate enough to take on the newly-crowned Prince in his early days.

Just two years and one month later he took the European bantamweight title, and he needed just six more months for his first world title.

Hamed's ability to knock out his rivals was almost unheard of at his weight.

Prince Naseem Hamed makes his entrance against Wayne McCullough in Atlantic City
Theatrical entrances became a trademark of Hamed
And when he made his memorable step up to featherweight with a comprehensive eight-round demolition of Steve Robinson in Cardiff to take the WBO title, the boxing world could no longer ignore this diminutive fighter.

But whether he was either a flamboyant leopardskin-clad genius or an arrogant fool was a hotly-debated issue.

No-one reaches the top in boxing without a healthy surplus of self-belief - although even in a sport as swamped by hype as boxing, Hamed's excesses seemed somewhat over the top.

His increasingly-extravagant entrances included thrones, flying carpets and enough fireworks for a dozen New Year celebrations.

Improbably, Hamed made a fair stab at living up to the ridiculously high expectations he created for himself.

He added the IBF title in 1997, and his impressive American debut, in which he knocked out former world champion Kevin Kelley in four rounds in Madison Square Garden, suggested the Prince may not be so much a big-head as a realist.

But in 1998 the media scrum around Hamed became more of a circus.

Acrimonious splits with promoter Warren and long-time trainer Brendan Ingle overshadowed wins against Wilfredo Vazquez and Wayne McCullough.

The fans who had longed to see the Prince tumble with one of his trademark somersaults into the ring were starting to get their wish.

He no longer had the air of infallibility and was as likely to be in the news for schmoozing in his circle of celebrity friends, which had widened to include Puff Daddy, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Jackson and Liam and Noel Gallagher.

True, the wins still came, and his lucrative deal with American cable channel HBO kept him in business on both sides of the Atlantic.

But, no matter how good they are, featherweights never capture the American imagination like heavyweights, and the Prince soon tasted defeat at the gloves of Marco Antonio Barrera.

Boxing is littered with great fighters who sullied their reputation with one outrageous comeback too many.

Hamed needs to recapture the devastating hunger of his earlier career - or he risks damaging his own legend as one of British boxing's all-time greats.

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