Hamed vs Kelley: When Naz Entered The Garden
By Neil Coote
There are various tales of the enigmatic pupil of Brendan Ingle, Prince Naseem Hamed.
Some are lost in folklore and fiction, however, most were played out in audacious public displays. One of the greatest displays and a true ticket of arrival on the world scene was the short but brutal war against Kevin Kelley in 1997 at the iconic Madison Square Garden.
There was a mutual respect hidden amongst the usual bravado that had come to be expected from a Naseem Hamed pre-fight strut; you could sense the spiciness between these two well matched opponents.
The glowing red gloves of the Brooklyn native confidently crashed together whilst the unregal Prince bounded upright in his face. The gumshielded grin was returned by Kelley as the pair broke off the touch of gloves to signify the start of the first round.
It took almost a minute of jabbing out the distance before a shimmie of the shoulders reminded you that there had rarely been a champ that needed his own ego inflation to reach the dizzying heights that ‘Naz’ had achieved to date.
Regardless of all the bravado that had sold out shows, there was no doubt that it was backed up by an inherent ring savvy. Stance switching was a staple of the self-proclaimed Prince and complemented the elusiveness of his brilliantly perplexing Ingle style.
Cornering his man in the opening stanza, he measured a couple of rights into Kelley’s dipped temples. It took his foe a split second to realise that the second was too slow and he dropped Hamed with a springing right hook. By the time the crowd’s roar had subsided, the Prince was up on his toes and smiling for more.
Unwilling to succumb to the Prince’s angles at the start of the second, Kelley’s straight shots took advantage of the mixed up feet of the champion. A left and a right folded and unfolded Hamed in quick succession; unable to call two knockdowns, the ref settled for one and another standing count was given.
In a bid to turn the tide, the over-balanced Brit forced a barrage of twisting shots, unwinding Kelley into a corner. Hamed made sure that he returned the favour, sinking his foe; but the slip-ruling ref stood him back up without a count and waved them on.
It took another 30 seconds before a straight screwed right drilled Kelley to the canvas in a dramatic turn of events. It was as if the first five minutes were an education to the world of adulthood and Hamed had just earned his graduation.
Inspired by his success, Hamed jammed the fast forward button on for the next minute. Now content with his advantage and slipping in those Ingle angles, the Prince made Kelley miss before taking a long look into his soul and reuniting himself with the stool.
Round four was divided by a brilliant turn of pace by ‘Naz.’ The dizzying display was capped by a pair of lefts, the second of which felled Kelley into an awkward timber. The recognition of skills almost lit up the clearing eyes of Kelley as he rose to full height.
Once cleared for duty, Kelley became subject to an increasingly spiteful attack. A barrage of elbows, forearms and shoulders culminated with the slightest of touches to the canvas by Hamed and a knockdown was again called and counted by the eager ref.
Buoyed by his success, the whirling weighted hands of Kelley tested the royal chin again and again, begging for a negative reaction. Hamed’s whiskers matured in the ensuing 20 seconds, soaking up the solid thuds whilst his gifted brain calculated the gaps left by the solid challenger.
A split second was all he needed to detonate a savage left hook which moulded around every contour of Kelley’s unguarded chin. The ref rightfully called it off with Kelley on his feet and lost in unfound and concussed protest.
The melee that engulfed the ring was led by the wide eyes of Hamed seeking out Kelley to share sentiments. Such was the nature of the fight and the makeup of the characters that the emotion was too raw for all to accept.
The bruised pair were swallowed back into the crowd and their respected entourage. The unbelievable pace and swinging action had left an imprint in the evening air that would take some digesting, and the Prince was still enthroned, for now.