Hamed vs Barrera: A Night of Disaster For The Prince
In 2001 Prince Naseem Hamed trained in luxury in Palm Springs, in a house where Bing Crosby once resided, his opponent Marco Antonio Barrera wound down his preparations at altitude in the cold rawness of the mountains, Their respective methods said plenty, maybe everything. How can you retain the hunger living and training in luxury? Money can’t buy everything, it can take everything you need.
Everything about the fight was a disaster for Hamed. Coming off a broken hand, having to shed a reported 35lbs to make the 9st featherweight limit, the final two stone had to be removed in the final two weeks. There were problems inside his camp, worrying sparring sessions all attributed to a build-up from hell.
Emanuel Steward came to camp late, he watched a sparring session on arrival and was clearly unimpressed. Barrera was very much the wrong opponent at the wrong time. The fight was billed as ‘Playing With Fire’ in many ways, Hamed most certainly was.
The betting line was severe for the brilliant Mexican, a 3-1 underdog, the whispers and rumours ignored, Hamed came into the fight a perceived sure thing, 35-0, soon to become a 36 fight unbeaten resume.
Irrespective of his preparations, the warning signs had been in plain sight long before his moment of truth with Barrera.
The hype and the early electrifying performances made Hamed a superstar. The Sheffield fighter had something very few fighters have. The persona to match his incredible frightening power, Hamed was box office gold, the ultimate showman. The entrances were pure theatre, flying carpets and the like just added to the magic on display. You might hate, but you watched.
But after earning millions in the ring the ever-present ego became even more inflated. Insiders said the richer and more successful he became, the less he trained. Hamed at 27, had peaked, with the dedication diminishing, training becoming rarer and more erratic. The performances in the ring were becoming more and more sloppy, ignoring his sublime but underused boxing skills to rely too heavily on his punch, the demise had been coming.
Hamed achieved plenty in his career, but he could have achieved so much more. He could have been the greatest ever British fighter. Hamed was that good, at one time he had seemingly unlimited potential. At one time the talk of fighting Floyd Mayweather Jr was real, the fight that got away. Hamed in his prime could have changed boxing history.
The win over Steve Robinson to win the WBO featherweight title while facing an avalanche of abuse from the Welsh faithful was incredibly impressive in 1995. Hamed was only 21, he had the world at his feet. The win over Jose Badillo in 1997 was practically flawless, maybe his best win, his finest ever performance.
But later that year Hamed went to New York to dazzle, but he very nearly came unstuck. Kevin Kelley ignored the hype and proclaimed he would smoke Hamed. It was an old-fashioned shootout, he had Hamed over 3 times, but Kelley was vanquished in 4 exciting rounds. But the problems behind the scenes were raised to another level, inside the ring Hamed was shown to be distinctly beatable.
Brendan Ingle would soon leave, never to return. Ingle couldn’t be heard, too many voices, he said he sacked himself, enough was enough. The guiding light in the early days, his departure was a pivotal moment. Hamed walked into the Wincobank gym when he was 7, he left a world champion but something was missing.
Hamed continued his own brand of razzmatazz and flamboyance, there were highlight reel displays but the flaws became more prevalent. The balance, the chin in the air, Hamed had trips to the canvas, but he always got up to win. The flaws were forgotten, until he checked into the MGM Grand in Vegas.
Barrera threatened to go to war, he did anything but. The veteran was patient, a slugger no more, he had a plan. Hamed didn’t seem to have a Plan A never mind a Plan B.
Hamed seemed more interested in his accommodation, a fighter who started out in a leisure centre in Mansfield, demanded the presidential suite in Las Vegas. But even the Prince couldn’t always get his own way, a compromise was eventually reached. It wouldn’t be the only time in Vegas Hamed would have to settle for second best. His personal barber was flown in, the hair readied for battle, body and mind anything but. Hamed his mind elsewhere, would soon enter a world he hadn’t prepared for.
Arguments raged over the gloves and the length of the usual extravagance of the ring walk. But they masked the real problems. Even the ritual of vaulting over the ropes was abandoned, Hamed struggling to grip the ropes in the way he wanted. The row over what gloves to wear, already having an impact.
Barrera hurt his opponent in the 1st round, the pattern and the script had already been written. Hamed swung, he lunged, he missed, looking for the punch to save him. It never came. The scores were unanimous, 115-112, 115-112, 116-111. They flattered Hamed. The fake smiles in the aftermath couldn’t hide the uncomfortable truth. There was talk of what would happen next time, there would be no next time.
There was a rematch clause, Hamed didn’t take up the option. Barrera had taken away the aura, he knew it, Hamed knew it.
A return to action 13 months later was the end. Steward was gone, the boos rang out, thousands of fans ran out, bored by a fight of very little. Hamed won easily enough but it wasn’t enough. If Hamed didn’t know it was time to go, the crowd told him it was. By that point they had seen enough, we all had.
The fighter who brought excitement in abundance was subjected to a chorus of disapproval. The display, a sad end to what came before.
Boxing lives in the moment, the past forgotten, some enjoyed the end a little too much. The star had dimmed, but at one time it was the brightest light in the sport. Memories quickly fade, Hamed deserved better. A self-inflicted wound, a career over at 28, it wasn’t supposed to end this way, this soon. The prime way too short, the decline swift and definitive. Hamed a victim of his own success. A fighter sadly remembered, defined even, by the only fight he ever lost.