For a fighter 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 to a chorus of boos.
In truth, none of the 15,000 spectators at London Arena were to know that this sluggish, disinterested 12-round borefest against Manuel Calvo was to be Hamed’s final appearance in the ring.
The Sheffield-born boxing superstar had just turned 28, after all, and having just been handed his first career loss at the hands of Marco Antonio Barrera, was making all the right noises in his bid to return to the summit of the featherweight division.
Prince Naseem Hamed (right) is remembered as one of Britain’s most entertaining showmen
It remains strange that his glittering and controversial career ended with a chorus of boos
Hamed’s fight against rank outsider Calvo was sold with the promotional tagline: ‘This cat has nine lives’. For Hamed, May 18, 2002, represented the last straw.
Because that fire that had blazed bright throughout the nineties and saw the Sheffield man heralded less and less by the British public.
Hamed was deep in a sea far from the shore that boxing represented, and was seemingly pining for an escape from the sport that he had given so much to.
To get an understanding of Hamed’s mindset heading into his bout with Spaniard Calvo, it’s best to look back at his preparations for his 16th world title defence against Barrera.
The Sheffield-born fighter (right) had returned to the UK to face rank outsider Manuel Calvo
Hamed had suffered his first and only defeat to Marco Antonio Barerra 13 months earlier
Talk of Hamed being detached from his trade had been rife prior to his Sin City defeat.
Legendary trainer Emanuel Steward had taken the reins for the final two weeks of that camp and, having seen Barrera blitz his previous opponent eight weeks earlier, was immediately concerned by the featherweight’s indifference to training, with Hamed having no respect for his Mexican sparring partners.
The proof was in the pudding, and Vegas was treated to a disappointing display that reeked of petulance and left many questioning whether the mind of the dazzling showman that had taken boxing by storm was elsewhere.
And rather than take up his contractual option to trigger a rematch to avenge his sole defeat, Hamed opted to sever ties with American broadcaster HBO and start afresh in the UK against Calvo, who had come off a career-best win against Steve Robinson.
Fans at London Arena did not know the Calvo bout would be his final appearance in the ring
What they saw failed to match their expectations and the boos rang out from the masses
Despite not pursuing immediate revenge, Hamed still had his public behind him. The London Arena was packed to the rafters and 11 million fans tuned in to watch what they thought would be an all-new Prince Naseem Hamed, coming into this contest after a 13-month hiatus.
What they saw failed to match their expectations.
There was none of the razzmatazz that earned Hamed widespread adulation after career-defining wins over Steve Robinson, Tom Johnson and Manuel Medina but rather a lumbering, altogether lacklustre display that resulted in a points win.
The boos duly rang out from the masses, not for a man that they had now loathed, but a man that they were willing on to reignite that fire. The press weren’t as wishful, offering that the writing may well have been on the wall for the Brit.
Hamed cited an injury to his hands in the second round as the reason for his poor performance. Time soon passed Hamed by, with fans and pundits speculating upon the star’s disappearing act.
The press believed the writing may well have been on the wall for the Briton after the fight
Naz’s long-time former trainer Brendan Ingle was quick to lay into his former talent. He told The Guardian: ‘Naz was a lazy so-and-so when he was a champion. It was a nightmare trying to train him, to get him out of bed to do his work.
‘You had to be able to motivate and inspire him, and he needed to have people around him. But he left me and began calling all the shots. Now it’s all come to a full stop and I can’t see him boxing again.
‘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 unlimited, but he forgot about the people who put him there and now he has got to the top and done a runner.’
In an era where farewell fights have become increasingly frequent, Hamed was truly deserving of his moment to bask in the adulation his 36-1 career warranted. It’s a peculiar tale that does little justice to the journey of one of the sport’s best-loved figures.
Hamed cited an injury to his hands in the second round as the reason for his poor performance