Naz: The Return of a Legend?

By Peter Cameron, Tuesday 9th November: A fascinating momentum is starting to build around the imminent return of a fighter of near mythical status. Website chatrooms and boxing noticeboards are stirring with talk of a comeback, and debate is gathering pace about whether the stories could actually be true. After nearly four years in the wilderness, having almost completely disappeared off the radar, is Prince Naseem Hamed really on the verge of a truly sensational return?

On Tuesday of this week, Hamed, so rarely heard from these days, emerged from his reclusive lifestyle to announce he would be returning to the ring in 2006. He told BBC Radio Sheffield he had been offered a six-fight contract by an American television network and said that "if everything goes right in training, we're making plans for early-mid next year. There are no opponents as yet, we're just talking to TV. Then hopefully next year there'll be a nice, big fight."

Hamed's return would be the most sensational boxing comeback since Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987. Whilst not possessing Leonard's class or ability, Hamed can generate more public interest than any other boxer outside the heavyweights. Love him or loathe him, rate him or write him off as a clown, a Hamed comeback would be the event of the year.

Until this point most boxing fans, myself included, have written off any chances of Hamed ever really somersaulting back into the ring. He has been inactive for far too long, his last fight being in May 2002. He has also reportedly ballooned in weight and would struggle to get himself back down to the limits of the featherweight division. Yet, standing only 5 feet 4 & 1/2, he would be too disadvantaged to be able to do battle with the comparative giants at welterweight.

Hamed has occasionally mentioned comebacks in the past, most notably after Amir Khan's success at the Athens Olympics in 2004. Many people at the time thought Hamed was merely trying to steal some of the limelight, his ego demanding a slice of the attention. Yet this latest statement seems to have more weight behind it than previous messages. He has mentioned an offer of a six fight deal, and has passionately spoken of his love for boxing. "I've been boxing since the age of seven and it got to a time where I just thought I could take a break, and that's what I did. I've really missed boxing because I've been doing it for a hell of a long time, and I consider myself not bad at it. But then again I think boxing has missed me and it's time to get back and do some stuff." With words such as these, Hamed would lose all credibility if he failed to back them up with a ring comeback. "My confidence has never really gone" said Hamed. "I'm raring to go after a good three-year lay-off. I believe I can be even better. I'm stronger and more mature now".

At only 31 years of age, it is not too late for Hamed to return to the sport which made him in excess of 25 million. Bernard Hopkins, considered by many as the world's pound-for-pound number one until his defeat in July to Jermain Taylor, will be 40 when he climbs into the ring next month for the Taylor rematch. Hopkins is in incredible shape, perfectly conditioned and as fit as any of his younger rivals. In modern sport, the 30 year barrier is no longer considered the start of the downward slide that it used to represent. Hamed will need to have kept himself in good shape during the last three years, and he will have much work to do to get back into fighting condition. Yet he has always followed a clean, healthy life and, as a devout Muslim, will have avoided the detrimental clutches of alcohol. If he has continued some basic level of boxing training during his absence from the ring, then there is no reason why he couldn't regain the fitness levels required for top level competition.

British boxing is in something of a renaissance period at the moment, with Ricky Hatton leading a charge which includes established fighters like Joe Calzaghe and Howard Eastman alongside upcoming prospects bulging with potential, such as Kevin Mitchell and Amir Khan. The return of The Prince would help boxing to recapture those mass audiences of the past, and the publicity his comeback would generate would help to improve the profiles of his British stablemates.

Apart from his 2002 reappearance against Manuel Calvo in a dreadfully dull points victory, Hamed effectively left boxing after his only career defeat, at the hands of Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera in April 2001. Many fans were happy to see Hamed defeated, so angered had they become by his cockiness and petulance. Five months after that loss, nineteen Muslims killed nearly three thousand New Yorkers in the World Trade Centre attacks. The popularity of Hamed, accustomed to praying before the opening bell and even occasionally grabbing the microphone to proclaim "Allahu Akbar", fell even further after these events. Hamed himself has often spoken of his shock at the attacks, and they may have contributed to his stepping out of the limelight for so long.

Now, however, Hamed promises that he is back. He claims to be feeling great and says he is raring to go. One of the most talented boxers Britain has ever produced, and almost certainly the most entertaining, Hamed's return would be electrifying. Many people who watched his fights and witnessed his insults and antics, grew to hate Hamed. I even found myself cheering for Barrera the night he handed out a boxing masterclass to The Prince. Yet all of Hamed's fights were compulsive viewing. His extravagant ring entrances, preposterous taunts, outrageous fighting style, incredible speed and phenomenal power helped boxing to draw audiences of millions of viewers. Whether you adore him or detest him, his comeback would be unmissable and his re-emergence would be fantastic news for the sport of boxing.

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Article posted on 09.11.2005

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