When Naseem Hamed first ventured onto American shores he was already one of the shining stars of the English boxing scene. His elaborate entrances, leopard print trunks, flashy footwork and mocking of opponents had gained him a sort of notoriety and the fame that accompanies it, equally loved and hated throughout the country.
Oh yeah, and he possessed incredible knockout power. His trainer, Brendan Ingle, had originally discovered Hamed when he was involved in a schoolyard scrap. He would go on to be fond of telling everyone who would listen that his protege, although fighting at Featherweight, possessed the power to knockout heavyweights.
Watch one of Hamed’s highlight clips and it doesn’t seem so far fetched.
This fight served as his introduction to an American audience in the Main Event of a title fight for the WBO Featherweight strap. At this point his opponent Kevin Kelley’s career was in decline.
He had spent a good while at the top of the Featherweight division but with age his skills started to deteriorate and he became one of the gatekeepers for the division. If Hamed could get past him, perhaps the kid had a chance at being as good as he told everyone he was.
It’s was, and continued to be, a bit of a pattern. A star is built up in the UK and looks indestructible, only to travel to America and end up not being capable of taking the step up in quality.
In the buildup to the fight Hamed was brash and boisterous (believe it or not) while Kelley had rage simmering inside him.
Kelley had been here before and seemed inclined to allow the Prince to make a fool of himself, allow him to build himself up through braggadocio behaviour and then outclass him in between the ropes.
The big question fans were left with was whose style would ultimately prove victorious. They got a hell of a fight as an answer.