Below-par Hamed hangs on


Bravery, determination and power saved "Prince" Naseem Hamed at the Point, Dublin, on Saturday evening, but the real salvage operation has yet to begin. Hamed's natural gifts brought victory in his toughest fight yet, against Mexico's Manuel Medina, but the evidence of the 11 rounds before a battered and bleeding Medina retired suggests that undefeated Hamed, 22, still has a lot to learn.

Medina's vast experience - this was the former two-time world champion's 60th fight - exposed deficiencies in a champion revealed later to have been suffering from a chest infection that almost caused the contest's cancellation. Hamed was advised to pull out by his promoter, Frank Warren, and manager, Brendan Ingle. But, given a course of antibiotics, he opted to go ahead and almost paid the price in a contest that proved his champion's heart beats strongly, even if his technique was weak.

"A win is a win, but I'd only give that performance five out of 10," Hamed said weakly afterwards. "But I refused to lose."

However, while the chest infection offers mitigation for much of Hamed's performance, it does not excuse him running out of ideas. Hamed offered only percentage power punching, leaping in behind single, hopeful bombs that more often than not were easy for the Mexican to read and evade.

The challenger, who seemed incapable of missing with his right, came close to victory, but lacked the dig to put Hamed away. Medina had battled back from a second-round knockdown and dominated the middle stages so effectively that Hamed looked like being stopped at the end of round eight, when his gumshield was sent flying and his legs looked unsteady. But, within seconds of the start of round nine, Hamed dropped Medina with a right, a second knock-down taking the wind out of the challenger's sails at a crucial point and allowing Hamed to take control until Medina's corner signalled "enough" at the end of the penultimate round, at which stage Hamed was already well ahead on points.

It seems churlish to criticise an unwell fighter against an opponent only previously stopped on cuts and never been floored in 10 previous World title fights. And Hamed's extraordinary natural abilities should see him through "testing" fights against IBF champion Tom Johnson, a winner on this show, and Belfast's Wayne McCullough. But Azumah Nelson, the WBC super-featherweight champion, and Marco Antonio Barrera, the WBO super- bantam champion, might be different propositions for this model of Hamed.

However, despite this setback Hamed's potential remains unlimited. If he listens to the counsel of Warren and Ingle, rather than the more sycophantic bleatings of latterday additions to his entourage, the world may still prove to be his oyster.

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