Boxing: Hamed's antics mask mentality of novice
Monday 13 October 1997
If it is unlikely to penetrate the distasteful arrogance Naseem Hamed again displayed on Saturday, when stopping Jose Badillo of Puerto Rico in the seventh round for the World Boxing Organisation featherweight championship, that there was a lesson for him in the admiration later bestowed on Chris Eubank.
A master himself of the hyperbole central to Hamed's career, and which makes it increasingly difficult to think of professional boxing in noble terms, Eubank nevertheless gave enough in some gruelling contests to suggest that a true fighting man was selling himself short.
Boxing is such a rough and dangerous business that Eubank was entitled to profit from a theory advanced famously by the showman P T Barnum, but undemanding matches that exploited the public's gullibility cost him international recognition.
When it was once suggested that Eubank's status in the middleweight division could be considerably advanced by a unifying contest against the World Boxing Association champion, Mike McCallum, his then promoter Barry Hearn, thinking only in box office terms, asked what the impressive Jamaican would bring. As put by a cynical bystander, the answer was danger.
Risk-taking did not figure prominently in Eubank's calculations and this, together with public expressions of contempt for boxing, cost him the respect of fellow fighters.
Ironically, it was in Saturday night's forlorn attempt to regain the vacant WBO title at the Sheffield Arena against a much younger man, Joe Calzaghe, that Eubank proved most endearing.
At the 12st limit, a weight he could no longer make comfortably two years ago, Eubank was powerless to keep off the Welshman who had him over in the first and 10th rounds on the way to winning by a wide margin on all three official scorecards.
Eubank, who will fight in future as a light-heavyweight, said: "A calculated gamble didn't come off for me. I thought I might just have this young man's measure but there is no doubt that he can fight and punch. The shot that put me down in the first round [a long left that sent Eubank sprawling backwards into his own corner] really hurt. Calzaghe proved to be very fit and strong, more than I expected. He could go a long way and I wish him luck.
"There isn't any reason to feel suicidal. I've only lost three fights in my career and I've always given value for money."
Eubank's spirit in the ring and his generosity afterwards were to Hamed's detriment. Because he has not yet learned to handle fame and is high on the acclaim of a generation that cannot see beyond the tedious glitz of presentation, Hamed leaves himself open to adverse criticism. Pleas for tolerance entered perhaps in the hope that he will accept a chance to grow up are unconvincing.
If through arrogance Hamed ignores the truth that all fighters are beatable, it could warp a highly successful professional life. Again on Saturday there were signs that Hamed is no longer listening closely to Brendan Ingle, the trainer who discovered and developed him.
In trying to take out a limited opponent with one shot Hamed revealed the boxing mentality of a novice rather than that of a champion who considers himself to be the best ever. "Who was better," Hamed asked disdainfully after his eighth successful defence of the WBO 9st championship. Such notables as Willie Pep, Sandy Saddler, Vicente Saldivar, Henry Armstrong and Jim Driscoll sprang immediately to mind, but a young man so full of himself is not inclined to dwell on history.
One of the official judges on Saturday was Stuart Winston who performed a similar function when Muhammad Ali as Cassius Clay took the heavyweight championship sensationally from Sonny Liston. "Ali taunted Liston and others he fought, so did Sugar Ray Leonard but not to the extent this young fellow does," he said. "I don't like it."
Permitting Hamed to carry on in this manner does not, to my mind, do him any favours because it may carry the seeds of self-destruction. Impressively quick and heavy-handed there is no question at all that he has a superior talent, but the evidence of Saturday's bout suggests that there are still gaps in education.
According to Hamed's promoter, Frank Warren, plans for him to fight at Madison Square Garden in New York on 19 December are close to completion with an official announcement expected later this month.
A possible opponent is Kevin Kelley who was at the ringside on Saturday. Kelley is probably past his best, but would be a more meaningful opponent than many who have been put up for Hamed's entertainment.
The way Hamed carries on in and out of the ring does not impress the New Yorker. "We've seen it all before from guys like Hector Camacho," he said. "What Hamed should remember is that style makes fights and nobody is invincible."
Another thing that Hamed should think about is that unless he mends his ways there are always going to be people in and around who can't wait to see somebody stick one on him.
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