Hamed driven by fierce desire to fulfil destiny

World featherweight champion accepts need for defining fights against Barrera and Morales to achieve legendary status

First, a brief burst of pure "Prince" Naseem Hamed, a strident announcement that his opponent here on Saturday night, 22-year-old Augie "Las Vegas Kid" Sanchez, will be "taken out, dismantled the moment I choose," and a sweeping dismissal of local charms in this casino development set in the wooded hills of an Indian reservation.

First, a brief burst of pure "Prince" Naseem Hamed, a strident announcement that his opponent here on Saturday night, 22-year-old Augie "Las Vegas Kid" Sanchez, will be "taken out, dismantled the moment I choose," and a sweeping dismissal of local charms in this casino development set in the wooded hills of an Indian reservation.

"I'd rather be in Sheffield - I'm not interested in Connecticut or Indian reservations or anything like that," he says. "I can't wait to fight, and when I've done it I'll fly straight back to my wife and kids."

But if this is workaday Naseem cockiness, those who say that, at 26, he is beginning to hint at previously hidden depths of purpose, and an understanding of what it might take to inject a little more substance into years of showy talk about his instant, self-appointed status as a boxing legend, are not without a little supporting evidence.

Most promisingly, Naseem accepts his need for two defining fights against the vaunted Mexicans, World Boxing Council super-bantamweight champion Erik Morales and the man he controversially outpointed in a superb collision earlier this year, Marco Antonio Barrera.

"I'm already financially secure, I could walk away anytime I wanted," Naseem says, "and being away from the family is the hardest part of my life, but I'm building something, you know, and in years to come my wife and I are going to look at each other and say, 'look, this is how well we did, we have money, the kids have a great education' and hopefully they are going to pass it down to their kids, and I'm talking about generation after generation. If you guys want to call it old money, new money, I don't care. I just want generations of my family following me to be treated well and have a good start in life."

The aspiration may not be original, but Naseem reveals an unsuspected intensity of feeling about the makings of his life when he tells you that long after moving his parents and brothers out of a tough district of Sheffield, the shop where his Yemeni-born parents "tried to make money from selling penny-sweets and newspapers and cigarettes," remains a small but vital part of the family empire. "I would never sell that," he says. "I want to remember where I come from. I lived above that shop. I just wouldn't sell that building. It's me. However many millions I make, that place is mine and my parents are happy to have the history of it.

"I don't have any choice about carrying on as a fighter. I have to carry on, I can't just say, I've already made my mark by bringing sparkle into the game, being a showman. I have to prove myself against the likes of Morales and Barrera, those so-called great fighters. I think they are great fighters, but I want to see evidence of that against me - I want to see what they have against me.

"People keep telling me that they are Mexicans, and the greatest fighters to come out of that country since Chavez and Salvador Sanchez, and they come from very hard places. I can relate to them coming from a hard place, and even better than that... I've been back to the village where my parents were brought up in Yemen. I'm not even talking about roads, no clean water, no electricity. The Mexicans can't tell me how hard they were brought up and impress me. Your upbringing, how tough it was, is a big, big matter, but at the end of the day when they talk about all that stuff they forget that what really matters is getting in and out of the ring on a certain night and having the goods."

As he talks, Naseem is being filmed for a Channel 4 documentary and so inevitably there is an element of gallery-playing. He rebukes a reporter for waving a pen in front of the camera and strokes his neatly shaved goatee beard with a touch of the old narcissism.

Most of his preparation was done on Big Bear mountain in California, at the palatial, custom-built training centre of boxing's former Golden Boy, Oscar De La Hoya, who recently slipped to a second career defeat, at the hands of the fast-rising star Shane Mosley, having earlier lost a close decision to Felix Trinidad, and if Naseem was grateful for the hospitality of his host he could not resist hinting that the fall may have been preceded by a little bit too much of the good life. He laughs and says, "He said I could use his camp any time, but being honest with you that wasn't a training home in which you could easily keep yourself focused on a fight. There was a jacuzzi seating 10 and I knew that house wasn't just for training. That looked like a love palace to me. Oscar came to visit me and said that I had already spent more time there than he had because it had just been built. So there I was in this house with the jacuzzi, the steam room, the Henry the Eighth bed and a carpet as thick as I don't know. I didn't have to go to the movies, I was in one."

But the training, his longest ever stint of nine weeks, was accomplished with a fine edge, he insists. He admits that before linking up with his new trainer, the New Jersey-based Oscar Saurez, he was "standing still". His relationship with his old mentor Brendan Ingle, the break up of which was messy and public, had dwindled, Naseem admits, to the point where he was showing up for training three weeks before a fight. "That couldn't go on, I realise that now. I had to ask myself what I was doing. I had to decide if I just wanted to coast along - or really make a mark, and I told myself, 'You ain't finished yet. You have a lot more work to do'. Working with Oscar, and having Manny Steward, who is fantastic in the corner, coming in for the fights, has given me a whole new lease of life. In the past when you said I wasn't going anywhere in the ring, your eyes didn't lie to you. But look at me now. There's a couple of things you see in me. One thing is that you don't see me broke, you see me 'multi'... and you don't see me punchy. You see a guy who is on top of his trade, the best featherweight in the world, maybe the hardest-hitting featherweight of all time, and all the other guys know it too."

Naseem, perhaps inevitably in such a lengthy self-appraisal, is sailing in more familiar waters now. He is caught by that old wind which blew him, offensively for so many old boxing hands, into the game as an awesomely gifted young fighter who talked shrilly of joining Muhammad Ali in the hallway of legend. But it is, it has to be reported, on this day at least a relatively brief reversion to a particularly brazen arrogance. He speaks respectfully of his "friend" Lennox Lewis's new status as the "baddest" man on the planet", saying, "I've told Lennox that in my opinion fighting your way to undisputed heavyweight champion of the world after being knocked out is one of the greatest achievements in all sport. I didn't get knocked out, but I got my warnings and I realised, like him, that I had to work harder than ever before."

He reflects for a moment and then his face brightens and he says, "So it means that I can go one better than Lennox." A new, more substantial Prince of the Ring? Maybe. A new paragon of modesty? Perhaps not.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
food + drinkFrom Mediterranean Tomato Tart to Raw Caramel Peanut Pie
Extras
Boys to men: there’s nothing wrong with traditional ‘manly’ things, until masculinity is used to exclude people
indybest13 best grooming essentials
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Life and Style
healthMovember isn't about a moustache trend, it saves lives
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities