Prince aims to silence the king

Alan Hubbard says the homesick Hamed will send pretender packing
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The Independent Online

Explaining why modesty was never his greatest virtue, Muhammad Ali once sighed: "It's hard to be humble when you're as great as I am." Naseem Hamed reckons he knows the feeling, though these days he is doing his best to convince us that boxing's strutting demon king has been transformed into Prince Charming.

Explaining why modesty was never his greatest virtue, Muhammad Ali once sighed: "It's hard to be humble when you're as great as I am." Naseem Hamed reckons he knows the feeling, though these days he is doing his best to convince us that boxing's strutting demon king has been transformed into Prince Charming.

There is certainly a refreshing, if overdue, maturity about Hamed, both in the ring, as we saw in his wickedly professional dispatch of the South African Vuyani Bungu last March, and outside it, where he now prefers to talk wistfully about family values rather than headbutt us with his ego.

A week before his 14th title defence against the 22-year-old Augi Sanchez, from Las Vegas, in Connecticut, the unbeaten World Boxing Organisation featherweight champion was revealing the extent of his homesickness after a workout at his Big Bear training camp in California.

He so misses his wife, Elesha, sons Sami (aged two) and newborn Aadam that he has installed a computerised camera in their Sheffield home which allows him to call up live pictures of them via the internet. "I miss them like hell," he says, having spent 10 weeks away preparing for a bout that will celebrate the fifth year of his championship reign. "I can't wait to get back home."

Hamed's impatience should be reflected in his approach to a contest that is taking place at an obscure outpost called Foxwoods on an Indian reservation between New York and Boston. He will have no desire to hang around against an opponent who so idolises Elvis Presley that he calls himself Kid Vegas, and enters the ring in Presley garb to his signature tune of "Viva Las Vegas".

On paper Sanchez seems capable enough, with just one defeat (albeit a one-round ko by the Mexican journeyman Edgar Garcia) in 26 bouts. He has had 10 winning fights since that setback, in April 1998, and promises that neither Hamed's regained ruthlessness nor his reputation will faze him. "I do not look upon him as a legend but I want to beat the best in the world and obviously he is one of them," Sanchez says. "I'm going to take the fight to him. I am not going to back down. I want to outsmart him as if it was a game of chess."

The trouble is, grandmaster Hamed is already thinking a move or two ahead. He is planning a mandatory title defence in London in the autumn against the European champion, Istvan Kovacs of Hungary, and then says he would like to take on one of the two truly world-class opponents around, Erik Morales or Marco Antonio Barrera. "I know to be a legend I have to beat great fighters," he acknowledges, humbly.

Meanwhile, there is a job to be done on Saturday, when Elvis aficionado Sanchez should be left feeling "All Shook Up".

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