Hamed's world of wonder

Prince of showboating becomes king of the ring as Robinson's resistance crumbles in eighth round
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The Independent Online
AS WAS widely predicted by the pundits, the bookmakers, the press and, most compellingly, by the man himself, the Prince claimed his crown here last night.

Naseem Hamed captured the WBO version of the world featherweight championship with a characteristically outrageous and thrilling performance. "I was too strong, too fast, too good, and now I'm the champion," the precocious Sheffield boxer declared afterwards.

There were times in his fight with Steve Robinson when he seemed to be performing the Sixties number "Hippy Hippy Shake" rather than being engaged in the serious business of trying to win his first significant title fight.

His speed of movement both with hands and feet was, as ever, breathtaking to watch, and while Robinson was backed by a fervent home crowd who poured scorn on the other man, he had was no answer to what was in front of him.

Naseem, who may not yet be a true King in the boxing sense but at the age of 21 can equally be not far off it, smiled his way through most of the fight and if it would be stretching a point to say he could have ended it whenever he liked - after all, he had predicted that the contest would be over by the end of the fourth round - he was for the most part utterly irresistible.

It was said by the experts that for Robinson to have a chance of retaining his title he would need to take the fight beyond four rounds. While these were not places the challenger had never visited, they were less than familiar to him. Maybe, just maybe, he would panic or lose his self-assurance if he could be forced into an attritional contest.

The chances of this happening looked to be receding early on when he could make no contact at all with Naseem's apparently exposed chin. Throughout the early part of the bout, the diminutive man from Sheffield merely back- pedalled and smiled. Robinson, with his gloves up to protect a face he knew the challenger would find only too compelling a target, was occasionally lured into advancing. As early as the opening minute, the contact he apparently made was merely a mirage. The ferocious Welsh support thought it was something more substantial, but the boy from Yorkshire merely looked up and smiled.

So the pattern developed through the second round. Robinson was determined to give nothing away to Naseem, who entered the ring with the trademark name of Prince on the front of his shorts, but with "King" emblazoned on the back.

At times, Naseem looked as though he was playing with his opponent and Robinson grew more frustrated. It took the challenger until the fifth round to break through a defence which was nothing if not determined. A long right pushed the Welshman on to the canvas and quickly muted a fan club which numbered 16,000. A minute later he found another opening and Robinson went down again for a second count from the referee, with blood now streaming from his mouth.

Into the sixth, the champion was hanging on. By now Hamed was of a mind to come forward more frequently. The smile, if anything, was growing wider. Robinson, finding he had no answer to a series of swift and unorthodox combinations developed a cut near his right eye which needed emergency treatment in his corner at the end of the round.

Still, Naseem was being made to work to achieve his ambition. He was not quite so irresistible as the contest went to the seventh round. Even his legs were no longer on coasters and the punches lost some of their snap.

This was of no use, however, to Robinson, who was weary by now. He spotted just one more opening in the seventh but the Prince simply danced away again and Robinson slid along the ropes, his jab flaying into the drizzle beyond it. It was inevitable that the end would come, and even the fanatical support must have hoped that the challenger - a man they had by no means taken to their hearts - would end it quickly.

He did so with another blinding flurry in the eighth round. It appeared to be no more than a jab which caught Robinson, but Naseem's jabs are packed with thunder. The champion went down and the referee signalled immediately that he was champion no longer.

Earlier in the evening, Nicky Piper, 29, landed the Commonwealth light- heavyweight title after knocking out Noel Magee in the ninth round.