Humble Hamed rises to conquer

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Adversity can throw up some strange bedfellows, none more surprising, perhaps than humility and Prince Naseem Hamed. That they have met now and not later can be no bad thing.

If the almost six minutes of Hamed's World Boxing Organisation featherweight championship defence against Daniel Alicea at Newcastle Arena on Saturday evening told us something we did not know about the champion, then the half-hour press conference that followed revealed even more.

Having survived the first knockdown of his career in round one, Hamed used his awesome punching power to re-establish himself in the second, leaving Alicea sprawled in the centre of the ring after the second of two knockdowns. But this chilling reminder that Hamed hits like a jackhammer could not erase the memory of him sitting with his back against the ropes. Moments after a vicious right-hander from Alicea had twisted Hamed's head around and a following punch had deposited him on the canvas.

Those in the media who had never believed the hype, who had doubted that this abrasive young braggart from Sheffield would ever achieve the legendary status he had so often predicted for himself, waited in ambush in a back room. Word filtered through that the winner's dressing room was like a morgue. The ghetto-blasters were turned off. The party was over.

Had Hamed even dreamt of telling the press conference what was probably the truth, that he was caught with a good shot but that finding himself on the floor was as much a matter of disturbed balance as disrupted circuitry, he would have been ripped to shreds. That he did not, that he paid deserved tribute to Alicea and admitted to his own vulnerability, revealed that Hamed possessed a maturity previously undreamt of. If anything, Hamed might have won new admirers.

"Yeah, I went down, as you do - I'm only human," he said. "I never thought I would go down but that's boxing. He's a terrific fighter. He's strong, young, ambitious, and I wish him the best in life. I got floored, tested the canvas out for him, and got back up. But at the end of the day I took his and he couldn't take mine. If I hit any fighter at my weight, I will put him down.

"Was I worried? Did I look worried? No, not at all. I got straight back up and got on with it. I'd prefer to get hit with his shots than mine. The power's just awesome, I promise. It comes from God. I've been blessed with a gift. I can't see any way God will ever let me lose.

"Embarrassed? Never. I boxed a very good kid, he was strong, he'd never been beat, he didn't know that feeling until tonight. You press that button, you get knocked down, you get back up. Even Mike Tyson got knocked down. Now who would have believed that? But if you're strong, you've got the heart there, and you believe in Allah, you're cool."

Next time, perhaps, Hamed will leave less in the hands of the Almighty. Rumours after the fight held that the 22-year-old had cut corners in preparation, that he had recognised his mistake and would ensure it would never happen again. He realised that while he was never actually seriously threatened by defeat for the first time in 22 fights, against Alicea, for a moment, it had been too close for comfort.

His immediate future is in the hands of his promoter, Frank Warren, and the representatives of various world champions throughout the globe. Warren will today return from South Africa where he will have met with the management of International Boxing Federation super-bantamweight champion Vuyani Bungu, before seeking to re-open dialogue with Mexico's Marco Antonio Ballera, the WBO champion at super-bantamweight and Ghana's veteran World Boxing Council super-feather champion, Azumah Nelson.

"They will be mistaken if any of them think they can come over here, push the button, put me down and I won't get back up," Hamed said. "If I get hit, I come back even stronger."

But those fighters will now feel a little more confident in facing Hamed, a chink in his armour having been revealed.

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