Stung Hamed stings back

Boxing
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The Independent Online
Prince Naseem Hamed answered the one remaining doubt about his fighting genius by rising from the floor to flatten his dangerous Puerto Rican challenger Daniel Alicea with a crunching left hook in the second before a stunned crowd at the Newcastle Arena.

By the 22-year-old's exemplary standards, it was a performance marred by flaws previously unexposed. Alicea's right sent the unbeaten champion on a trip to the canvas in the first round after Hamed paid the price for his incorrigible arrogance and was caught with his chin dangling invitingly, as if he was smelling the air.

The Sheffield showman bounced back to his feet so quickly it was as though he hoped none of the 7,000 crowd would notice, but there are few past great champions who have not shared in his predicament.

Champions are often judged by the way they recover and Hamed reacted like a motor racing driver who had just lost his lead or a tennis player whose serve had been broken. He slammed straight back to regain command in the second round.

Hamed lost none of his swagger, but the shine from his bright gumshield disappeared momentarily as his face took on a more purposeful look as he pursued a rapid reversal of fortune.

He snapped his right harder and swooped on Alicea the moment the undefeated challenger made an error. A crunching right hook followed by a left sent the tall, rangy Alicea to the floor for a count of three. The Puerto Rican wobbled to his feet, driven by courage and a rapidly fading smell of success, but Hamed chased him around the ring until a breathtaking two-punch combination left the visitor motionless on his back with 14 seconds of the round remaining.

Perhaps now, Hamed's potential opponents - the 37-year-old Ghanaian Azumah Nelson, the projected big money targets of promoter Frank Warren, and the undefeated Mexican Marco Antonio Barrera, the WBO's super-bantamweight champion - will be more obliging and realistic in negotiation. Only if a deal is struck with one of them will we see the true spirit of a young man clearly hell-bent on fulfilling a dream.

Alicea showed that Hamed was human after all; that if he cannot be defeated, at least he can be hurt and shaken. But Hamed's drive for excellence should renew a lifelong devotion that some believe has dwindled since his elevation to stardom.

He crowned his 22nd consecutive victory by somersaulting across the ring, adding to his repertoire of circus tricks, but he now knows that those who walk the high wire must be prepared to risk taking a fall.

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