The CBZ is meant to be an open forum for boxing fans of all stripes. Our writers run the whole gamut, from gifted amateurs like DscribeDC, BoxngRules & Pusboil, to seasoned, professional boxing writers like, Hank Kaplan, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, Joe Bruno, Randy Gordon, Jim Trunzo & Barry Lindenman ... but all of these peeps share two thangs: A deep, abiding, love for the sweet science & a burning desire to present it in an honest, no holds barred fashion ... Warts & all.
The crew that writes for the CBZ is very diverse, ranging in age from 12 year old BoxngRules, to 80 something Hank Kaplan. I personally think that this wide range of opinions is what makes the CBZ so vital ... We’re not Ring Magazine or International Boxing Digest, there are no puff pieces residing here, what we have is hard hitting boxing commentary, written by some serious strollers of Bash Boulevard ...
One last point: I don’t know if our readers are aware of the fact that nobody at the CBZ has made so much as one thin dime for their yeoman like efforts ... As editor of this lash up, I push these writers hard to get their contributions ... & I just want all you guys to know how deeply appreciated you are by the Ol’ Spit Bucket ...
S’ enough of all this sentimental, happy horse shit ... Let’s get to last night’s terrific fight card:
WOW!!! It was an unbelievable spectacle, drama to the max!!! ... but was it boxing???
In a conversation last night, my good friend & attorney, DscribeDC (he handles all my CBZ related libel suits, most of them caused by Joe Bruno ...), pointed out to me that it’s way past time that boxing (& me) should get the hell out of the 19th Century & get ready to embrace the 21st ... Yeah, well ... I grudgingly admit that he might have a point.
A point that was backed up by comments made last night from both Big George & (gulp), Larry Merchant.
During the frenzied hoopla of Naz’s extended ring entrance, Jim Lampley asked BG & Merchant what they thought about the intense paroxysm of emotion swirling throughout Madison Square Garden. No matter what your feelings are regarding Merchant & BG, they are both boxing traditionalists, & I found their answers revealing: Foreman exclaimed, "I like it. I like it a lot!" Merchant babbled something about "How this is what boxing needs to attract young fans & keep the sport going into the 21st Century".
I can’t tell y’all how hard it is for me to agree with ANYTHING that spews out of Merchant’s flapping lips ... but this time, I have to admit he’s absolutely correct.
If boxing is going to survive it desperately needs to bring in a younger demographic of fans. Old farts like me aren’t going to be able to support the sport in the coming millennium - mostly ‘cause we’re gonna be dead ... So it is crucial that the sport adapts itself to make it palatable for younger fans. If it doesn’t, it will cease to exist ...
Last night was a big step toward attracting this new demographic ... Unfortunately, these younger fans are more into style than substance & boxing will suffer athletically, much like B Ball does today ... but ultimately, the sport needs new blood & if this new blood prefers their fight cards to be more like a Kiss concert than a gladiatorial experience .... So be it.
Last night, The Naz brought something to boxing that has been sorely missed since the salad days of Muhammad Ali; high drama & theater.
Back in the 80’s any Sugar Ray Leonard, or Iron Deficiency Mike fight, was a major event that drew the whole worlds attention. But ultimately they were just boxing matches. Naz, like Ali before him, turns the ring into dramatic theater. It is highly debatable whether taking the focus off the actual fight & making it more about the cult of personality is a good thing or not - but at this point, even a jerk like the Naz, brings a well needed shot of adrenaline to a stumbling, faltering sport ...
The hype for the Prince's coming to America started early, and soon excitement was brought to a fever pitch. A huge billboard of Hamed engulfed the side of a Times Square building, and his face was plastered everywhere, from subways to buses, to everything in between. And let's not forget the shouting matches with Kelley, the appearance on Conan O'Brien's show, and the shameless self-promotion which defines England's most popular import since the Beatles. What most casual sports fans would deem a space filler on the friday night television schedule (ugh! Featherweights) soon turned into an event. Madison Square Garden, which would have been happy with 8,000 fans, ended up with close to 12,000. Oscar DeLa Hoya didn't do those types of numbers in MSG. But this small, arrogant, big eared power puncher from England had taken over the city...just like he told us he would.
But that was before the bell even rang. Loooong before. Kevin Kelley set foot in the Garden ring at 9:55 pm. Naz didn't join him until nine minutes later. Why? The Prince needs to make an entrance. Dancing behind a white screen, Naz' shadow enthralled a usually cynical New York crowd. I didn't expect this little act to go over well, but it did. Nary a boo was heard as Hamed finally made his way to the ring. Meanwhile, Kelley was pumped up for the fight, climbing the ropes and yelling for Hamed to get into the ring. This was Kevin's town, and he wasn't giving it up without a fight.
Soon, Hamed decided to grace us with his presence, and after his customary front flip into the ring, he and Kelley immediately went nose to nose, trying to see who would back up first. Cooler heads prevailed, and the fight would soon begin naturally, with the clang of a bell.
At ringside, there was an electricity to the proceedings (I know it's a cliche, but it was true), and the Garden rocked, with alternate chants of Nas-eem, Nas-eem, and Kel-ley, Kel-ley. At the bell, Hamed came out jabbing, and within seconds he had given us his first little shoulder wiggle. He was confident of not only winning, but of putting on a show in his American debut. Kelley had different plans for Naz, though. "The Flushing Flash" drilled Hamed, snapping his head back and depositing him on his royal behind. The crowd erupted, but Hamed was up quickly. Maybe too quickly, as Kelley jarred Naz a few more times before the round ended.
The second round began, and the crowd had been whipped into a frenzy. Kelley's punches were landing with frequency, and soon Hamed found himself on the floor again. But instead of succumbing to Kelley's onslaught, Hamed roared back, sending Kelley down. Kelley rose, and the two went toe to toe for the rest of the round. There were thousands of empty seats, as no one could sit down for this one.
By the third, Naz was not showboating, and not joking around. He was in a fight, and one false move would cause him to lose the fat HBO contract which had bothered Kevin Kelley so much. The action slowed a bit, but two big right hands found Kelley's jaw, enabling Naz to steal the round.
The fourth would be the defining round in the young Prince's career thus far. He looked relaxed again, and in control. He sent Kelley to the canvas for the second time, but wound up having a knockdown scored against him when a Kelley blast forced his glove to the mat. Both men then met in the middle of the ring and traded bombs. A bad move for the always courageous Kelley. Hamed found Kevin's chin again, and this time for good. At the 2:27 mark of the fourth, the Prince narrowly avoided being crowned by winning his toughest fight.
Hamed won himself a lot of fans last night by proving he has guts and a chin. Kelley is a banger. He can take you out with either hand, and while we knew Hamed could punch, we didn't know if he could take one. He did. He passed his test with flying colors. But the flaw still remains: Naz gets hit too much. Someday that's going to catch up with him. But how can we argue with the young and seemingly invincible? And boxing fans, love him or hate him, he's good for the sport. He brings in fans, and he brings mainstream publicity to the sport. Despite what you want to say about DeLa Hoya, Roy Jones, or Evander Holyfield, this kid packs more of a publicity punch than those three combined. Long live the Prince.
The next proposed "White hat" to take on Hamed's "Black hat" was supposed to be Brooklyn's Junior Jones. The fight was all set to be made for next year in Wembley Stadium. The only hurdle for Jones was to be Kennedy McKinney, whose career was on the downslide after loses to Marco Antonio Barrera and Vuyani Bungu. And common boxing sense would make you pick Jones over McKinney, just based upon those recent performances. But that's why they fight 'em. In a short but exciting fight, McKinney rose from a third round knockdown and an almost certain TKO loss to score a fourth round TKO over Jones.
This was another War. Jones and McKinney battled roughly on the inside throughout the fight, with Jones ending up worse for wear as he sustained a cut under his eye from a butt. But Junior was in control of the contest, jabbing and moving well when not being mangled . Kennedy suddenly looked old and worn out in the ring, like a pug who stuck around for one too many, and the fight didn't seem like it was going to last long. The third round knockdown of McKinney reinforced that opinion. Jones tried in vain to take Kennedy out, but McKinney was blessed with the heart of a lion (see the Barrera fight), and he refused to give in. His patience was rewarded in round four, as his right hands started to land regularly, the last one sending Jones down in a heap. Junior staggered to his feet, but his legs wouldn't hold him, and he stumbled back down to the canvas. Referee Wayne Kelly instantly stopped the fight, and just like that, the Prince gets a new dance partner. As for Junior Jones, I really feel bad for the guy. Here was a fighter who came back from two devastating knockout losses, resurrected his career, and was on the verge of his biggest payday. And poof...it's gone. Boxing can be cruel at times, can't it? My early Hamed - McKinney prediction? Hamed in two.
Naseem Hamed made his first American appearance last night. Did he win over the American fans? I would say so. The flash, the speed, the power, the guts, the charisma. Doesn't sound like any British fighter I know. We shouldn't welcome Hamed to our country, we should be happy we've been invited into Naz' World. From ringside...
6:20pm - Press row is next to empty, save for a few diehards (ie - me). The first fight, an eight round heavyweight bout between London's undefeated (11-0) Danny Williams, and Washington's Derek Amos gets underway. The arena itself is empty as the bell rings. It amazes me the amount of people it takes to get a big time card like this off the ground: promoters, electricians, broadcast crews, etc. And all these workers are frantically doing their jobs, in spite of the action going on in the ring. In the squared circle, Williams (who will always hold a special place in my boxing heart for being the first fighter I saw live) methodically cuts down Amos, and scores a fourth round TKO.
6:30pm - The HBO broadcast crew arrives. A few feet away from me are Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant, and Harold Lederman. No sign of Big George yet.
The next fight, a welterweight contest between Manchester's Richard Hatton (1-0) and Brooklyn's Robert Alvarez (2-2) gets underway. Both fighters are busy throughout the contest, but Hatton outworks Alvarez, winning a unanimous four round decision. With the arena empty, you can hear the punches landing. You don't get this type of action while watching at home.
6:50pm - Big George Foreman arrives along with his brother. Some of the boxing writers have arrived (Steve Farhood, Herbert Goldman, Thomas Hauser) and some shout at George that "You won the fight", referring to Foreman's controversial points loss to Shannon Briggs. George smiles and points to the writers in acknowledgement.
Fight #3. Junior featherweights. Joan Guzman, a member of the 1996 Dominican Republic's Olympic team, goes for his second win against the Bronx' Henry Bowden, who was making his pro debut. Guzman, who has Merqui Sosa in his corner, is straight out of the Rodman / Hamed school of sportsmanship, complete with blond hair. There's got to be a villian on every card, and he's it. The crowd has started to file in, and Guzman is the recipient of some boos. But Guzman ignores this, and scores a kayo at 2:51 of the second. Meanwhile, the HBO team is practicing their monologues for their broadcast, now less than two hours away.
7:20pm Promoter Frank Warren, England's answer to Don King, makes his appearance and schmoozes around the ringside area. Warren has to be happy with the ticket sales for this fight, Naseem Hamed's debut in America. Vendors are selling champagne at ringside, this must be the big time.
7:30pm - Eight rounds. Junior Middleweights. Jason Papillon scores a second round TKO over an overmatched "Honeyboy" Smith.
7:44pm - Some more press heavyweights stroll in (Nigel Collins, Wally Matthews, Ron Borges), and Teddy Atlas makes an appearance. In the ring, undefeated (21-0) Michael Clark wins an impressive first round TKO over Jersey's Roberto Nunez.
Next fight, jeez, these fights just seem to run into one another. No one can complain about not getting their money's worth. Port Chester's David Telesco, a heavy hitter managed by Don Elbaum, took on Napoleon Pitt in an eight rounder. Telesco is a big hitter, as you can almost feel his shots at ringside. He repeatedly drills Pitt, but Napoleon shows tremendous heart, as he continues to come forward. This is one guy you wouldn't want to meet in an alley, because he just keeps coming. By the end of eight, Pitt has lost a unanimous decision, but he's still standing.
8:12pm - The celebrities start arriving - Light heavy champ Lou Del Valle, Floyd Patterson, and actor Peter Boyle all pass by. The arena is starting to fill now. Periodic chants of Nas-eem, Nas-eem fill the arena, especially when posters of Naz are handed out to the crowd.
The final preliminary, a snoozer between undefeated Charles Shufford and Brooklyn's Felton Hamilton. Hamilton wins, but gets jobbed by the decision. But no one really cares now, as it's getting close to showtime. The luminaries are piling in now, Larry Donald, David Reid, Buddy McGirt, Murad Muhammad, Art Mercante Jr. One guy offers to buy my pen for a $1, but I politely refuse (maybe if he went for $3, the price of a 20oz bottle of Coke, I may have gone for it). It's nice to see kids mobbing these guys for autographs. I'm just happy that they even know who they are.
8:50pm - Things are much more hectic. Heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield arrives to a thunderous roar by the now filled MSG.
9:00pm - It's SHOWTIME!!! The music pumps loudly, the crowd roars, this is everything I imagined. Kennedy McKinney arrives first, followed by champion Junior Jones, obviously the crowd favorite. Jones is led into the ring by New Jersey Net Jayson Williams. It amazes me how small these guys really are. Williams' 6'11 frame exaggerates this difference even more. The bell rings, the fight is underway. When ringside it is easier to tell when a fighter is hurt, either by the sweat flying or by the look on the fighter's face. Mc Kinney got rocked many times during this fight, and the haggard look on his face made me feel that he had seen too many wars. But all can change with one punch, and one punch took out Junior Jones in the fourth round. It was sudden, and exciting. As the fight was stopped, a cup of liquid went sailing towards the ring, with the perpetrator quickly apprehended and taken out. Things might get hot here. Jones' legs were still wobbly as he left the ring, and the look on his friend Williams' face told the story of the fight.
9:43pm - The Naseem chant begins, followed by equally fervent chants of Kel-ley, Kel-ley. The ringside luminaries are introduced: Spike Lee, Rosie Perez, Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Kid Gavilan, Pierce Brosnan, Pernell Whitaker, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Red Holzman are all at ringside. This is an event!!! Kevin Kelley arrives first at 9:55pm and he is pumped for the fight. This will be no walkover for the Prince. A minute later, the song "Men in Black" starts pumping from the Garden sound system.
The Prince starts dancing behind a white screen, giving off a silhouette type effect. The crowd goes wild, people are dancing and smiling. The US has never seen anything like Naz' entrance. A Mike Tyson he is not. Eight minutes later, Naz makes his way toward the ring, with confetti streaming into the air. Kelley is up on the ropes, waving for the Prince to get into the ring. This is Kelley's house.
Hamed makes it into the ring in style, with his customary front flip, and the two combatants repeatedly go eye to eye. It seems like the two are ready to get into it before the bell rings. Michael Buffer's "Let's get ready to rumble" gets the crowd crazy, and as the bell starts the fight, everyone is on their feet.
When Naz tastes the canvas in the first, his head snaps back violently, and the crowd senses an early finish. Naz rises, but he continues to get rocked. The Naseem chants have silenced, while the Kelley chants engulf the arena. I have never seen so many smiling faces as these guys go at it. While it is definitely the best fight I have seen live, it may also be one of the best I've seen, period.
This was a great debut by the Prince, and a courageous effort by Kelley, who landed bombs on Naz that would have taken out any other contender. There were no boos when this one ended, only cheers. As I left the Garden that night, my boxing baptism had been complete. And once again I was reminded why this is the greatest sport in the world.
Let me get this out of the way. Naseem Hamed gives me pimples. I didn’t like him before the fight and I still don’t. His pomp and circumstance to me at least leaves something to be desired. That out of the way, let’s just say it was an enjoyable fight to watch.
Hamed came out flippin’ and floppin’ like Raggedy Andy on crack. This was to be expected. Watching the first round go by, I was starting to wonder if Kelley was going to be able to hit him at all. Hamed backed Kelley into the corner and when he backed up, he backed right into a right hand that sent him to the mat. I was cheering so hard my dog was scared to death. Hamed got up and was startlingly ready to go.
In the second round Kelley landed a left that shook Hamed and his glove touched the mat. This was scored a knockdown. Once again Hamed showed his resilience and came back to drop Kelley in the same round. Both fighters were appearing to be easy to hit but for different reasons.
About halfway through the fourth round, Kelley was dropped by Hamed again. This punch he walked right into. He got up at the count of seven. It was Kelley’s turn to show some heart as he came back and stunned Hamed again with a left hand. Once again Hamed’s glove touched the mat and it was scored a knockdown.
But Hamed was to land the last telling blow of the fight. He land a right hook that crumpled Kelley. Kelley rose to his knees but no further until after referee Benji Estaves reached a ten count.
Hamed’s power was clearly the difference in this fight. After Kelley dropped him in the first Hamed started to fight conventionally instead of the usual circus performance. He appeared to not know what to do. His corner wasn’t too sure either in my opinion. But Hamed’s shots were knocking Kelley down while Kelley’s blows were knocking Hamed off balance more. And as proven by the outcome, Hamed by KO.
Hamed’s flaws were also on display tonight. His chin is moderately questionable. I say moderately only not to take away from Kelley. His defense is non-existent. He relies solely on speed for that portion of his game. But as Kelley showed, he is there to hit when he comes lunging in. With a questionable chin and the way he comes in, Hamed is far from perfect, but once again he is not easy to beat.
Hamed record improved to 29-0 (27). Regardless of who he’s fought, that’s an impressive record. He also beat the best fighter he’s faced so far in Kelley, whose record dropped to 47-2-2(32). So the prize goes to Naz tonight, despite my voodoo dolls and prayer beads. He is a force to be reckoned with in the featherweight division.
Hamed, who has the biggest ears this side of Dumbo, was knocked down three times and maybe four against Kelley, who has not looked impressive in winning a fight in a long time. In his last five fights, Kelly is 1-2-2, but the Long Island native has only himself and his hearing to blame for not finishing this much-hyped fight with his right hand raised.
"I deviated from my boxing plan," Kelly told HBO’s Larry Merchant after the fight. "I got anxious and I got caught."
Kelly had the hot-dogging Hamed down once in round one; once in round two, and again in round four, just before a powerful overhand left by Naseem landed high on Kelly’s right temple, depositing Kelly flat on his back. Kelly was up on one knee at the count of three], but he rose to his feet at 10 and a half, as ref Benjy Estaves waved an end to this exciting fight at 2:27 of round four.
"I thought I beat the count," Kelley said after the fight. "I was taking the eight count on one knee and I though I was up in time."
Almost, but not quite.
The first round saw Hamed amateurishly throwing punches at Kelley in a corner, when Hamed jumped back with his hands down and a Kelley right hook blasted The Prince flat on his back.
In round two, Kelley dropped Hamed twice in two seconds, both with right hooks, but it happened so fast, the ref only counted it as one knockdown. Hamed came storming back and nailed Kelley with a hard right which dropped Kelley flat on his back. Kelley looked more embarrassed than hurt, and he smiled up at Hamed like he was saying "Nice punch pal."
After a Kelley won round three on sheer aggression, Hamed’s superior punching power saved the day in round four. Hamed landed a straight left and Kelly went down sprawled on his face one minute into round four. Kelly came up swinging, and a quick combination by Kelley put Hamed down again. This one was more a slip than a knockdown, but Kelley moved in for the kill, and it was a fatal mistake.
Kelley backed Hamed into a corner, but a lightning overhand left by Hamed landed high on Kelley’s temple and Kelly went down for the final time.
After the fight, Hamed hit the nail on the head when he said, "I took his best but he couldn’t take mine." Then he added, "I have the heart of a lion." And that he does.
But the best fighter in the world pound for pound? You gotta be kidding!
Hamed showed he could punch, but he fights with his hands down, and even an over-the-hill fighter like Kelley was able to blast Hamed to the canvas several times. Hamed might be the best featherweight in the world, but this five-foot three-inch dwarf with ears like ping pong paddles would get his block knocked off if he got in the ring with the best in the lightweight, or welterweight divisions, which his people says he will in the next few years.
HBO better use up the rest of their six-fight deal with the Arab Britisher by having Hamed fight has-been featherweights like Kennedy McKinney and Junior Jones. If Hamed gets in the ring with the big boys like Arturo Gatti, or God forbid, Oscar De la Hoya, the Prince would turn into a punch-drunk frog real fast. And an ugly one at that.
Bud-Wize-Errrr. Ribbit. Ribbit.
What can I say about such a cracking fight? As most readers will have seen it, I won’t bore you with the details, apart from the fact that the final knockdown tally read: Naz - 3, Kelley - 3. This is very representative of what was a nail - biting, see - saw thriller.
Hamed - Kelley II is a natural, and quite possible considering the fact that Hamed is now also a HBO fighter. Indeed, they could run last night’s card all over again in a few months and probably double the public interest in the show.
I accept Hamed’s claim that he deliberately went to war rather than rely on his boxing and defensive ability. It is impossible to detract from what was a magnificent performance by Kelley, but I feel Naz could have taken a slightly more comfortable route to victory. Tactical errors of his own also led to Kelley’s demise: Had he maintained his initial restrained attack throughout, he wouldn’t have exposed himself to Hamed’s explosive counters.
What decided this one ultimately however was the superior recuperative power of Hamed. While he was caught far too often with sledgehammer - like shots, Naz never really did the ‘drunken man’s walk’ or looked in real trouble. Kelley, on the other hand, couldn’t manage to shrug off the effects quite as rapidly.
Hamed answered a lot of questions last night - maybe even the braindead will now cease to question his masculinity. He proved he can hold his own in the heat of battle and that he possesses a lot of heart. While he can render an opponent impotent with his boxing ability, he doesn’t mind a good old tear - up either. These wars won’t do much for his longevity, but they sure put bums on seats. And that’s what the fight game needs in late 1997.
While Hamed proved he is made of stern stuff, he was possibly the overall loser last night. His aura of invincibility and ability to intimidate opponents will be severely diminished from here on in. Kelley’s reputation was enhanced in defeat: Though we knew he was a warrior, nobody could seriously have expected him to produce such a heroic display at this stage in his colorful career.
I got a flashback last night to the Tyson - Douglas fight. As was the case with Tyson when he met Buster, previously unseen chinks appeared left, right and center in the Naz armory. The difference between Kelley - Hamed and Tyson - Douglas however was that Naz has many more dimensions than the Tokyo gumshield - grabber. He can adapt accordingly when in trouble, and this should make for some very entertaining future matches.
Hamed specializes on exposing his opponents’ flaws and making them look inept. The roles were reversed in Madison Square Garden however, and Naz was made to look embarrassingly open for most of the fight. So will he learn from his mistakes? There is more chance of the unabomber being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Hamed is invincible in his eyes. He is young, powerful, world - famous and unbeaten. Last night’s experience will only have enhanced his belief that he will never meet defeat. He took countless KO punches flush on the jaw along with three counts and still ultimately found the equalizer. Roll on Hamed - Gatti! -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Yes, yes, your humble Editor of Wit and Satire figured he would have no trouble at all with this one, the splashy American debut of the world's most ballyhooed and bombastic fighter, a guy whose ring entrances border on the self-parodic (the pharaoh-and-nubian-bearers bit goes down in the all-time record books, in my opinion) and who generally regards himself as Allah's chief wingman. I was working all the angles:
CLOWN PRINCE OR CROWN PRINCE?
KELLEY'S SHOTS MAKE PRINCE'S RULE A PURPLE REIGN
PRINCE: THIS IS WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE WHEN GLOVES FLY
NASEEM: AS NAZ-TY AS HE WANTS TO BE
Or, in the event of a late Naz KO, simply: KELLEY TIRES
Would Spike Lee's presence at ringside spur these two champions to "Do the Fight Thing?" Or would Pierce Brosnan's withering gaze inspire Hamed to put Kelley through another performance of "SwollenEye"? Yeah, I was working it, all right.
But, sometimes, when great champions leave all the excuses and dirty tactics and bullshit in the dressing room, and just get down to some world-class whacking, you simply have to set the jokes aside. This was one of those nights, an occasion that blew in on a gust of good-natured, but totally-over-the-top Eurohype, and ended up yielding two bouts to remember.
The Yemen-born Naseem Hamed has made a great name for himself in England, banging out, one after the other, a series of varyingly-suspect challengers, ranging from the out-and-out obscure to the once-formidable (Johnson, Medina). But a serious question remained about the flyweight phenom, namely, whether removed from the hothouse atmosphere of Europe, the desert flower could still bloom in the "Rocky"-er soil of U.S. competition? The answer would be provided by Kevin Kelley, a former titlist whose resiliency, toughness and ring savvy were well-documented. (Do you remember the Troy Dorsey fight that set Punchstat records for most feverish action?) Clearly, Prince Naseem would have a chance to put paid to any doubts once and for all. He would have one of boxing's most venerable stages, perhaps the major cable network in boxing's biggest market, and an opponent who had received the imprimatur of the hardcore fight mob. Now, all he had to do was show up and get the job done. And he did so, splendidly.
The Artist Currently Known As Prince got things off to a rollicking start with an entrance that made up in duration what it lacked in choreography. Naz forced hometown hero Kelley to cool his heels in the ring for a good ten minutes as his silhouette mugged, pranced, swivelled and preened behind a backlit screen in a scene that seemed to be choreographed by Adrian Lyne and Jennifer Beals. "Nazdance," perhaps? (Note to Naseem: those drunken, knock-kneed stoops may play well in the dance halls of Trenchtown, but at MSG, they simply mean that you should have hit the facilities before you slid on the foul protector...) As a general rule, it's not wise to make NYC fans, whose bullshit detectors are among the most sensitive in sports, wait, but there was something fascinating in watching Naz try the crowd's patience while Kelley yowled from atop the top rope, WWF style. The music, an odd concatenation of reggae, hip-hop, house and hard techno (your review, Del???) was light-years cooler than the typical ringwalk slop, and earned England's Ministry of Sound Michael Buffer's first live advert. Larry Merchant may know a thing or two about boxing, but his statement that Naz had "seen a few too many Earth Wind & Fire concerts" shows he's a little punchdrunk and over-the-hill in the tuneage dept., a fact that even his last ditch quoting of Chumbawamba could not cure. Personally, I miss the nubian bearers, but the whole spectacle had the cheap but thrilling adrenaline rush of the best junk-food culture. It was awful, silly, infuriating, and maddeningly enjoyable, like a Superman movie or a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
But there was nothing cartoonish about the brawl that followed, each man grimly determined, the showboating kept to a blissful minimum, Kelley pressing forward behind a hard right jab and Naz shifting between southpaw and conventional styles, intently searching for openings and firing lightning-sharp knockdown shots between the methodical onslaught of the implacable, but, on this night, out-strategized Kelley.
In the first round, Naz prowled, earnest, moving from stance to stance, his faster hands beating Kelley with jabs and straight rights. Kelley looked sluggish, but may have stolen the round when he scored a flash knockdown, catching Hamed with a looping right to the neck as the Prince pulled out. Kelley turned the tide in the second frame, stiffening Hamed with a long left and right, notching knockdown number two. But, again, Naz was not hurt in any lasting way. The first meaningful knockdown came when Naz floored Kevin with a solid, sneak right hand to the jaw later in the second, and, after wild swings by both, the round ended in a stalemate, the fighters circling at ring center, having tasted each other's power and survived. In the third, Hamed seemed to be recouping energy, allowing Kelley to dictate with his jabs and power shots. The ending came suddenly in the fourth round, Hamed first flooring a dazed and amused Kelley with two hard inside lefts which decisively turned the tide of the fight at the midpoint of the stanza, then (after a meaningless Hamed slip was ruled a knockdown by ref Benjy Estaves) closing the deal with a crushing left hand to the temple. Kelley staggered to his feet after taking a count of eight, but his rise was too tentative and unsteady, and the fight was wisely halted.
A.J. Liebling once described Jersey Joe Walcott falling after a Marciano punch as seeming "like flour flowing down a chute." A more apt description of Kelley-Hamed would have Kelley finally falling somewhat more harshly and suddenly, like Tom Arnold's TV ratings, or certain Asian currency indices. It's fortunate that the bout ended with a KO; with so many knockdowns, how would a judge have scored the fight? Would the contest have been given to the fighter who bounced the highest?
Naseem's victory was everything he could have hoped for. It was exciting, suspenseful and, ultimately, convincing. Ironically, Naz's suspect chin -- coupled with his KO power -- will work in his favor, much as it did for Thomas Hearns. Fans will always be on the edge of their seats, waiting to see if the Prince will eat or be eaten, beat or be beaten. It's a potent effect that has been known to work box office magic for charismatic performers (I use the word "performer" advisedly). And charisma Hamed has in long supply. Kelley earns no demerits and may, after his gutsy performance, very well earn himself a highly remunerative rematch. Few who watched what was quickly dubbed "the featherweight Hagler-Hearns" would balk at tuning in for another go-round.
Perhaps the only blot on this stellar bout was the relentless self-promotion of HBO's announcers, who made numerous references to "the contract" as if Prince Naseem's legal obligations to Home Box Office were a matter of high priority to tired, workaday Friday night fight watchers.
The co-feature was a scrap that would have topped any other card, any other place, on any other night. Kennedy McKinney, correctly banking on the suspect stamina of WBO junior feather champ "Poison" Junior Jones, rebounded from a round three left-right pummeling to stop a panting Jones in the fourth with no less than five thudding overhand rights. The last of these was a frightening, whipsaw punch that Jones seemed to turn into; it left him stumbling at McKinney's feet like a pre-teen who had found the keys to daddy's liquor cabinet. It was a fine and timely win for McKinney and, perhaps the start of a new upswing in a somewhat wavering career. The only disquieting note: the hail of paper cups that flew into the ring as the fight was stopped, Jones prone on the canvas, his legs without a hint of steel. Did these ringside cannibals want to see Jones propped up to take more uncontested blows? No one wants to see a good fight end, but another Gerald McClellan incident is the last thing this embattled sport needs.
The moral of the story tonight was that if fans suffered long enough in faithful silence, someday, someday, our Prince would come. Prince Naz, based upon tonight's showing, could reinvigorate the sport with his playful, tongue-in-cheek "man you love to hate" routine, a bit that comes backed with explosive and entertaining skills. It's a schtick with stick. And the Prince's exoticism, the glistening glamour of 21st-century, neon-lit rave culture that the Euro-icon has carried with him from the streets of Sheffield and London, will both be welcome changes from the endless thudding of gangsta rap, the rote pre-fight trash-talk, the fungible style of uninspired and workmanlike rent-a-champs. Whether Naseem Hamed will live up to his unlimited promise and the megabucks expectations of the pundits is anyone's guess. But at least we know that when great fighters square off without distraction, hokum or chicanery, boxing can still be a thrilling and uplifting sporting experience. From the buzz of the crowd before Kelley and Naz's respective entrances, to the fighters' warm embraces and smiles of mutual respect after the bout's finish, it was a shot in the arm to a sport that was seriously ailing in the wake of the Foreman-Briggs lunacy. And, did anyone notice that there were no Don Kings, Bob Arums or Larry Hazzards to be seen? Coincidence, I guess...
And, somewhere, in the wilds of Maryland, out in Sugar Ray country, a mystery man named Calvin Claxton crumples up and tosses away a scrawled-upon cocktail napkin that reads "Kelley: 30, Hamed: 24." Alas, for every Prince, a frog...
In the first fight, Kennedy McKinney came from behind to knock out Junior Jones. In the first round, a head-butt opened a cut under Jones' right eye. Jones punished McKinney mercilessly in the second. In the third he floored "The King".
In the fourth round, Jones was just pooped out, he went down early in the round, but it was ruled a slip. Jones nearly fell through the ropes later in the round. When he came back to fight, he literally collapsed from exhaustion.
It was a technical knockout for McKinney, at 2:27 of the fourth round. McKinney improved to 33-2-1, while Jones slid to 44-3. Jones was off of two consecutive wins over Marco Antonio Barrera, who knocked out McKinney in a grueling war in 1996.
The problem with Jones was that he smelled his own blood, and wanted to get it (the fight) over with, in the process he punched himself out (like Ali-Foreman).
In the second main event, "Prince" Naseem Hamed exchanged many knockdowns with Kevin Kelley to the point where Kelley was on the canvas on his knees being counted out. It was Hamed's USA Debut.
In a 10-minute walk-in (which was a total waste of time), Hamed showed he had little maturity while he danced to the ring, this was very frustrating for Kelley, who almost got in a fight with Hamed during the referee's instructions.
Hamed was controlling the first round until Kelley caught him with a beautiful uppercut that put Naz on the canvas. In the second, Kelley again putting pressure on Hamed, he hit Hamed with a right that put Naz down again. Hamed got up and Kelley decked him again, and he was down again.
Later in the round, Kelley was caught with two shots that put him down. The third round was the only one that did not have any knockdowns. Nonetheless, Kelley controlled the pace.
In the fourth, Kelley was put down again early in the round with two powerful lefts. Kelley hit Hamed hard and Hamed's glove grazed the canvas. It was called a knockdown. Kelley was put down again later in the round he got to his knees but no further by the count of 10. With that, Hamed improved to 29-0, with 27 KO's. Kelley downed to 47-2-2, with 35 by knockout.
Kelley brought Hamed no appreciation after the fight, Naz told Kelley that he was the best fighter he ever faced... and that he was the best fighter Kelley faced.
Hamed's going to get it, he lays himself open for a big power punch, if he moves up to 130 pounds, Arturo Gatti would knock him out easily.
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