Prince Naseem Hamed returned to a London boxing ring with business on his mind. Faced with his most credible opponent in some time, former junior feather champ Vuyani Bungu, Hamed replaced his dancing shoes with body shots, his in-ring grappling with crisp power punches, and his streak of uninspired showings with a stellar outing. It was the most disciplined and focused Hamed performance in many years.
Vuyani Bungu has never been a brawler. In his 14 fights since defeating Kennedy McKinney for the world title, he has seen 13 decisions. His technical boxing skills and his awkward movement have earned him a reputation of being hard to catch clean and difficult to wear down. But he had never faced a puncher with the one punch power of Hamed, and it showed.
Hamed descended from the stadium ceiling on a magic carpet. Lacking the pyrotechnics of previous entrances to the ring, it was still classic Hamed as the self-anointed Prince floated high over the heads of the capacity crowd. Once on the ground, Hamed made his way into the ring flanked by Puff Daddy, Emanuel Steward, Oscar Suarez, and other members of his entourage. Soon the fight was on.
Hamed wasted no time in establishing his power. Digging hard shots to Bungu's sides, Hamed gave notice that he was looking for an early knockout. Bungu kept his defense typically tight and began his awkward and jerky head movement. Still, Hamed was able to pot shot him. Standing with his legs far apart, Hamed's eyes fixed on the bobbing target of Bungu's head. When he saw an opening, Hamed showed that his reflexes are still sharp by firing quick stinging punches down the pike. Bungu tasted Hamed's power early, and his output diminished immediately.
Bungu landed one good punch in the opening round: a counter right that Hamed walked right into. It was a singular feat that Bungu repeated early in the second round, amounting to the extent of his effective punching. Hamed spent the second round showing his versatility as he deployed the most sustained and concentrated body attack of his entire career. Every time Bungu got close or flicked out his jab, Hamed would grunt as he buried his fists into Bungu's side.
Hamed's offense wasn't the only facet of his game that was primed. His defense was excellent. Although he didn't use much footwork, opting instead to plant and fire, he managed to avoid a great number of Bungu's attempts by quickly leaning back, watching a punch fly by, and the retaliating with a hard counter of his own. This mode of avoiding punches is never taught to young fighters, but Hamed can get away with it because of his quick reflexes. Toned, trim and in shape for this bout, Hamed's conditioning allowed him to maximize his unorthodox style.
Bungu did what he could by keeping his hands up and looking for an opportunity to land. But Bungu was also visibly hurting by the third round, when Hamed continued digging to the body and picking him off when he hesitated. Again Bungu landed a head snapping right hand counter that caught the Prince coming in, but it was not enough to keep Hamed off him. By the end of the third, Bungu looked wobbled after several successive body shots landed clean.
The fourth round was going at the same pace as the previous three. Hamed was taking his time and landing blistering punches from the southpaw stance when all of the sudden the fight was over. Hamed fired a perfect straight left hand clear through Bungu's guard and Bungu went down hard. Falling back onto his side, a stunned Bungu was stretched on the canvas, eyes wide. Trying in vain to push himself up, Bungu was waved off midway through the mandatory eight when referee Joe Cortez realized that he could probably count to 50 before Bungu got to his feet.
For Hamed, this was one of his most spectacular victories. Bungu had never been stopped, never even knocked down, in his 13 year career. Now with a single Hamed left hand, he was knocked silly. Hamed let it be known with this fight that when he is focused and well conditioned, that he remains the most dangerous puncher in all of boxing.
After the fight, Hamed brimmed with confidence as he loudly called out for a fight with undefeated Erik Morales. It remains to be seen whether this fight can be made in 2000, with Morales beginning a much needed rest after taking a vicious beating from Marco Antonio Barrera and then lined up for a shot at the vacant WBC featherweight title that Hamed was stripped of. A win over Morales, Hamed realizes, could deliver the respect that has eluded him in many circles. As the most powerful fighter below 130 pounds, Hamed would give Morales all he could handle while the bout lasted.
In a sizzling undercard bout, Mickey Ward upset undefeated Shea Neary in a classic war of attrition. During final instructions, the staredown was so intense that the two fighters literally stood with foreheads touching. They fought the same way.
For most of the 8 rounds, the battle was waged on the inside and in close quarters, with both men firing repeated body shots and flush uppercuts. Neary was hurt badly by a Ward liver shot in the first round, while Ward's entire left side was bright red after only three minutes of downstairs blows from Neary.
The bout was back and forth in every round. Mickey Ward was landing a sneaky left uppercut on the inside and switched freely between conventional and southpaw stances. Neary answered back with a determined body assault of his own mixed with a parade of left hooks that stood up a hunched over Ward time and again.
Toe to toe, the men banged and banged. Occasionally there were some jabs thrown, but mostly this was infighting and power punches. Neary took a slight advantage in the early rounds, hurting Ward on the ropes several times. But Ward proved yet again that he can take everything but the kitchen sink and still keep coming. In the seventh, Ward found some range on a tiring Neary and landed a series of head swiveling right hands. Along with an encore of right crosses in the eighth, Neary was softened up nicely for the kill.
As Neary attacked in the eighth, eating Ward's suddenly potent rights along the way, he looked to be regaining his second wind when the end came. Ward fired a left hook to the body and followed it up with a beautiful left uppercut that put Neary on his heels and then on his back, his legs swinging over his head from the force of the fall.
Neary rose looking dazed. Referee Mickey Vann, best known as the boxing judge who scored for Julio Cesar Chavez over Pernell Whitaker, gave Neary plenty of extra time. After reaching a count of eight, Vann took his time wiping off Neary's gloves and asking him if he was able to continue. The few seconds Vann afforded Neary did not make any difference. Once the fight resumed, Ward launched the same combination that sent down Neary the first time. Again a left to the body and a left uppercut hurt Neary, and again the Irish champion was on his heels, this time jogging backward across the ring as he went down hard into the turnbuckle. Vann wisely waved the fight over, giving Ward yet another upset victory late in his career. This win, televised in the UK and the U.S., may be the final push Ward needs to get a shot at a major world title. Despite a 15 year career and a tally of 35-9/26, Ward may actually be in his prime. Certainly his last several wins have shown us that Ward's experience and determination are at an all-time high. Neary dropped to 22-1/17.
© 2001 Chris Bushnell. All rights reserved.
ROUND 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 TOTAL HAMED 10 10 10 KO
BUNGU 9 9 9
ROUND 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 TOTAL WARD 10 9 9 9 10 9 10 KO
NEARY 9 10 10 10 9 10 9