For a time, Naseem Hamed – other Prince Naseem – was considered to be the greatest fighter on the planet. His agility, speed of thought and dexterity made him stand head and shoulders above his rivals and contemporaries at the time. By the time Naseems 1997 bout with Kevin Kelley arrived at Madison Square Garden, New York, he was already becoming one of the main box office hits in the entire boxing world.
He was defending his WBO Featherweight Title, and it was his ninth defence. Going into the fight with a record of 28-0-0, with 26 KOs, Kelley was the overwhelming underdog with the entire crowd and, in truth, the majority of the boxing world backing Naseem. With his amazing agility, Naseem was able to quickly get around the balanced fighting style of Kelley and put him in his place, despite the 7” reach advantage of Kelley.
It was the first visit of Naseem to the US, and he had a lot of work to do – the States were unconvinced by his qualities, and he was seen as a showman rather than a genuine boxer by some. However, his hilarious speed matches with a lethal jab quickly asserted Naseem as the one to beat for many, and going up against the powerful Kelley in his own arena was sure to be the biggest test yet of the young Naseem.
Entering the ring in the most outrageous, Naseem style possible he made a trademark entrance to wow the Americans, and got the fight off to a rambunctious start. As soon as the bell went, though, that was it. Kelley was in serious trouble. The whirlwind pace of Naseem had him on the back foot right away, and with his agility keeping him well out of the way of any attacks or counters led by Kelley, Naseem quickly overwhelmed the big American. Kelley caught Naseem with a great punch coming up for the end of the round, but with Naseem brushing it off as it was nothing.
Kelley started well in the second round and consecutive knockdowns had the crowd baying for the blood of Prince Naseem. Not to be, however, as despite slowing down Naseem and creating a rhythm for himself, Kelley eventually succumbed to the incredible pace and movement of the Prince. The leaping right-hand hook following by the left was the finishing move in the 4th round, and instantly Naseem established himself as one of the true greats in the boxing scene for years to come.