Today we look at some of the tricks which made Naseem Hamed such an enigmatic and problematic fighter for his opponents.
Prince Naseem was a wonderful phenomenon in the boxing world - a featherweight fighter of the Roy Jones Jr. mold who fought with such flair and creativity that he was ultimately reviled by boxing elitists. It seems that when a fighter who always fights in the style displayed in textbooks starts to slow down and lose bouts it is just natural decline, but when Jones Jr. and Hamed eventually lost it was as if their style had been somehow exposed as all natural talent and no science. This is both unfair and untrue, both Jones Jr. and Hamed could have remained in obscurity as orthodox boxers, it was their style and tricks that allowed them to excel at the highest level - by merit of exploiting the holes in orthodox technique.
The boxing world in general hates switch hitters - mainly because the vast majority of coaches cannot teach the southpaw vs orthodox (or Open Guard as I term it) style of fighting nearly as well - but also because the boxing world hates change.
Prince Naseem Hamed Highlights (by GP) (via gorillaproductions03)
Had Naseem Hamed not come from Wincobank gym in Sheffield under the great and consistently under-rated trainer, Brendan Ingle, he would likely not have been half the fighter he was. In fact once Naseem Hamed left Brendan Ingle and began to train with the late Emmanuel Steward (a great trainer of more orthodox boxers, particularly out fighters) and Oscar Suarez that he began to look lackluster even against fighters such as Augie Sanchez. Brendan Ingle's charges have always been taught the art of fighting with both left and right foot forward and square or side on. Ingle was reportedly inspired by his early work with Herol Graham - a wonderfully unorthodox British boxer who has been called the best British boxer to never win a world title. It has also been said that Graham was the master of pulling defeat from the jaws of victory.
Most coaches consider it important to focus on one stance and getting everything perfect - Ingle's style of coaching is certainly controversial but it plays to the imperfect nature of human beings. Ingle's fighters aren't the fastest, but where an orthodox boxer will go through 10 or 12 rounds looking pretty samey, the Wincobank brand of boxing offers a fighter 4 different games from which he may have one or two set ups or counters which he likes to practice most. Hamed could have had a pretty mediocre career as a gloves up, one stance boxer - instead he carved out a chunk of boxing history by mixing things up. His game wasn't hugely complex but the constant changes of stance and unorthodox technique bewildered everyone he met, even as he became more and more one dimensional up until his fight with Barerra.
The Counter Right Hook
It is interesting that Hamed is remembered mainly for his wild offense and unpredictable swings but the meat of his game was drawing his opponent into uncomfortable exchanges. Hamed's wide stance was his base from which he would throw his back handed jab.
This type of jab is pretty poor form for a southpaw vs orthodox exchange typically, Hamed's right hand will easily be parried or blocked by Steve Robinson's left and that will open the opportunity for Robinson to move in with his own jab or combination.
Leaning forward at the waist, Hamed would whip out this backhanded jab, then sliding his rear foot further behind him he would lean back as his opponent came in. Hamed would swing his hand low from the inside of his opponent's lead shoulder to the outside and unleash a short, clubbing right hook which, if the orthodox opponent was jabbing, would clip him over the temple or jaw. The above sequence is from the very beginning of the Steve Robinson bout and you can see that even though he attempts to take the offensive, Robinson is quickly forced back onto the defensive, standing in front of Naz with his gloves to his head.
Here is a nice example from later in the first round - Robinson commits to the jab this time and gets clubbed with a right hook for his troubles. Notice how Hamed is almost completely side on - making himself an even more difficult target as he leans away from Robinson.
Here are a few more examples of Hamed finding his clubbing right hook as his opponents moved forward to catch him. The act of jabbing haphazardly seemed to expose openings to his opponents which he then intended to use for counter punches. An observation which pundits continued to make was that Naseem Hamed made good boxers look very ordinary - and the HBO commentary team took this idea further by commenting on the punch numbers of Hamed's opponents. Naseem Hamed made good boxers look average because his unorthodox counters - particularly the lean back right hook - caused opponents who usually threw 80 punches a round to sit back and throw 30 punches a round without combinations.
With his opponents reluctant to attack for fear of over-committing the Prince would start to work his offense.
The Corkscrew Uppercut
Hamed's go to offensive weapon was the corkscrew lead uppercut. It is a testament to the efficacy of this technique that for quite some time before his loss to Barrera, Hamed was relying more and more on this weapon alone. The majority of Hamed's opponents kept their left glove high to protect the side of their head from Hamed's constant right hooks. This opened up the opportunity for Hamed to attack inside their left hand from underneath. Hamed would move his head to the outside of their lead shoulder - as if to wind up for a lead hook - then driving a hard, lancing punch up off of his lead leg.
A great many fighters have used a sort of lead uppercut - straight hybrid to confound their opponents such as Alistair Overeem and Marvin Hagler - but southpaws who use it as a power punch are rare, and no-one did it as consistently against champions, future champions and former champions as Naseem Hamed.
Notice how Hamed moves his head to the right and keeps it there during the punch. His right hand travels straight inside of his opponent's elevated lead hand with ease and power. Notice that Hamed's palm is pointing upward and the slight bend in Hamed's arm removes the ability of his opponent to jam the punch as he could if it were a simply hard straight.
Here's another look, notice how Hamed is well outside of his opponent's lead arm, and far away from his rear one, meaning he is in little danger of being struck. Notice also how he takes a dominant angle as he leaps.
While Hamed his jumping into his corkscrew uppercut, he is moving his feet into a dominant position from which he can throw his less dexterous but powerful left hand. Here's a great gif of one of several finishes he scored off of this combination.
While this has only been a brief look at the Prince's strategies - I will do a more in depth one at some point - I hope that I have been able to demonstrate to some extent that it wasn't entirely dumb luck or magical genetics that made Prince Naseem such a devastating knockout artist against good boxers. In the coming weeks we will also take a look at the great Roy Jones Jr. and perhaps some more of my favourite boxers.