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Sunday Punch: ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed and Kevin Kelley go to war in six-knockdown epic

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“Prince” Naseem Hamed’s US debut was an unforgettable six-knockdown classic.

Hard to believe it’s been 23 years since the “Prince” arrived in the United States from the United Kingdom and gave the fans one hell of a rollercoaster ride against “The Flushing Flash.”

Naseem Hamed was a superstar in the United Kingdom and the reigning WBO featherweight champion. His power, speed, unorthodox fighting style, weird angles, outsized personality, and in-ring showmanship made him a must-see attraction. HBO signed the Brit to an exclusive US rights deal and he made his American debut against Kevin Kelley at Madison Square Garden in New York. Kelley was the former WBC champion and had only lost once out of 50 professional fights.

Well if Hamed thought he could easily beat up Kelley in his own backyard, he was dead wrong. It was Kelley who scored the first knockdown in the opening round and only the second knockdown suffered by Hamed in his career. Kelley put Hamed down again early in round two when Hamed’s gloves touched the canvas. Hamed appeared to drop Kelley shortly thereafter but it was ruled a slip. No controversy just seconds later when a big right hand put Kelley on his backside. In the fourth round, Hamed put Kelley down a second time on a leaping left. Kelley beat the count and then he eventually landed a right hand and Hamed’s glove again touched the canvas, so a knockdown was scored. It was clearly not a shot that hurt Hamed but thems the rules. Not to worry for Hamed, as he belted Kelley one more time for the sixth knockdown of the night. Kelley was badly hurt and while he was up at ten he was in no shape to continue.

Watch the highlights at the top of the page. By the way, Hamed’s reported purse was $2,000,000 while Kelley’s was $500,000. In 1997. On a regular HBO card. As featherweights.

Hamed took a proper schooling from Marco Antonio Barrera in 2001 and lost his undefeated record and status as the best featherweight in world boxing. After a lackluster win over Miguel Calvo a year later, Hamed stopped competing and cited chronic hand injuries as a chief reason for retirement. At just 28 years old he was done with a 36-1 (31 KOs) record, but his post-fighting career was marred by legal problems and criminal activity in his home country. He occasionally pops up as an analyst on British television and he has certainly packed on the pounds since retirement.

Kelley (60-10-2, 39 KOs) never challenged for a major title again but did have notable bouts against Frankie Archuleta, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, and Humberto Soto later on in his career. He retired in 2009 and briefly served as an analyst for HBO and ESPN. On one December night in his home city, he and Hamed delivered a classic.