“Prince” Naseem Hamed – Hall of Fame Worthy?

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By: Steve Gallegos

This past weekend in London, over 18,000 fans packed the ExCel Arena to watch Tyson Fury take on Dereck Chisora. One of those fans on hand to watch the event was former featherweight kingpin “PrinceNaseem Hamed. In between rounds of one of the bouts, we caught an glimpse of Hamed via the TV cameras. “Naz” looked to be a shell of his former self as he has put on a significant amount of weight over the years; however he still sported that same smile he had when he ruled the 126 lb division for the latter half of the 1990’s.

Every couple of years the discussion arises about whether Hamed should be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY. “Naz” left behind a legacy of dominance and showmanship and many believe it was a legacy uncompleted. Many fans remember Hamed for his arrogance and felt he was a fraud instead of a legitimate champion. We are going to focus why “Naz” is Hall of Fame worthy and as well as giving this man some shine that he deserves.

Hamed set the standard for flashy ring entrances as his entrances were a mix of smoke, lights, music and dancing. He always had a new trick up his sleeve, whether it was being brought out on a magic carpet or coming into the ring in a Chevy Impala Convertible. His entrances were lengthy and most times it would frustrate his opponent, allowing “Naz” to get inside of their head. Almost each and every ring entrance was topped off by a front sommersault over the top rope into the ring. He was also great at hyping up a fight and he knew how to get inside of his opponent’s head by belittling them during press conferences and telling them that he was going to knock them out, most of the time making good on his promises.

Inside the ring, he was a master showman. He was a very unorthodox southpaw who held his hands low and threw punches from the most akward angles. He had tremendous power in either hand as he scored sensational knockouts. Hamed was never in a bad fight and even though he tasted the canvas on many occasions, he would always rise to his feet and knock his opponent out. (Ie; his sensational knockout win over Kevin Kelley in which both fighters scored three knockdowns each.) He was a major draw no matter where he fought and he would pack huge arenas in the UK as well as the U.S.

He also helped put the featherweight division on the map in the 90’s and would win three world titles en-route to earning million dollar paydays, which were unheard of for a featherweight. He won and defended his WBO featherweight title 16 times and was one of the sport’s first “Super” champions. Many believe he didn’t fight anybody good, however his resume of opponents is not bad. He beat top notch world champions such as Manuel Medina, Tom Johnson, Kevin Kelley, Wilfredo Vazquez, Wayne McCullough, Paul Ingle, Cesar Soto and Vuyani Bungu.

His record as a professional was 36-1 with 31 KO’s and his only loss came against the legendary Marco Antonio Barrera. So the question remains. Is “PrinceNaseem Hamed Hall of Fame worthy? Based on his accomplishments and the legacy he created, the answer is “Yes”. Love him or hate him, you have to respect what he has accomplished and the good he did for the sport of boxing. There wasn’t another fighter like him and he is a fighter that many of us wish was still around.

Forgotten Legends: Luisito Espinosa

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By: Steve Gallegos

Before Manny Pacquiao, before Nonito Donaire, there was Luisito Espinosa who is The Philippines unsung hero. Known as “Lindol”, which means earthquake, Espinosa was definitely a force in the featherweight division throughout the 90’s.

One boxing publication wrote about Espinosa saying that once again there was a “Thrilla in Manila”. With a tall lengthy frame and an exciting Boxer-Puncher style, Espinosa would take the featherweight division by storm.

Espinosa turned pro in 1984 and won his 1st world title in 1989 at Bantamweight and defended it twice before losing in 1991. After going 9-1 in his next 10 bouts, Espinosa was able to win another world title by outpointing Mexican Manuel Medina to win the WBC featherweight title in 1995.

After winning his 2nd world title, Espinosa would go on a hot streak in which he successfully defended his title 7 times over the next 3 years against world class opposition such as Cesar Soto, Alejandro Gonzalez, Manuel Medina in a rematch and Kennedy McKinney.

His bout with McKinney in November, 1998 would be his career defining moment as it was his 1st fight in front of a national audience on HBO. McKinney was coming off of his career best performance by dethroning Super Bantamweight Kingpin Junior Jones by an impressive 4th round KO. The prize was the opportunity to challenge the “Cash Cow” of the featherweight division, “Prince” Naseem Hamed. Espinosa was determined to make a statement on the biggest stage of his career and did not disappoint as he destroyed McKinney in 2 rounds.

The Hamed fight didn’t materialize and many believe the “Prince” intentionally ducked Espinosa. Espinosa chose to defend his title in a rematch with Cesar Soto and would lose a controversial unanimous decision. His career went into a downward spiral as he would lose 5 of 8 bouts from 2000-2005.

He retired from boxing in 2005 with a record of 47-13 with 26 KO’s. Today he has crossed over into the world of Mixed Martial Arts and has trained fighters such as Nick Diaz in Boxing so they can improve their stand up fighting style. While he was on the cusp of getting to that next level of stardom, he wasn’t quite able to reach the status that his successor Manny Pacquiao has reached today. He wasn’t able to climb to the top of the ladder; however he did get his foot on it.

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