It doesn't matter whether you think Prince Naseem Hamed is a unique boxing prodigy or the fight game's biggest fraud....his 11th round knockout of Paul Ingle tonight supplied ample evidence to support either claim. Along side the devastating punching was the porous defense, and accompanying the bravado was the determination of a champion. It was, simply, Hamed at his best and worst wrapped into one.
Coming off his unanimous decision victory over Irishman Wayne McCullough, Hamed was at a turning point in his career. His failure to dispose of McCullough within the distance had brought on new criticism, and Paul Ingle was chosen as the sacrificial lamb. Avoiding, for the time, more formidable challenges within the division, Hamed instead sought out Ingle, a former European featherweight champion. Luckily, the capable Ingle had other plans.
Ingle began the night by entering the ring with some flashing lights, smoke and pyrotechnics of his own, and then left the ring when Hamed's own entrance proved too long for his taste. Whether he was upstaging the Prince or simply falling into his game is subject to debate, but at some point in the convoluted proceedings, the fight finally began.
The fighters circled each other in the first, Naz evaluating Ingle's tight hands-high defense while the challenger was hypnotized by the stance-switching style of the champion. Finally, Hamed tested the waters with some power shots. His uppercut spun into Ingle's chin, his right hook caught Ingle off guard, and Hamed's straight left was as thudding as ever. Halfway through the round, and early in the action, Hamed landed a well timed double left hook. The first shook Ingle's body and the second crashed into Ingle's face sending him onto his back. A shaken Ingle beat the count and Hamed jumped on him. Putting his punches together, Hamed twice battered Ingle to the ropes. But Ingle would not fall again, and the final bell gave him a respite.
The second round was more of the same as Hamed again had his way with Ingle. The Yorkshire Hunter was eating power shots from Hamed that were coming from all angles, including some rarely seen body shots from Naseem. Again, Ingle survived the round, but after 6 minutes he had done virtually nothing offensively in the fight.
In the third, Ingle got a break from the hailstorm of punches, as Hamed dropped his output considerably. Instead of throwing punches in bunches, Hamed opted to drop home run punch after home run punch, one at a time. He landed enough solid blows to win the next three rounds, but the fight quickly became boring and flashbacks of the long McCullough decision silenced the previously vocal live crowd.
Throwing a shutout into the sixth frame, Hamed did the unthinkable: he listened to his trainer. New cornerman Oscar Suarez pleaded with Hamed to go to the body, and when he did, it paid dividends. Hamed reached under Ingle's guard to his midsection throughout the round until a beautifully timed left hook to the side dropped Ingle to the canvas. Struggling to catch his breath, Ingle finished out the round and fell further behind.
In the seventh and eighth, Hamed returned to throwing more than one punch at a time, albeit in short spurts. Nonetheless, the bursts of attempts boosted the number of connects, and Hamed was crunching Ingle with every shot. Having lost every round so far, and with Hamed coming on with a second wind, Ingle finally decided to fight back. Ingle might have stolen the eighth round with his late rally, but definitely won the ninth round as he put some hurt on Hamed.
Although Ingle's offense was limited, he was able to tag the Prince in the ninth repeatedly and soon Hamed's face was covered in blood. Bleeding profusely out of his nose, and later his mouth, Hamed was visibly distracted by his hampered breathing. Spurred on by the blood, Ingle attacked, landing his left hook with increasing frequency, often catching Hamed precisely when the Prince was changing stances. As the challenger gave his best, the crowd loudly cheered him on.
With an opportunity before him, Ingle seized his chance. He came out quickly in the tenth and again landed his left hook at will. Crisp right hands swiveled Hamed's head more than once and for the first time all night, Hamed shuffled around the ring looking for a way stop the incoming. Brave Paul Ingle pressed forward. With his mouth hanging open so that he could breath, Hamed took a good old fashioned beating in round ten and suddenly the boring fight came alive with drama.
It was short lived.
In the eleventh round, Ingle again rushed the Prince...but Hamed was waiting for him. Hamed retreated as Ingle charged. Backed into a corner, Hamed planted himself as Ingle came in and with one punch it was over. It was the same punch that finished Kevin Kelley...a wrecking ball overhand left that cracked into the right side of the forehead...and it had the same effect. Ingle froze in place for one second, then collapsed backwards like a tipped over mannequin. Clearly hurt, Ingle somehow made it to his feet before nine, but was extremely wobbly and not entirely responsive. Referee Joe Cortez properly stopped the fight, giving Hamed one of his most exciting finishes to date. Hamed KO11.
At times in the fight, Hamed paraded the skills that have won him so many fans: awesome power, unthinkable punching angles, and championship will to win. But he's also clearly showing holes in his game: he is open to be hit, he relies on one-punch kayo power, and he has consistent hand problems. It was a hand injury that delayed his later-canceled fight with Kennedy McKinney (a delay many wrote off as simply Hamed wanting to stay home with his newly born child), he broke his left hand in the McCullough fight, and claimed to have broken it again on Paul Ingle's skull. For a banger like Hamed, it's a problem that will likely follow him his entire career.
Despite his weaknesses, Hamed (32-0/29) continues to be one of the most exciting boxers in the game today. His complete dominance brought him to the forefront, but it's the fact that he now also looks so clearly beatable that ups the ante even higher. Walking the tightrope between loss and victory the way Hamed did tonight only increases his appeal. Whether you watch because you love him or because you hate him, you're guaranteed to be watching.
-On the undercard, Junior Jones snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat in his bout with Richard Evatt. The unheralded Evatt dropped Jones in the opening round with a barrage of punches, and again sent Jones down with a devastating flush right hand in the eighth. Looking shot and trailing badly in the fight, Jones threw a left hook in the eleventh round that dropped Evatt for the count. It was a punch that saved a career that probably should have ended last year. Jones may have won, be he again took a beating to earn it.
-Also on the card, fighting after the Hamed-Ingle affair, Tommy Hearns continued his unlikely comeback by widely outpointing Nate Miller in a cruiserweight bout. Picking up the fringe IBO 190 lb. title, Hearns and Miller was an unexciting matchup in which Miller again looked simply apathetic in his fighting style. Hearns is seeking one more title before retiring, and this victory over Miller certainly lines him up for one.