A 21-year-old “Prince” Naseem Hamed taunted, toyed with and took apart a stoic Steve Robinson with aplomb, in front of vociferous Welsh crowd, at Cardiff Arms Park on September 30, 1995.
In every generation there are fighters that zig while the world zags. Rare talents that transcend the sport, capturing fame and fortune doing things that haven’t been done. Naseem Hamed, although yet to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, was of this breed. A leopard-skinned scourge on the featherweight division, with bags of self belief and freakish one-punch power.
In September 1995, the Yorkshireman, who had been swatting bantamweights for fun, was manoeuvred into a mandatory position for the WBO featherweight crown. Welsh world champion, Steve Robinson, would be Hamed’s first fight at feather.
Robinson was a solid fighter, and with seven successive defences to his credit, no paper champion. Pockets of the media made a case for Robinson, heralding his size, power and durability as the answer to challenger’s fluidity.
On paper the odds were stacked against the self-styled prince; fighting a respected champion in his backyard, stepping up in weight and challenging for a world title for the first time. The bookies however, had Hamed a firm favourite to do a number on the “Cinderella Man”.
Hamed exuded self-confidence which would often boil over into distasteful goading of opponents. In the build-up to his maiden championship showdown, the Sheffield man commissioned a van to curb crawl the streets of Cardiff to deliver a message to the champion.
“I’m the prince. I’m going to be king. Make sure you are there for the coronation. Steve Robinson come out and fight me,” blared a recorded message.
On a wet and windy September night at Cardiff rugby club, the talking was done. Hamed entered Robinson’s 16,000 man stronghold with swagger. Responding to the partisan crowd with extraordinary extravagance and bravado, Hamed delivered his first statement performance.
Robinson, drudging forward with a high guard, attempting to patiently get into range to build pressure on the cocky challenger, was out-fought and out-muscled from the opener. Hamed danced between stances, exhibiting outrageous reflexes, and dispirited Robinson with shots he didn’t see coming. Most attacks coming the over way whistled past the acrobatic challenger into the night air.
In round five, Hamed, who spent much of the first half with a smile on his face, suddenly dropped the histrionics and unloaded a purposeful assault, connecting with three big hooks and an uppercut sending the tired looking champion to the canvas. Robinson did well to get up and hear the bell.
Hamed, looking like he’d barely broken sweat during his spell bounding performance, came out in the eighth and landed a pinpoint left hook, taking the champion’s legs away. The referee had seen enough of the one-way punishment and waved off the contest.
“Prince” Naseem Hamed would retire with a solitary defeat on his record – a points loss to Marco Antonio Barerra. If Hamed had remained as focused as he was in Cardiff, at that stage in his career, he would already be a Hall of Famer.