THE SPOTLIGHT tracked him intently as boos cascaded down from the hostile crowd, drowning out the insouciant braggart’s entrance theme. Strutting along as if he had not a care in the world, the 20-year-old Naseem Hamed rotated his head, first left then right, taking in his surroundings, appearing to derive equal pleasure from the smiles and the sneers. Unbeaten Laureano Ramirez was the designated victim that November 2004 evening, but the contest was notable more for its ominous setting. Cardiff was the hometown of Naz’s rival and probable future opponent, then-WBO featherweight champion Steve Robinson, and, in destroying the Dominican in three exhilarating rounds, Hamed made an indelible impression upon his rival’s partisan countrymen.
Meanwhile, throughout the nation, countless teenagers stared wide-eyed at their TV screens, fiercely battling tiredness while drunk on a cocktail of freedom and vicarious rebellion. I should know; I was one of them.
The Welsh fans’ antipathy would have little negative effect on the Sheffielder’s unshakeable confidence; Hamed would return to Cardiff five fights and 10 months later to decimate and dethrone the local hero, clowning and scintillating his way to a widely anticipated coronation.