ON this day 21 years ago, featherweights Naseem Hamed and Kevin Kelley produced a slugfest of the ages. Sheffield’s Hamed, then unbeaten and at his sizzling peak, was on a mission to conquer America. This fight was his first bout in the US.
Kelley, a former WBC 126-pound champion, was experienced and he resented Hamed coming to his “house” of Madison Square Garden to fight him on his New York turf. The two southpaws duked it out in a fight that was so good, HBO commentator Larry Merchant called it “a featherweight version of Hagler-Hearns.”
Hamed, then aged 23 and sporting a 28-0 (26) record, had won significant fights prior to his US debut, including his brilliant September 1995 stoppage win over Steve Robinson to win the WBO featherweight crown. But the defence against Kelley, who was 47-1-2 (32), marked a considerable step up in class for the cocksure “Prince.” Kelley, beaten only by incredibly tough Mexican Alejandro Gonzalez (in a war that saw both men hit the canvas before Kelley was pulled out by his corner at the conclusion of the 10th-round of a great action fight) was fast, powerful and mentally and physically strong. “The Flushing Flash” was certain he would take Hamed’s title.