Glam Rocked Prince Naseem Hamed's glitz was no match for the grit of Marco Antonio Barrera in their featherweight showdown

April 15, 2001

The kid was just crass,
He was the Nazz, with God-given ass,
He took it all too far,
But, boy, could he play guitar.
--David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust

The knockout Artist Currently Known As Prince finally got around
to playing Las Vegas last Saturday. Prince Naseem Hamed, boxing's
self-anointed King of Pop and Drop, debuted at the MGM Grand
Garden Arena with an entrance as gaudy as anything Bowie ever
staged. "This place is built for entertainers like me," Hamed
said before his featherweight showdown with Marco Antonio
Barrera. "It's the flamboyance and all that rubbish."

Flamboyant doesn't begin to describe the 27-year-old Naz, a
preening narcissist with an impregnable ego, a ragged, sometimes
buffoonish fighting style and a career--in spite of his
pyrotechnic punching power--that's been longer on hubris than
athletic performance. His ring persona owes less to Muhammad Ali
than to Michael Jackson, who inspired him, at 11, to sew
gold-braided epaulets onto his ring robe. "When I win, I send
shock waves through the boxing world," said Hamed, who had won
all 35 of his bouts and had held WBC, IBF and WBO titles at
various weights. "I've brought sparkle to the game."

Against Barrera, he didn't even bring that. Sloppy and
ill-prepared, he lost a unanimous decision to a super
bantamweight fighting at 126 pounds for the first time. Hamed
had expected Barrera to stalk him and slug away. Instead,
Barrera conducted a masterly boxing clinic that left the
Englishman looking as off-balance as a one-legged man in an
arse-kicking contest.

Hamed is renowned for punching his way out of trouble from any
position. Yet a long series of indifferent outings against
limited opponents had raised questions about his legacy. Most
embarrassing was his 12-round decision over Cesar Soto in
Detroit 18 months ago. Hamed fought listlessly and was nearly
disqualified for body-slamming Soto to the canvas. Afterward,
the Prince apologized to HBO.

With his stock dipping, Hamed enlisted former HBO boxing czar Lou
DiBella as his U.S. adviser. DiBella advised him to take on
Barrera. As promoter Bob Arum said, "In the States, interest in
the lighter divisions is largely Hispanic. To draw crowds here,
Naz needed to fight a name Hispanic."

Barrera was that name, and he was the most dangerous opponent
Hamed had faced. A month older than the Prince and, at 5'7", four
inches taller, the one-time law student from Mexico City had been
in 15 world-title bouts during a 55-fight career. "I've delivered
more knockouts [38] than Hamed has had fights," he said before
the bout, "and against better opposition."

Defeat doesn't seem to faze Barrera. He recovered brilliantly
from his three losses--the most recent a close decision to
countryman Erik Morales 14 months ago. The result of that brutal,
action-packed title fight was so widely disputed that the WBO
declared Barrera the rightful winner and reinstated him as super
bantamweight champ.

Barrera, who has been dubbed the Baby-Faced Assassin, is a
virtuoso technician whose compact style relies on sustained
aggression. "Antonio dissects opponents like a surgeon," says
veteran trainer Joe Goossen. Barrera was so sure he would beat
Hamed that he commissioned an oil painting depicting him
celebrating above the prone Prince. It hangs in his parents'
home.

Hamed couldn't picture losing. "I'm going to take Barrera out in
devastating style with unbelievably hard shots," he predicted.
"He's tailor-made for me, and I will fit him with a suit to wear
on the canvas."

Though no significant title was at stake, the bout was the
richest in the history of the featherweight division. The Prince
pocketed a princely $6 million; the Pauper's share was $1.9
million.

As always, Hamed's ring entrance was far more lavish than his
exit. He doesn't merely swagger in, he rides in on magic carpets,
on cranes, on torrents of extravagant self-assurance. At the MGM
Grand he rode a swing over the crowd amid fireworks and confetti.
Along the way a fan drenched him in beer. From then on things
only got worse for the unfresh Prince.

Patiently, craftily, Barrera stood back and worked Hamed's body.
He staggered him twice in Round 1, buckled his knees in Round 4
and had him teetering at the finish. Hamed didn't appear to have
a Plan A, much less a Plan B. He rarely threw his vaunted left
uppercut, and despite the fact that Barrera held his fists up by
his ears, Hamed didn't land a single body blow. "I kept waiting
for him to charge me," Hamed more or less explained. "My strategy
was to throw one punch and knock him out."

Some strategy. By the time Hamed's corner realized that Barrera
wasn't coming forward, the fight was half over. Posing and
prancing, Hamed held his hands at waist level for much of the
bout, twirling his lead hand in circles without scoring. Each
time Barrera connected--an increasingly frequent occurrence as the
fight progressed--Hamed sneered and retreated. "Maybe I tried too
hard," the Prince offered weakly. "I never handled him the way I
wanted to."

While Hamed played the ineffectual glam rocker, Barrera may have
been closer to Mel Torme, the Velvet Fog. "Naz would throw a
punch, and no one would be there," Goossen said. "Barrera would
duck beneath his jabs, step to the side and land a few body shots
on the way out. Or he'd take two steps back and run to the wing,
leaving Hamed to lunge at the mist."

At times, the high jinks of Hamed-Barrera resembled something out
of Hanna-Barbera. When the Prince tried to wrestle him to the mat
in Round 2, Barrera answered with a forearm to his head. After
Hamed popped Barrera as the two broke from a clinch in the sixth
round, Barrera slugged him and kept walking. After Hamed missed
with a left in the 12th, Barrera locked him in a full nelson and
slammed him into a turnbuckle. "Barrera beat Hamed at his own
dirty game," said Goossen. "He outwitted, outmaneuvered and
outboxed him."

Twelve rounds of bowie-knife-sharp counterpunching reduced Hamed
from Ziggy Stardust to the Man Who Fell to Earth. Defeat humbled
Hamed. "I'm not immortal," he revealed for the first time. "I'm
not unbeatable. Barrera was the pure winner of this fight. He
fought better than I did, and that's it, plain and simple."

As Elvis told one of his corn-fed costars, "That ain't tactics,
baby, that's the beast in me."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN IACONO Royal flushed The rugged Barrera, a veteran of 15 world-title fights, outsmarted and outpunched the heavily favored Hamed.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)