One-on-One with NAZ, Prince Naseem Hamed (11/00)

He’s just 28 years old and he is already the richest featherweight in the history of boxing. He has sold out large venues even before his opponents were announced. He is fast, flashy, and flamboyant. He is undefeated. He is “Prince” Naseem Hamed, a.k.a. “Naz”. The Prince is as popular as a rock group in England. He has joined the likes of Roy Jones Jr., Oscar de la Hoya and George Foreman, with his huge HBO contract. I have to say that I was not a big fan of the Prince before I caught up with him at the Foxwoods Casino and Resort. Naz was there to fight Augie Sanchez and I figured he is a hot current fighter who might make a good interview. After talking to this gracious champ for about 45 minutes, I walked away with a whole different outlook on him. Like the old saying goes, never judge a book by it’s cover. He is truly a great guy with nothing but respect for his opponents and his peers. Read on and see just what Naz is really like.

BP: How did you get the name Prince?

NH: The name of the Prince was given to me by myself at the age of 17 or 18 when I was turning pro. I decided that I needed a name besides Naseem Hamed. Although Naseem is a great name, it means gentle breeze in Arabic. But I’m not a gentle breeze in the ring. So I needed a beautiful name. A name people would remember. A Prince will always become a king. The only thing is, with me, I have so much respect for my father, I will never try to step up to his throne. My father will always be king and on that throne. Even when he is gone, God forbid. I will always give him that respect. As an Arab, a Moslem, I’ve been brought up to respect my parents. My parents are the salt of the earth. They mean the most to me. They come directly after God. When I go to other countries and I meet the presidents they treat me like a Prince. So that’s were the name comes from. How’s that? A good answer, huh.

BP: Who was your idol while growing up?

NH: My father. My father worked his heart out. He came from thousands of miles away to Sheffield, England and he couldn’t even speak english. He didn’t know nothing about the place. He found work, found basically how to communicate, thousands a miles from his homeland. Brought up his family of, like 11 of us, including his parents. That is why the biggest idol in my life is my father. For everything he has done in life and has achieved. See I’m not one of those young guys who forget what his parents do. That’s one of my biggest things that I talk of. Up-bringing is a very, very big thing in my life. I tell my parents that if I could only just bring up my kid’s halfway or a little bit of the way you have, I’ll will be unbelievably happy because they have done one hell of a job with me today with just the way I can express myself to you.

BP: What about a sports idol, did you have one?

NH: In the sport of boxing Muhammad Ali is my biggest idol. The guy is on a platform on his own. He’s a legend, a living legend that walks today. He will always be a legend. To me Ali didn’t just change boxing, he changed all of sports. He gives people so much inspiration, he gives me inspiration. To see a boxer who was a heavyweight and moved like a featherweight. He had the fastest feet I ever seen as a heavyweight. His speed, hand and eye coordination was unbelievable. The man was a phenomenon, you know what I mean.

BP: How has Ali influenced your career?

NH: I brought something back to boxing that wasn’t really here. When Ali went out, he brought a hell of lot with him. Now I want to bring a little, just a little of that back. I’m not saying I want to be exactly like Ali. Ali is a legend. Don’t even compare me to Ali or any fighter, you know what I mean. I ain’t no legend and I don’t want to be no legend at this point in time. Muhammad Ali is known all over the world. You could drop that man anywhere in the world and people would spot him immediately. Anywhere.

BP: Have you met Muhammad Ali?

NH: You know what, me and Ali have made unbelievable contact. He’s not really as sick as everyone thinks. People think he can’t talk, he can’t express himself. I ring him up all the time. I speak to his family, I speak to his wife Lonnie. I met him quite a few times now. His wife likes me to go and motivate him. Basically we’re great for each other. When he sees me he jumps up bouncing, he starts to shadow box. You should hear what comes out of his mouth. Sometimes he mumbles a little bit and sometimes he’s unbelievably sharp. He’s already sharp in the head, too sharp. Sometimes he comes out with something and I can’t believe Ali said that. One day I said to him, Muhammad, sometimes I look at you and I feel like crying because your shaking and I hate to see that. He basically said to me, “there’s millions around the world who have the same thing.” In other words don’t feel sorry for me. He don’t want no sympathy, you know what I mean. I love that guy. I love what he stands for. He’s a Moslem. He’s a vehicle for Islam. If I could be just a little bit like him.

BP: How do you feel about what you have accomplished so far in boxing?

NH: I boxed some great fighters and I’ve proved myself already. But I want more. I want to prove myself more. I want to show the people I’m no joke. I want to go down in history, God willing. It is all in God’s hands in what is going to happen. I don’t know what can happen to me in this next second, it’s all in Gods hands. Now I’m looking for Barrera. I’m looking for Morales. But right now, what’s in my mind and will always be in my mind is my next opponent. I don’t ever look past my current opponent.

BP: A lot of fans are for you, but there are also a lot against you. How do you feel about that?

NH: There is a lot of people out there who want to see me get beat. Now, I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t have a problem with that at all. You want to see me get beat or win, no problem. As long as they are “interested” in seeing me box. Winning or losing, I don’t care. Switch on, pay for the fight, come to watch the fight, pay for a ticket. Bums on seats, that’s what counts. At this point in time I want to go down in the history of boxing as a great fighter. I’ve already brought a sparkle to boxing.

BP: Do you think it’s you that they don’t like or maybe your style?

NH: Your always going to get the jealousy part when your successful. You got that with Ali. You get that in the game of golf with Tiger Woods. Your going to get that with everybody. Envy and jealousy is a crime you don’t get punished for.

BP: When did you feel the need for more out of boxing?

NH: I started feeling that I wanted more all the way through my career because I started to be trained by a lot of trainers. Learning all new tricks, learning everything that a fighter needs. It was unbelievable, it opened my eyes. I was training for 18 or 19 years and Allah made me see the light and thank god it was a blessing that I seen and met my trainer today Oscar Suarez.

BP: I thought Manny Steward was your trainer?

NH: Manny Steward is with us, but the man who trains me throughout is Oscar Suarez. That’s why I love giving him the credit. Thank Allah, for the man’s knowledge, his talent and his ability in the corner. Manny Steward is already in the Hall of Fame and ultimately Oscar will be joining him.

BP: Do you feel like you have learned all there is to know about boxing?

NH: I want to learn more now, even though I’ve gotten to 34 and 0, I’m thinking I’ve just started to learn. So if I’m just starting to learn and I’m producing the goods now, throwing shots in a different way, breaking down opponents with combinations in a devastating way. A guy that’s never been beat, I mean a guy like Bungu who hasn’t been beat in 8 years. I destroyed in one round and took him out. Stretched him.

BP: Who would you rather fight next, Barrera or Morales?

NH: I’m going to be completely honest with you. Everybody knows when you saw the fight between Barrera and Morales, you saw one winner in that fight. That was Barrera. So why would I want to go after the cat that lost the fight. The world knew Barrera won that fight. He deserves the credit. I want to beat the best. I’m not saying I don’t want to box Morales because that’s who I first wanted. Because he was the guy that had the O and somebody’s oh has to go, and I wanted his O to go. Now Barrera in my eyes basically won the fight so I want Barrera first so I can prove myself as the best featherweight of my generation.

BP: How does it feel on the “magic carpet ride” with all the Naz fans screaming?

NH: It feels great, it gives me a big buzz. It gives me a great buzz. I feed off that buzz. It gives me great energy. You know boxing shows don’t have atmosphere like Prince Naseem’s. I bring concert tunes. I try to bring flamboyance. I try to bring drama, excitement. I try to bring knock-out explosives like I always do.

BP: Did you plan to be different?

NH: Yes. I wanted to be different from the start. I just wanted to be seen as a an exception. People were telling me its the heavyweights who get paid unbelievable amounts of money, man. Not featherweights. Featherweights don’t get nothing like that. I said “You watch. I’m going to change boxing”. I predicted that I was going to be world champion before the age of 21 when I was age 10 or 11.

BP: Do you think you might move up in weight?

NH: No, I’m going to stay at featherweight for a bit. I’m fine. I make weight easy. You know what, I’ll be honest with you, I’m not one of those guys who says I make the weight easy. I don’t make the weight easy each fight. At the end of the day, I’m like every other champion. We find it very hard to make weight and we work very hard to make it. I sacrifice everything, my wife, my children. The way that I live, just to make weight. It’s what a fighter does. I make weight comfortably, but not easy. I feel strong at this weight, and I know when I hit these guys, they can’t hold up. They can’t hold up against this power that I’m generating.

BP: Which was your toughest fight?

NH: I can’t say which fight was my toughest. I’ve had great fights and I had tough fights. To be honest with you I can’t pick one individual fight out of the ordinary. The Kelley fight was a great fight because there was a lot of drama. I knocked him out in four rounds, but I’ve had fights go twelve rounds.

BP: Will you ever fight in the Middle-East?

NH: I can’t wait to go to the middle-east. I’ve had unbelievable request from royalty now to go over and put on exhibitions. The best fights are going to come now in the future. We are going to take the show all over the world. I mean I’ve been invited by presidents and prime ministers to go all over with my parents and my family. To China, to Japan to put on exhibitions. It’s unbelievable what power television has and the warm reception I have received. I want to go all over just like my idol Ali did.

BP: How would you like your fans to remember you?

NH: It’s been a long journey for me. I’ve come all the way from the stinks, a place called Sheffield, in England to the United States to prove myself. I want the American public to truly believe, yea, this man can really fight. We love his entertainment. He’s right about his power. He’s the most devastating puncher in the whole featherweight division.