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The Prince and the Pauper
By Sean Gadd (July 20, 2004) 
Prince Naseem Hamed
How good would Prince Naseem Hamed have been if he had suffered his first defeat after only seventeen fights? Would he have disappeared after the Barrera fight or would it have made him a better fighter?

Hamed was 35-0 and at the peak of his superstardom before he was brought crashing down to earth that April night in Las Vegas three years ago.
A common opinion when discussing the disappearance of the 'Prince' is that Hamed did not know how to live with defeat. Many great fighters learn from their first pro loss, including Hamed’s childhood idol Muhammad Ali. Sports fans worldwide know how Ali avenged decision losses to Joe Frazier and Ken Norton before winning back the world heavyweight championship in Zaire, in 1974. Hamed’s story is a little different. He was not actually beaten as badly as some will have you remember but there is no doubting that the loss publicly humiliated the ‘Prince’ on the night he was suppose to become ‘King’.

One key ingredient that was missing when he came face to face with ‘The Baby Faced Assassin’, Marco Antonio Barrera, was the man who had been in Hamed’s corner since he was seven years old, trainer Brendan Ingle. Ingle’s latest prodigy is junior welterweight contender Junior Witter.

Unlike Hamed, Witter is no superstar. Unlike Hamed, Witter does not come to the ring on flying carpets or over sized hula hoops. Unlike Hamed, Witter is no millionaire, he does not command the prestige of pay-per-view and the reward of major sponsorship deals.

But just like Hamed, Witter is a very talented fighter who packs knockout power in both hands and trains in the very city in which Hamed discovered his dream of becoming world champion. While Hamed became world champion, he did not become the boxing legend he promised fans he would be.

Junior Witter is now thirty years old and while he does not promise to become a boxing legend, he is pretty certain that when he gets his chance, he will become world champion.

When Junior Witter first started out in the pro ranks, he was regarded as an awkward switch hitter with very little snap in his punches; in other words, he was a promoter’s nightmare. Witter was undefeated in his first seventeen fights, but of these 17 fights, only four were stoppage wins and on two occasions the Bradford man had to settle for lacklustre performances that both resulted in a draw.

Fight number 18 was a huge turning point in the career of Witter. At late notice Witter stepped in as a replacement opponent for IBF junior welterweight champion, Zab Judah. Judah was 22-0 at the time and regarded as one of the best young fighters in the world. While both were undefeated, Witter had only 15 wins on his ledger and lacked the experience Judah had gained while previously beating the tough ‘Irish’ Mickey Ward and the experienced Darryl Tyson. This fight was a big risk for Witter but like most eager young fighters, Witter agreed to the challenge. So with the Englishman’s awkward style up against the Americans southpaw style, the fight was on and it turned out to be far from pretty. Judah went on to win a unanimous decision in a fight that had very few exciting moments. Even though Witter received praise for taking a fight that few believed he could win, it was clear that ‘the Hitter’ had let himself down.

Witter did not do himself justice that night, but it’s what he’s achieved since his first defeat that has given the city of Sheffield something to once again be proud of.

Since Witter’s lone defeat took place, he has been best known as being the man that keeps calling out British Jr Welterweight contender, Ricky Hatton. While Hatton makes good money selling out arenas in Manchester, Witter has been lucky to get on a Hatton undercard, even though many believe he is potentially a better fighter than Hatton has fought to date.

Junior Witter’s record has gone from 15-1-2 (4) to 29-1-2 (18). He has won his last 14 fights since losing to Judah, and on top of that the Bradford man, who was once known for not being able to finish his man off, has knocked out every one of them.

It gradually became apparent that Witter was showing potential that we only had rare glimpses of pre-Judah. 2002 was a good year for Witter, in March he scored a third round TKO win over Alan Bosworth to win the British junior welterweight title and in July, Junior went on to defeat Lautekwei Hammond to win the vacant Commonwealth crown.

Witter added the European title to his British and Commonwealth titles in June when beating Italy’s Salvatore Battaglia in two rounds. Battaglia had only been stopped once in eight years as a professional and had previously lost a split decision to the world rated German Otkay Urkal.

“Any light-welter in the world who I catch clean is going to go, so it’s just a case of me keeping sharp and staying accurate,” claimed Witter.

“I’m ready for a genuine world-title shot now and I’m quite prepared to travel. Personally I fancy Arturo Gatti. He brings a lot of credibility and I think his style fits mine best”.

It would not have been a Witter fight if no-one had mentioned the name Ricky Hatton. Not too long ago Witter was almost becoming obsessed with drawing out Hatton, but now it seems that with age has come wisdom. Witter would still love to get the ‘Hitman’ in the squared circle, in what could be the biggest rivalry in a British ring since Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn fought in front of 42,000 in London back in 1993. But, hey, you can’t wait forever, it takes two to tango as they say and while Witter accepts this, he did go on to say “for the record, I want it to be known to Hatton and Showtime that I’m still available. No conditions. I’ll do it in Manchester, on Sky, and I’m not asking for silly money. Unlike Hatton, I won’t need a retirement fund from it because I’ll be around to earn afterwards!”

So as Ricky Hatton prepares for the biggest fight of his career against WBA junior welterweight champion Vivian Harris, Junior Witter still waits for another crack at a world title. Maybe he will get the winner of Harris v Hatton or maybe Witter will get the winner of Gatti v Dorin for the WBC world title, or maybe Witter won’t get either. One thing is for sure: Witter, now ranked ninth by Ring Magazine, has come of age and belongs in the ring with only the very best fighters in the 140 pound division.

So as Hamed walks around in the shadows of his own choice, let us focus on the ones who are coming out of the dark. Junior Witter may never have the star power of Hamed, but he has the kind of hunger and desire that the 'Prince' could have done with on the night he failed to become king.
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