EZZARD CHARLES was the correct answer.
Roger Mayweather was the man asking the question, a loaded and trick question, and his quick way of passing judgement on you. Roger liked to pass judgement on people in the boxing business.
The question was: “Tell me the greatest light-heavyweight in history?” I got it right. He still eyed me and my cameraman, Dave Varley, with concern. I’m not sure he was convinced. Make no mistake, Roger Mayweather, like so many successful people in the boxing business, was not an easy man to impress.
In the weeks and days before the awful Naseem Hamed and Marco Antonio Barrera fight, many members of Mayweather flock were in and out of the MGM in Las Vegas, looking for a bit of the little Prince’s magic dust. They found instead a camp in chaos, Manny Steward a broken man, Hamed’s people dangerously delusional in their utter devotion to the their tiny cash cow and Barrera ice cold and calm. Hamed’s camp remains the measuring stick for lunacy in any camp. Their crazy sojourn in Palm Springs was a lot closer to the fishing trip in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest than a world champion’s training camp.
Hamed should have won the fight, but it was clear he had no chance long before his caravan of paid fools drove to Las Vegas. It was a sad event, it still hurts me now to recall the sabotage, even if it was not intentional. Oddly, two judges made him lose by just three points.
Back then baby Floyd was more approachable and he gave me a solid interview about watching Naz, liking Naz and wanting to fight Naz. I was there on a promise that I could sell a Hamed interview to a broadcaster.
“Naz is an inspiration to me,” he said. It was 2001 and Floyd was the WBC super-feather champion, four pounds heavier than Hamed. On the ground, in the old Vegas whisper rooms, a fight between the pair was being discussed. There was a time when coffee and a Danish in a breakfast booth at a hotel in Las Vegas or Atlantic City was the number one spot for making fights happen. Everybody met in the “coffee shop”, they still do.
In the upcoming fight, all Hamed had to do was look good knocking out Barrera, who Hamed had been chasing for five long years, and the Floyd fight was there. Barrera (and his people) had avoided Hamed, run away, he had refused all deals and changed the rules on the deals that were on the table for a long time. It might be an inconvenient truth, sorry, but that is all true, trust me. Hamed would have beaten Barrera in 1996 and any year until the loss in 2001. Had Hamed worked with Manny, for the Barrera fight from the start, and had he not lost his way he would have won that night.
Sadly, Hamed had given power to men in his camp without the boxing knowledge needed to defeat the great Mexican. The decline in Hamed was catastrophic – Manny knew, he knew when he glimpsed the sparring in Palm Springs. That is why he was broken and he didn’t crack easily.
We all know the rest, what happened in the fight, but perhaps we have forgotten what was possible and, more importantly, what had been possible. In British boxing there is a certain amnesia attached to Hamed and that might have something to do with the general hate most writers had for him back then. It’s the truth, why try and be polite. Anyway, the young Floyd loved him.
Floyd’s dad and uncle were not quite so flattering. Well, when have they ever been? Try asking Freddie Roach and Billy Graham for a reference.
“The greatest circus in the world just got condemned: Prince Naz needs a whole new makeover. I’m not the guy to change it. You know why? You ain’t got nothing to work with,” insisted Floyd Sr in the minutes after the loss. There was no shortage of a chorus to gloat and agree. There was an orchestra of the righteous, swollen in defeat to throw ugly stones on Hamed’s boxing coffin.
I never got to Hamed during my filming stay in Las Vegas. His people had placed me on a banned list, assuming that my loyalties were with Brendan Ingle and the glorious memories from the lost days on the hill outside Sheffield. That is not true, I could not afford loyalties; Brendan was a friend and Hamed was a great fighter and for a decade I had worked with the two of them closely. It’s not fun being banned.
However, in addition to little Floyd, I also interviewed Tony Curtis and OJ Simpson – they were both in town for the fight, both fans of Naz. Yes, Tony Curtis did talk about Spartacus. I went to Las Vegas for a fight in 2001, missed the boxer I needed, got a few interviews with people on the periphery, a famous felon, an actor and brilliant young fighter. In 2020 that would be a haul, a goldmine of views – not for me back then and I never recouped a penny of what I paid for that trip. No interview with Naseem, no money. It was the most expensive Las Vegas trip I have ever taken. Still, I got to watch the end of something truly great and I got the answer.
“Ezzard Charles, damn, that’s right,” Roger told me. I never had the heart to tell him he had asked me the question once before. By the way, Roger was probably right.