Naseem Hamed answered the biggest question of his career to date at a vibrant Newcastle Arena on Saturday, June 8, 1996.
As Euro ‘96 was kicking off at Wembley, Hillsborough and other stadia around the country, Naz fans wanted to know:
“Can Sheffield’s Boy Wonder take a big whack on the chin?”
Prince Naseem had won all his previous 21 fights as he went into the ring against young Puerto Rico star Daniel Alicea.
But he was put on his backside for the first time in his career in the first round of the fight.
As our man at the ringside Les Payne reported: “It may have tilted the crown slightly to one side for a few seconds but the response to the first knockdown of his career was the stuff of champions and that crown was quickly sitting proudly on top of his head once more.”
“The tail of the tiger had been tweaked and when the bell went for the start of the second round it was obvious that Naseem meant business and the way he finished it was ruthless.
It may have been the fourth second round finish in Naz’s last six fights with the previous one ending in the first and some may think this was another opponent who was out of his depth - but Alicea was no fall guy.
Naz was going live on American TV for the first time, with the bout being screened on Showtime cable network across the States.
He made the usual spectacular entrance amidst raucous support and had the confidence and arrogance to indicate to Alicea - unbeaten in his 15 fights to date - what would happen.
He pointed to his opponent, then the canvas and mouthed to him: ‘Im going to knock you down.’
But Alicea, who had forecast he would win it in eight, didn’t look too bothered and was not overawed. Naz produced his usual repertoire of dancing and weaving, enticing his opponent to hit him in the opening round, but may have just overdone it.
Americans like a bit of flashiness but it was the flash of Alicea’s right hand which raised the most eyebrows with a follow-up catching Hamed as he tried to keep his balance.
It was a remarkable sight to see the man so used to knocking others down, undignified on the canvas himself.
He recovered well although Alicea, really buzzing now, came after him but Hamded handled it.
The warning bell had sounded for the Prince and he did the b usiness. The first knockdown destroyed Alicea’s composure, the second was lights out.
Manager Brendan Ingle claimed being knocked down may have been the best thing to happen to Naseem.
“People were asking if he could take a shot on the chin because no-one had tested it.
“Well, he answered that one all right . He’s got a good chin and he boxed his way out of it and them beat him.
“And what Naseem showed is that he’s got plenty of heart.
“You never know what’s going to happen in boxing but no matter how good you are, you’re going to get hit at some time.”
Ingle said that when Naz got to the corner at the end of the first round he asked how he felt. “He said ‘all right - he’s going in this round.”