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Naseem Hamed rates Kevin Kelley win 20 years ago as career standout

Prince Naseem Hamed and Kevin Kelley, 1997. Ezra O. Shaw /Allsport

Naseem Hamed made a memorable U.S. debut in a slugfest with Kevin Kelley on this day (Dec. 19) 20 years ago.

The Prince, aged just 23 and already world champion for two years, had promised to take America by storm and did just that in a thrilling tear-up with Kelley.

Hamed knocked out Kelley in the fourth round of a classic clash that featured three knockdowns each at Madison Square Garden, New York.

Hamed rates this win, a ninth defence of his WBO world featherweight title, as the standout moment of his career.

"The Kelley fight meant that much because it's always when a fighter from this country goes over to America and proves himself it's always make or break in a British fighter's career," Hamed told reporters at a boxing writers' lunch in 2015.

"It was Madison Square Garden, there was a lot of people from this country over there, it was in the most famous boxing venue in the whole world and I turned it on.

"It was more memorable in that it was not just a one horse race because there were six knockdowns in that fight.

"The Americans didn't know me. The power of TV showed me that night that when I turned up everybody knew me. After I knocked him out, America knew who I was."

Former WBC champion Kelley was a big step up in class for Sheffield man, coming into the fight with just one defeat to Mexican Alejandro Gonzalez.

Hamed was floored three times in a torrid opening session before knocking out Kelly with a left hook in the fourth.

Hamed reigned from 1995 to 2001, when he suffered his only defeat in 37 fights to Marco Antonio Barrera in Las Vegas.

There was just one more fight in May 2002 for Hamed after the humiliating loss to Barrera.

"I do think I retired too soon," Hamed said.

"I just felt at that particular time in 2002 after winning a fifth world title belt, why not be one of the smart ones in boxing and get out. Sugar Ray Leonard said once 'I had my time in the sun' and I really did have my time in the sun. I had been champion since I was 21.

"It was about when I had leave the wife and kids for nine week training camps. I felt it especially when I had young children.

"I just felt I had done enough in the sport to put my stamp on boxing.

"I made a prediction when I was 11 that I would be world champion by the time I was 21 and I did it. To have that time so early and to retire at 28 sounds early to retire but I don't feel it's that early for me."

Kelley was stopped by Mexican Erik Morales three years later for the interim WBC world super-featherweight title and retired in 2009.