On this day: Naseem Hamed, Joe Calzaghe win title fights on same bill

On this day in 1997, both Prince Naseem Hamed and Joe Calzaghe won on the same bill in Sheffield.

British boxing has been spoiled with its champions and contenders down the years. From Henry Cooper, who never managed a world belt, to Lennox Lewis, history is littered with fighters who did their country proud.

Rarely, however, do two of them fight on the same card. On this day in 1997, two undefeated British champions prepared for their respective title fights at the Sheffield Arena: Prince Naseem Hamed and Joe Calzaghe.

Prince Naseem Hamed, WBO world champion, is lifted high above the crowd after beating Tom Johnson on February 3, 1997© Getty Images

Naseem was the WBO featherweight champion, which he had retained successfully in seven previous fights having won it against Steve Robinson in September 1995. Here he was up against Puerto Rican Jose Badillo, who was regarded as one of his toughest challengers yet. With 27 wins already under his belt, however, Naseem was the favourite.

While Badillo was a tough opponent on his day, his style suited the aggressive, quick and flamboyant Prince. Badillo was a yard slower, but had a very strong chin so would not go down easily. In front of the watching Kevin Kelley - the next contender for Naseem's belt - the fight went much the way of expectation.

He delighted his home crowd with his typical flashy ring walk before going about his business in the fight. As expected, Prince's jabbing and movement was too much for Badillo from the word go, but he stayed strong in the face of the onslaught. Eventually, the punishment Badillo was taking was too much for his corner, who came into the ring to stop the fight in the seventh. It was one of the most impressive performances of Hamed's career.

We all now know Calzaghe as the undefeated WBO super middleweight champion, but in 1997 he was only half-way through his illustrious career. At the other end of the spectrum was his opponent on the night for the vacant title, Chris Eubank. Eubank had been a great fighter but, now 31, was fallible and had been defeated before.

Calzaghe was at the peak of his fitness and was improving fight by fight, but for only the second time in his career to date he was about to go all the way. He was meant to fight Steve Collins, but his retirement had left the belt vacant with former champion Eubank stepping in. It looked as though the fight might be over before 20 seconds were up as the Welshman caught Eubank with a stinging left hook. However, Eubank, to his credit, fought on.

After what was regarded as one of the greatest battles between two Brits, Calzaghe said: "I said that I was going to knock him out but that night was the hardest I've had in the whole of my boxing career... only my heart and fitness brought me through the ordeal."

Joe Calzaghe of Wales celebrates after his victory over Will McIntyre of the USA during their WBO World Super-Middleweight title fight on October 13, 2001© Getty Images

Calzaghe admitted that he came out too quickly and that he was tired after the first few rounds. Eubank had never been knocked down in the opening round and responded by clawing his way back into the fight. It was a gruelling contest and Calzaghe, in the uncharted territory of a long fight, managed to deal with everything Eubank could throw at him, eventually taking the fight with a unanimous decision.

He would go on to hold the belt until his retirement in February 2009, by which time he had become only the 10th world champion to retire undefeated.

Carl Froch
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