The kid was just crass,
He was the Nazz, with God-given ass,
He took it all too far,
But, boy, could he play guitar.
—David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust
The knockout Artist Currently Known As Prince finally got around to playing Las Vegas last Saturday. Prince Naseem Hamed, boxing's self-anointed King of Pop and Drop, debuted at the MGM Grand Garden Arena with an entrance as gaudy as anything Bowie ever staged. "This place is built for entertainers like me," Hamed said before his featherweight showdown with Marco Antonio Barrera. "It's the flamboyance and all that rubbish."
Flamboyant doesn't begin to describe the 27-year-old Naz, a preening narcissist with an impregnable ego, a ragged, sometimes buffoonish fighting style and a career—in spite of his pyrotechnic punching power—that's been longer on hubris than athletic performance. His ring persona owes less to Muhammad Ali than to Michael Jackson, who inspired him, at 11, to sew gold-braided epaulets onto his ring robe. "When I win, I send shock waves through the boxing world," said Hamed, who had won all 35 of his bouts and had held WBC, IBF and WBO titles at various weights. "I've brought sparkle to the game."
Against Barrera, he didn't even bring that. Sloppy and ill-prepared, he lost a unanimous decision to a super bantamweight fighting at 126 pounds for the first time. Hamed had expected Barrera to stalk him and slug away. Instead, Barrera conducted a masterly boxing clinic that left the Englishman looking as off-balance as a one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest.
Hamed is renowned for punching his way out of trouble from any position. Yet a long series of indifferent outings against limited opponents had raised questions about his legacy. Most embarrassing was his 12-round decision over C�sar Soto in Detroit 18 months ago. Hamed fought listlessly and was nearly disqualified for body-slamming Soto to the canvas. Afterward, the Prince apologized to HBO.
With his stock dipping, Hamed enlisted former HBO boxing czar Lou DiBella as his U.S. adviser. DiBella advised him to take on Barrera. As promoter Bob Arum said, "In the States, interest in the lighter divisions is largely Hispanic. To draw crowds here, Naz needed to fight a name Hispanic."
Barrera was that name, and he was the most dangerous opponent Hamed had faced. A month older than the Prince and, at 5'7", four inches taller, the one-time law student from Mexico City had been in 15 world-title bouts during a 55-fight career. "I've delivered more knockouts  than Hamed has had fights," he said before the bout, "and against better opposition."
Defeat doesn't seem to faze Barrera. He recovered brilliantly from his three losses—the most recent a close decision to countryman Erik Morales 14 months ago. The result of that brutal, action-packed title fight was so widely disputed that the WBO declared Barrera the rightful winner and reinstated him as super bantamweight champ.
Barrera, who has been dubbed the Baby-Faced Assassin, is a virtuoso technician whose compact style relies on sustained aggression. "Antonio dissects opponents like a surgeon," says veteran trainer Joe Goossen. Barrera was so sure he would beat Hamed that he commissioned an oil painting depicting him celebrating above the prone Prince. It hangs in his parents' home.
Hamed couldn't picture losing. "I'm going to take Barrera out in devastating style with unbelievably hard shots," he predicted. "He's tailor-made for me, and I will fit him with a suit to wear on the canvas."