Former boxers Evander Holyfield (left) and Prince Naseem Hamed pose at the Radisson Blu Hotel Al Salam, Jeddah on Thursday. Image Credit: Reuters

Jeddah: Saudi Arabia opening its doors to boxing could be the start of something amazing for the sport in the region, according to former featherweight world champion Prince Naseem Hamed.

The 44-year-old British-born Yemeni remains the most successful Arab boxer of all-time after dominating his division with multiple world title belts during the mid to late nineties, losing just once in 37 fights with 31 knockouts.

For this reason he was a guest of honour at the first ever world title fight to be held in the Middle East, dubbed Rowdy in Saudi, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday, between George Groves and Callum Smith, in the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) super-middleweight final.

“When I was fighting there was no boxing in Saudi Arabia because it was forbidden,” said Hamed. “But now we have this and it’s long overdue, thank god we are at this point now and long may it continue.

“Saudi has opened its doors to something that’s going to hopefully be the start of something amazing for boxing in the region.

“We’ve been stuck in our ways in the Middle East and have not got many boxers who are established and known. We’ve got no governing bodies, but I’ve got a friend in Dubai, Ahmad Seddiqi, who is hopefully going to put something in place for the UAE in regards to trying to form a boxing council.

“I’m just hoping for boxing to expand throughout the region. You never know, we might have some Prince Naseem academies in Saudi and throughout the Middle East someday.”

Known as Naz — who entered the ring over the top rope with a trademark flying front somersault and leopard-print shorts — Hamed quickly became a British cult icon, but he always stayed true to his Arab roots.

“I may be born in the UK but nobody takes away from the fact that I’m an Arab and I’m proud to be Arab. If they can make a champion out of me and I was gifted who’s to say we can’t get other Arab champions throughout the whole region to create some other legends, because boy you’re looking at one today baby!”

On his Yemeni roots he joked: “I’m Yemeni, proud to be Yemeni, I’m public Yemeni number one!”

But on the subject of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the country, his tone hit a sombre note.

“We are in a real hard time right now and need help and safety, god willing Yemen comes back and comes back strong. This is the country where all Arabs come from so why not protect it, it’s a very special place for me. It’s in the middle of my heart and always will be.”

Despite having to retire at 28 through chronic pain in his hands, and ultimately being judged as someone who never fulfilled his true promise, Hamed said he was pleased with his career and hinted at a biopic in the making.

“My career was a gift that I’m very happy about. I loved every step of it. I was blessed, I won all the titles and put my stamp on the sport. God willing there’s going to be a film on me very soon coming out and I’m looking forward to that.

“I’d been doing it for 21 years and was happy with my achievement in the sport, nobody did what Naseem did. I had my day, it was an amazing day, many years with big achievements. Only these people you see in the boxing game now can tell you and know how special I was.

“God gave me a gift and I used it with all my strength and power and now I have nothing to prove, once and champ, always a champ. I held them titles, I was in the dizzying heights of boxing.”