It is December 1997, and Kevin Kelley takes Naseem Hamed to the brink of defeat in a famous, five-knockdown Madison Square Garden tear-up which ends when Hamed summons the winning punch in round four.

Fast forward nine years. Hamed is fresh out of prison and, despite his sporadic assertions to the contrary, facing up to the fact that his boxing career is long since over.

Against all the odds, however, his former foe is keeping retirement at arm's reach and gearing up for one last shot at regaining a version of the world title before he calls it quits.

In San Antonio last Saturday night, there were flashes of the old Kevin Kelley as he rebounded from a career-threatening stoppage loss to Bobby Pacquaio in March.

This time, the now 39-year-old Kelley rolled back the years, easily outpointing fellow former world champion Carlos Hernandez in a style which suggested his era was far from over.

"Whoever steps in front of me, I am going to destroy them," said renowned motor-mouth Kelley, convinced he can return to the big time.

A relatively modestly-equipped contender in world-title terms, Kelley nevertheless rose to the occasion magnificently to claim the WBC featherweight title over Gregorio Vargas in 1993.

Kelley would lose the title to classy Mexican Alejandro Gonzalez two years later, but subsequent wins over top contenders Luisito Espinosa and Derrick Gainer put him top of the list to face Hamed.

It was a fight to live long in the memory of all those who witnessed it in the famous Garden that nigh, and as much as it elevated Hamed, it underlined Kelley's ticket-selling potential.

His role as a future challenger was assured and he duly stepped in at short notice to put up a brave challenge to Erik Morales in a WBC title challenge in 2000, which he lost in round seven.

Badly bruised and inevitably spouting a stream of injustices, not for the last time it seemed the boxing world had seen the last of Kelley, who did not return to the ring in the following two years.

But three warm-up fights later, fearless Kelley was sharing a ring with another great Mexican, Marco Antonio Barrera, and this time lasting a mere four rounds of a onesided and ill-conceived contest.

Two more years went by until, despite pleas to the contrary from many of his friends and supporters, Kelley deemed it necessary to return to the ring again.

"When I was in the ring I was focused and I was having flashbacks of what Kevin Kelley used to do," he said.

"I am not that fighter any more. I still throw fast combinations, but I mix it up more."

Kelley's new philosophy crumbled against Pacquaio. But his name alone ensured another payday against similarly fading former champion Hernandez, who retired after losing.

Kelley. Still going strong and still dreaming of the world-title wins that got away.