The deep scar that marks his right cheekbone is a constant reminder to Hasim Rahman of his accident five years ago.
"I was a passenger in a truck. The driver was drunk and speeding and ran a stop sign," the unbeaten Baltimore heavyweight recalled. "The truck flipped and the driver was killed. I fell out the door, but my face got pinned under the gas tank. I waited 20 minutes before an ambulance showed up, and my face was a real mess.
"I figure if I survived all that, how is somebody going to hurt me in a fight?"
Now 23, Rahman remains unscathed as a professional, carrying a 14-0 record into tonight's match against Tim Knight of Louisville, Ky., at Martin's West in Woodlawn.
In less than three years, the 230-pounder has emerged as one of today's most promising young heavyweights. He destroyed his first 10 nondescript rivals in a total of 17 rounds. But it was a recent 10-round decision on USA Network over Ross Puritty, a veteran of 25 fights, that made boxing critics take notice.
Rahman abandoned his hellbent style and took Puritty apart with a surprising show of boxing technique and patience.
"I didn't want to keep fighting ducks and tomato cans," said Rahman. "I saw what happened to Shannon Briggs a couple of months ago. They'd built him up against these palookas, and when he had to fight someone decent [Darroll Wilson], he wound up on his butt. I didn't want that happening to me. I needed to test myself."
Rahman's manager, Steve Nelson, and trainer, Janks Morton, gambled by matching him with Puritty, who just had survived a bout with heavy-fisted Tommy Morrison. They discovered Rahman was ready to step up in class.
"He's only been working with Janks for a year and a half, but his improvement is absolutely remarkable," said Nelson, who once also managed Oscar De La Hoya.
"Hasim is still just a baby as a pro, and probably two years away from fighting the top guys in the division. But two things he possesses you can't teach -- he's got explosive power and the heart of a lion."
As a teen-ager, Rahman learned his boxing fundamentals from Baltimore's legendary trainer, Mack Lewis. But at the urging of his uncle, Haleem Ali, and with a dream of competing in the 1992 Olympic Games, he left his hometown to join Mike Tyson's former trainer, Kevin Rooney, in Catskill, N.Y.
"It didn't work out," Rahman said. "I couldn't get regular sparring. Pros would come to the gym only when they had a fight coming up. And [former lightweight champion] Vinny Pazienza was Rooney's top priority.
"He also wanted me to adopt Tyson's peek-a-boo style, but that wasn't for me. It's too predictable. Only certain guys can fight that way. After a while, I wound up training myself most of the time and just wasn't making any progress."
He decided to give up his amateur status and went searching for a new trainer.
"I got real frustrated fighting as an amateur," he said. "One night, I knocked my opponent down twice, but they gave him the decision because he landed more jabs."
Rahman returned home and began training in Crofton, where some six to 10 area heavyweights train every night, including title contender Larry Donald and main event fighters such as Gerard Jones and Mo Williams.
He soon fell under the tutelage of Morton, who had worked with Sugar Ray Leonard and guided Greg Page to the heavyweight title.
"When I got him, he was completely raw," said Morton. "But he's different than most young fighters. A lot of guys just show up in the gym and go through the motions. He tries to learn something new every day.
"He's learned he can't walk over everybody. In the Puritty fight, he got a little over-anxious in the early rounds and tried to kill him with long shots. But once he shortened his punches, he saw how much more effective he can be."
Rahman already says he is capable of beating Frans Botha and Axel Schulz, who recently fought for the International Boxing Federation heavyweight crown.
"Give me six weeks in camp and I'll whip both of them," he said.
But, realistically, he is not yet ready to challenge the most-recognized champions -- Tyson and Riddick Bowe.
"I don't want to fight Tyson tomorrow," he said, laughing softly. "I'm not going to let anyone rush me into a war. I'm getting TV exposure and making some decent purses. I'm still learning to walk, so to speak. Give me time, then I'll take my best shot."
What: All-Star Pro Boxing eight-bout card.
Where: Martin's West.
When Tonight, 7: 30.
Main events: Hasim Rahman (14-0) vs. Tim Knight (13-27); Curtis Peoples (16-4) vs. Ed Goins (12-7); both eight rounds.
Tickets: $20, $30, $40 at door.
Pub Date: 6/04/96