Rahman takes a gamble, to face Tua on Sept. 16 No. 3 heavyweight could have waited for Holyfield

July 28, 1998|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

Unbeaten Baltimore heavyweight contender Hasim Rahman will take the biggest gamble of his professional ring career Sept. 26, when he is scheduled to fight David Tua on the undercard of the Lennox Lewis-Zelko Mavrovic World Boxing Council championship bout.

HBO will televise the heavyweight show from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn.

Rahman (28-0, 23 KOs) is ranked No. 3 in the world by the International Boxing Federation. He's behind Frans Botha of South Africa and Vaughn Bean of Chicago.

Dual heavyweight champion Holyfield had been scheduled to defend his World Boxing Association title against Henry Akinwande in New York last month before Akinwande was diagnosed with hepatitis B on the eve of the bout. Holyfield will now defend his IBF crown against Bean on Sept. 19.

"I could have played it safe and waited a year or two until I became the mandatory challenger for Holyfield," Rahman, 25, said from his Randallstown home yesterday. "But that's not the way I want to operate.

"Sure, fighting Tua [31-1, 26 KOs] can be risky. But this makes me step up to the plate. And I don't see it as being a risk if I fight the way I know I can.

"Tua is a dangerous puncher, but I'm going to present a whole different dimension. He won't get past my jab. I'm not looking for a decision. I'm going to knock him out.

"Beating Tua will label me the best of the young heavyweights, and that would put me in a position to get a title shot a lot quicker."

Tua, two weeks younger than Rahman, is a native of Samoa who learned to fight in New Zealand and captured the bronze medal in the 1992 Olympics.

A walk-in banger in the style of Mike Tyson, the stocky Tua is better known nationally than Rahman thanks to a pair of first-round knockouts of John Ruiz (19 seconds) and Darroll Wilson in HBO telecasts.

Rahman, on the other hand, was less spectacular in his last two cable appearances, winning 12-round decisions over Obed Sullivan and Jesse Ferguson in defense of his U.S. Boxing Association crown.

But Tua, ranked No. 5 by the WBC, had to scuffle at the Pikesville Armory last March to win a controversial decision over Jeff Wooden, the left-handed fighter Rahman stopped in nine rounds a year ago to claim the USBA title.

It was more a case of watching Tua require late-round knockouts to dispose of David Izon and Russia's Oleg Maskaev that convinced Rahman's managerial team of Bob Mittleman and Steve Nelson that fighting the Samoan slugger was a risk worth taking.

"Tua is dangerous, but vulnerable," said Mittleman, who was visiting Rahman's home yesterday. "Boxing is based on styles, and I think Tua is made to order for our guy. Ferguson is also a big puncher, but he never caught 'Rock' with a solid punch."

Added Nelson: "We believe Hasim is just starting to come into his own. He has really been developing into a complete fighter, and it's time for him to take a big chance. And, if he beats Tua, he might jump right over Botha to become No. 1."

Originally, Nelson had tried to steer Rahman into an HBO match with unbeaten Michael Grant (28-0), but this failed to materialize after Grant became ill.

Rahman, who has had numerous trainers, including Baltimore legend Mack Lewis, Kevin Rooney and Tommy Brooks, will form a new partnership for this critical fight. He begins training in Phoenix next week under Chuck McGregor.

"Switching trainers isn't a problem," Rahman said. "I just have to get in impeccable condition. This is the biggest fight of my life, and I'll be ready."

Pub Date: 7/28/98

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