Hasim "Rock" Rahman came home from South Africa yesterday with the world heavyweight boxing title and this advice for aspiring athletes:
"If you want to win a championship, you got to move to Baltimore!"
Mayor Martin O'Malley, posing with his fist at Rahman's jaw, beamed: "The city of champions!"
Rahman, who had three small bandages above his left eye, was met at a downtown clothing store by throngs of adoring fans who demanded hugs and autographs and snapshots with the heavyweight champion.
He became the first Baltimore man to capture boxing's most coveted title by flattening defending champion Lennox Lewis with a stunning right hand early Sunday in Carnival City Casino outside Johannesburg, South Africa.
Rahman, who got his start as a scrappy fighter on Baltimore streets, won the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation titles with a fifth-round knockout in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. He was reportedly paid $1.5 million for the fight, in which the odds were as much as 20-to-1 against him.
Baltimore plans a motorcade in honor of the 6-foot-2, 237-pound hometown hero at noon tomorrow. It will start at the HOBO Shop clothing store at Franklin and Eutaw streets, which was the site of yesterday's homecoming rally, and is the local shop that outfitted him for his fight in black velvet trunks with red satin trim.
The motorcade will proceed to the first gym where Rahman boxed, at Broadway and Eager Street. It is operated by 82-year-old trainer Mack Lewis, who has been running the place since 1943.
Then it will proceed to city hall, where Rahman and others will speak.
Rahman, 28, who became a household name overnight, says his victory belongs to the city.
"This is a long time coming," he told the crowd yesterday. "Baltimore deserves the world championship. We have the best athletes in the world."
Yesterday's homecoming was supposed to happen at Baltimore-Washington International airport, where scores of fans showed up at 9:30 a.m. chanting "Rock" and clutching signs and balloons.
Mayor O'Malley, who said he wants to bring more boxing programs to the city, was one of the expectant fans.
"Boxing has a bad rap," O'Malley said. "It gives kids a lot of discipline and self-esteem."
Rahman missed his connecting flight from New York to Baltimore and jumped in a car and drove home.
He met mobs of supporters at HOBO Shop, a Washington-based line of clothing whose name stands for Helping Our Brothas Out. The small store was packed with ecstatic supporters who invoked the cheer that became famous across Baltimore during the Ravens Super Bowl win.
To the tune of Baja Boys' "Who Let the Dogs Out?" they screamed, "Who knocked Lewis out?"
The answer: "Rock! Rock! Rock! Rock! Rock!"
And another: "Who got the title belt?"
"Rock! Rock! Rock! Rock! Rock!" Rahman's victory comes on the heels of this year's Super Bowl win by the Ravens and the University of Maryland men's basketball team's first trip to the Final Four.
"This is 100 percent pride for Baltimore," said Michael Mfume, an acquaintance of the champ and son of Kweisi Mfume, president of Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "This city is turning out for him like we turned out for the Ravens."
But the victory could be tough on the ego of another Baltimore team.
"Boy, it puts some pressure on the Orioles," O'Malley said before he raised Rahman's arm in victory.
Rahman's father, John Cason, who went to South Africa for the fight, said he helps keep his son grounded. Both practice the Muslim religion.
"He doesn't have a big head, and hopefully he won't," Cason said. "My job is to keep him stable."
Cason said he named his son Hasim because it means "one who crushes evil" in Arabic. His middle name is Sharif, which he said means honorable.
Rahman and his wife, Crystal, live in Abingdon and have three children: Hasim Jr., 9, Sharif, 4, and Amirah, 2.
They did not bring their children to the homecoming because they thought the crowd would be too chaotic.
For hours, fans relentlessly tugged on Rahman's arm and vied for just a few seconds of his attention. He said he was going home to sleep tonight.
Then, he said, he'd start training again. He might have some big fights ahead of him. "I'd love to fight Mike Tyson," he said.
He can beat Tyson, mostly because of sheer determination, said his uncle and longtime trainer Haleem Ali. "He don't have no quit in him," Ali said.