Rahman homing in on Tyson

Hero's return greets heavyweight champ

`Iron Mike' looms next

Boxing

April 24, 2001|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Having made his way home to Baltimore from his stunning victory in South Africa, world heavyweight boxing champion Hasim Rahman yesterday greeted fans at a downtown clothing store and even showed off his powerful right fist to Mayor Martin O'Malley.

The question is: At whom will he aim that fist next?

Coming off a fifth-round knockout of Lennox Lewis, holder of the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation championship belts, Rahman may take Lewis' place as Mike Tyson's next opponent.

The rematch clause in Rahman's contract with Lewis does not block a possible fight with former champ Tyson before again facing Lewis, said Stan Hoffman, Rahman's co-manager with Steve Nelson. In addition, Tyson, 34, was the mandatory challenger to the WBC version of Lewis' title.

"Rahman inherited the WBC mandatory defense, and Mike is the mandatory [challenger]," Shelly Finkel, Tyson's adviser, told the Associated Press.

"Mike Tyson is nowhere near what he once was, but he's still one of the hardest punchers in the division with Lewis and myself. All he has to do is sign the contract and we can get it on," said Rahman, 28. "Anytime you put two punchers in the ring together, it's going to be a good fight. I welcome the chance to fight Tyson, give him the opportunity to win the title. Properly trained and focused, I can beat any heavyweight in the world."

Rahman has no ties to either HBO, Lewis' network, or Showtime, which has contractual rights to Tyson. Hoffman said his champ could earn "three times as much against Tyson" as the $1.5 million he was paid for the Lewis bout. He reportedly could even clear $10 million.

"Rahman's got great character," Hoffman said. "In a fight with either Lewis or Tyson, he'd be the guy in the white hat."

Rahman (35-2, 29 knockouts) is not only a local hero, but a national one as well, having restored the heavyweight title to American soil. Lewis, a Briton, had defeated Evander Holyfield five bouts before facing Rahman and had taken the crown out of this country for the first time since England's Bob Fitzsimmons owned it in the late 1890s.

It was a victory that ranks with the division's all-time upsets, particularly when Rahman's boxing resume is compared with Lewis'.

Rahman turned pro, after 13 amateur bouts, at 22, and Lewis, 35, a gold medalist in the 1988 Olympics, started in his early teens. Rahman was in his first title fight - not counting the fringe World Boxing Union crown he won from South African Corrie Sanders on May 20 - while Lewis entered at 13-1-1 in title fights.

In Lewis (38-2-1, 29 knockouts), Rahman defeated a man who was 3 inches taller, 16 pounds heavier and whom many assumed was getting better despite his age.

Before facing Rahman, Lewis decisioned Holyfield, recorded sensational second-round knockouts over Michael Grant and Frans Botha and scored a 12-round rout of David Tua, who has KO'd Rahman and World Boxing Association champ John Ruiz - the latter in 19 seconds.

"Nobody in America thought he was going to go down there and do it," said Oscar Funderburk, the assistant to Adrian Davis, Rahman's trainer. "He made everyone eat their words."

Rahman, a 20-1 underdog, arrived in South Africa nearly a month before the fight. Lewis got there 11 days before the bout. Rahman and Lewis each made plenty of public appearances, but Rahman went from an unknown to a celebrity in that country.

Ferdie Pacheco, Muhammad Ali's former trainer and a television boxing analyst, called Rahman's victory "a great day for boxing."

"First of all, Lewis is an Englishman and he hasn't exactly covered himself in glory, publicity-wise," Pacheco said. "We needed a change, an uncharacteristic surprise, and Rahman provided that. Rahman's starting with a blank canvas and has all the colors in his hands. All he's got to do is start painting."

The painting has begun in earnest. Back on his home turf, Rahman, who grew up in Randallstown and now lives in Abingdon with his wife, Crystal, and three children, is in demand.

Yesterday, Rahman visited and conducted live interviews on three local radio stations, discovered that a popular recording artist from Baltimore, Sisqo, would like to include him in a music video, and planned to honor interview requests from several local television stations before heading off to a nightclub for a welcoming party. All this after a 17-hour flight from Johannesburg and a 3 1/2 -hour drive after he missed his flight from New York.

"I've accepted the challenge and the responsibility that goes along with being the heavyweight champion of the world, and I'll make myself accessible and available," Rahman said. "The great thing about being champion of the world is nothing's going to start without me. I can do it in accordance with my schedule.

"This is just Baltimore, showing its love."

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