Work in ring easy part of being champ For champ, hard part comes when war's won

May 11, 2001|By John Eisenberg

YOU'RE NOT alone if the endlessly twisting road to Hasim Rahman's first title defense has you thinking you understand boxing about as well as you do, say, quantitative macroeconomics.

Baltimore's first heavyweight champion actually is just experiencing a typical inaugural pilgrimage through the morass of the big-money fight game, but it's bound to read like garbled Greek to anyone who can't tell his IBFs from his HBOs or his rematch clauses from his sucker punches.

To make things easier to understand, let's boil down the parts of Rahman's exciting, new life to more identifiable nuggets:

There's the boxing part.

There's the "making your money" part.

And finally, there's the "keeping your money" part.

The boxing part is the easiest to grasp. There are two options once a fight begins: a) you club him, or b) he clubs you. Rahman climbed into the ring with Lennox Lewis in South Africa, exercised the first of those options and climbed out as the new heavyweight champion. Who can't follow that?

But now Rahman, who lives in Abingdon, is immersed in the "making your money" part, which is tricky, really tricky. It appears he is going to make at least $14 million for his next fight, which is good news, but he is trying to decide whether to fight Lewis or Mike Tyson, and it's a tough call, especially when everyone starts suing everyone else.

Personally, I'd rather see him fight Tyson than Lewis again; you know Lewis would be more fit and serious this time, a potentially dangerous development for Rahman. And Tyson is not only a bigger draw, but also more of a wild card - he could bite your ear, knock you out, collapse in a heap, anything. Bring it on.

Let's face it, you know Rahman grew up yearning for a shot at Tyson, diminished or otherwise. Rightly or not, the former champion is still the ultimate measuring stick for any heavyweight who thinks he's tough. Let's see Rahman get to fulfill that dream.

The situation isn't that simple, of course. Actually, it's not simple at all with rival promoters, cable network executives and managers vying for the limelight/payoff and Don King ominously buzzing around the perimeter. Cue the "Jaws" theme.

The proceedings have gone relatively smoothly so far, as hard as that might be to believe; the few threats and lawsuits are just a boilerplate component of any boxing negotiation, and we haven't come close to reaching our deductible limit. As a general rule, you're never near the end until someone yells "fraud!" We're not there yet.

The tone likely would change in a hurry if King somehow wiggled his way into the picture, which can happen. Root against that, if anything. No one cares if Rahman ends up on Showtime or HBO, and either Lewis or Tyson would make a fine opponent. But King? Let's just say that, at the very least, his record suggests that he might not always have his boxers' best interest at heart.

Rahman should run, screaming, from any piece of paper with King's signature on it.

Either way, the boxer and his handlers will make their decision soon enough, and no matter what it is, Rahman suddenly will be far wealthier than he ever imagined. The pay scale is an eye-popper at the top of the heavyweight class, even for a long shot from Harford County. He's looking at $17 million for sure and a lot more if he keeps winning.

That brings us to the final part of Rahman's world, the "keeping your money" part - the toughest of all.

So many people want to dip into the pockets of a heavyweight champion that it's a wonder any pockets are left after a while. The list of people you need to pay is unthinkably long.

There's the trainer. The managers. The fitness guru. The cook. The shrink (optional). The masseuse. The driver. The publicist. The guys who hang around telling the champ he's great. (Can you major in that in college?) The guys who run out for sandwiches. The cousins who don't do anything.

The tax man. (Also optional for some fighters.)

Don King. (Is he ever really out of the loop?)

So many people get a cut of the champion's take that it's a miracle when the champ has enough left to open a $500 line of credit at the bank.

The "keeping your money" part of being a boxing champion can bring you down faster than a hard blow to the head.

But hey, Rahman is a bright, personable guy with a family looking after him, and his managers certainly seem to know what they're doing. You have to love their tactic of having signed three contracts before the Lewis fight, creating so much havoc that Rahman is now free to do whatever he wants.

Yes, the story is hard to follow as Rahman plays the role of the pinball bouncing between cable giants and faceless sanctioning organizations. Here's the nutshell version: He has accomplished the near-impossible in rising above the whole, sorry mess and gaining the rare right to dictate the terms of his future. The boxing world is his right now. But if you prayed for him before, don't stop.

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