BOXING PROMOTER Don King was back in court again yesterday, but at least no one was suing him this time.
Believe it or not, King was a judge of mock court proceedings in City Hall, where he was promoting the Nov. 17 rematch between World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation heavyweight champion Hasim "The Rock" Rahman, of Baltimore, and former champion Lennox Lewis, of England.
It's just as hard to believe that Rahman is still the champ. But unless he beats Lewis again, no one will ever take his reign seriously. He will go down in history as another fighter who was fortunate enough to land a lucky, but ferocious, punch to win the championship.
Another Buster Douglas, another Leon Spinks.
It's a shame, because Rahman is better than that.
"Hasim Rahman has something to prove. Lennox Lewis has something to prove," said Emanuel Steward, Lewis' trainer.
Stewart was alluding to the last fight between the two, on April 21, when Rahman shocked the fighting world by landing a picture-perfect right hand in Round 5 that left then-champion Lewis sprawled out on the canvas. But Rahman has never built much stardom from that fight.
He is a heavy hitter who hasn't gotten much respect for being a truly competent fighter. He also has suffered from the sport's internal problems as well as a relationship with King. A lot of air has been taken out of his balloon in the past couple of months.
That will all change, though, if he wins.
Rahman's last victory couldn't have come at a better time. The Ravens were just three months removed from a Super Bowl victory and coach Gary Williams had just led Maryland's men's basketball team to its first Final Four appearance.
And then came Rahman. Oh, yes, Baltimore, the city of champions.
But the popularity has worn off. During a visit to the Ravens' training camp nearly two weeks ago, there was no clamoring from the large crowd for his autographs, just questions about who that free agent was with owner Art Modell in the golf cart.
It was Rahman.
Few people discuss him on radio talk shows anymore. His face has dropped off a lot of TV screens. The feel-good story of the year has lost a lot of appeal.
What has happened?
The sport seems to be hurting itself. Since Rahman won the crown, there have been reports about his fighting Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lewis. There have been fights over broadcasting rights. There have been threats of lawsuits and actual lawsuits.
It became a circus, and Rahman looked more like a man who had lost control than a champion, a leader.
You want to turn sports fans off these days? Mention these words: strike and lawsuit.
Then Rahman united with King. As he walked into the mock courtroom yesterday, there were actually people who rose to salute "The Honorable Don King."
Not me. I grabbed my wallet.
Whenever you're in the presence of King, keep both hands in your pockets and put your back against the wall. It was amusing watching King work yesterday. There hasn't been a better scripted event since the last episode of Hard Knocks, Training Camp with the Baltimore Ravens.
King has no shame and apparently no conscience.
"When I think of Baltimore, I think of Frederick Douglass striking back in 1840 for his manhood," King said. "I think of Americans fighting for justice and equality when the Brits came over the first time. And now the Brits are here again. Baltimore is not going to take any stuff and will lead the charge."
Hustler. Pariah. Entrepreneur. No wonder the building was patrolled by lots of policemen yesterday. Boxing has been long filled with shady characters, and King may be the sport's darkest cloud ever. Unfortunately, he happens to be the promoter for Rahman. Unfortunately, Rahman alienated quite a few people when he selected King.
But with or without King, Rahman knows he can change his place in history with a win against Lewis. He can reclaim a lot of lost glory. He'll be considered legit, not a one-fight flash.
After all, Lewis calls himself a scientific fighter. He wants to hit and not be hit. He says he has great combinations and a jab unsurpassed by anyone in the heavyweight division.
He says he will train hard and this time Rahman won't slip a right hand through his defense. He won't let him get lucky again.
"I would have to say a bit of it was a fluke," Lewis said. "But he believed in that punch, and it actually came through for him. I was surprised, I didn't even know what happened. That was a good punch. I just missed it and it got through my hands. That's what happens in boxing. That's why when the heavyweights are on, you don't get a hot dog, you don't go to the bathroom.
"I'm more serious now, I will show Rahman I got more talent than that," Lewis said. "The only thing that I'm upset about is that he tried to run away from this bout after signing his name for the first one. That's not honorable to me. There will be some intensity in the ring."
Oops, there is another slap at Rahman. Lewis keeps calling him a chicken. "I want the mayor and his staff to go ahead and start planning the celebration," said Rahman, laughing, while speaking directly to Lewis. "Lennox has been a great champion. You beat everybody from Riddick Bowe to Holyfield. Everybody. You were a great champion. But the key word is `was, has been, gone.' I'm going to answer all the critics."