Fighting for Rahman

Stan Hoffman: With New York attitude, the champion's co-manager brings toughness to the negotiating table.

Rahman-lewis Ii

November 13, 2001|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS - Stan Hoffman grew up a smallish kid in Brooklyn and the Bronx, and the lessons he learned on the New York streets carried into the boxing ring - and into his career as a fight manager.

"I would gouge your eyes. I was a street fighter, which is why I was such a terrible amateur boxer," he said. "I got knocked out a couple of times, but I didn't fight fair. And if you're bigger, stronger than I am, I was going to find a way to hurt you."

Hoffman, 69, brings that same tenacity to the negotiating table as co-manager with Steve Nelson for heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman of Baltimore. "If I'm right, I will not take no for an answer," Hoffman said.

Rahman, like Hoffman as a kid, was a real underdog in the heavyweight ranks before his management maneuvered him into a title bout with Lennox Lewis in April and Rahman delivered a knockout victory.

Just two years earlier, Oleg Maskaev literally knocked Rahman out of an Atlantic City, N.J., ring. It was Rahman's first bout with Hoffman.

Rahman recalled: "He [Hoffman] gave me a lot of money [as a signing bonus]. It was my birthday. I felt like I really let this man down."

But Hoffman surprised Rahman, showing up at his house two days later.

"This man drove to my house, brought me a birthday present," Rahman said. "It was a watch. A nice watch. To me, that meant so much.

"I'm sure he had media people and people all around the world laughing at him, like, `Ha ha, you gave that man all your money, and you're never going to get it back.' But that made me want to go that much harder. I felt a person I was with, with or without boxing, had a genuine love for me. Knowing that a member of my team was 100 percent about me, that gave me much more inspiration."

Hoffman also gives Rahman a tough negotiator in his corner.

"Most people know me as a feisty guy. I don't fear anybody. That's not how I grew up," said Hoffman, no taller than 5 feet 6, who wears what's left of the white hair on his balding head in a ponytail. "I don't fear anyone, and I don't care who you are."

Hoffman's fearless nature showed in the wake of Rahman's title victory. Rahman and his management team dumped the fighter's longtime promoter, Cedric Kushner - Hoffman's friend of many years - in favor of Don King. Hit first with harsh criticism for aligning with the controversial King and then dragged into court by Kushner and Lewis, Rahman and Hoffman endured. The court awarded Lewis a rematch, but invalidated Kushner's promotional rights.

And today Rahman is a millionaire, having collected $6.5 million - including a $5 million signing bonus from King - and stands to make more than $10 million for Saturday night's rematch with Lewis.

Hoffman expects Rahman to beat Lewis again. His fighters always win against fighters trained by Emanuel Steward, as Lewis is.

"I've never lost to Steward, and he knows that," said Hoffman, whose former champion, Iran Barkley, twice beat Steward's middleweight, Thomas Hearns. "Show me a good loser, and he's still a loser. I just love winning."

But life wasn't always fair to Hoffman. His mother died when he was 2, and he "hardly knew my father."

"My grandmother raised me until I was 5," Hoffman said. "I had no real family background except aunts and uncles, whom I saw very sporadically. My father remarried, I had a stepmother - [their relationship] never made it."

Hoffman never graduated from high school, but ended up in the record business until moving into boxing management in 1980. Among his scores of fighters, he said he's had 33 champions.

Hoffman hooked up with Rahman in the summer of 1999. Rahman was angered that his co-manager at the time, Robert Mittleman, couldn't secure a rematch with David Tua after Tua dealt Rahman his first loss after 29 pro fights. Rahman fired Mittleman and charged Nelson, who sided with Rahman on the issue, with finding a replacement.

"It wasn't going to be easy, because Rock was not a guy who was going to make guys fly all over the country to meet with him," Nelson said. "There were a number of people who were candidates, but Stan was the odds-on favorite."

The deal was done on July 28, with Rahman commanding a signing bonus that was unusual for his relative marketability. Although he would not say what the bonus was, Hoffman said: "It was huge, like hocking a wife and two kids."

With Rahman, Hoffman relies on Nelson, a former mortgage banker, to keep records.

"Steve is very good with the finer points, the particulars," Hoffman said. "I'm more the `Let's shake hands, or let's not.' I've never had a problem getting in to see anybody. If I want to see Don King, I'll persist until I do. That's what I do. One-on-one, in-your-face, eyeball-to-eyeball."

He also won't waver in his confidence in his fighter.

"From Day One, when Rock's name came up from Steve, from that very moment, I made it known to Steve, to Rock and to the world that my feelings were that this was, absolutely, a world champion in the making," Hoffman said.

King warned Hoffman never to fall in love with his fighters, but Hoffman said he always does.

"The night after the Maskaev fight, Rock's sitting on the bed, his wife, Crystal, is holding him. I kissed him on top of his head," Hoffman said. "I said, `Don't even worry about it. I'll see you in a couple of days.' We went to work, right after that, and here we are."

Fight facts

What: Heavyweight championship rematch

Who: Hasim Rahman (35-2, 29 knockouts) of Baltimore vs. Lennox Lewis (38-2-1, 29) of England for Rahman's WBC and IBF titles

When: Saturday

Where: Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas

TV: HBO pay-per-view; broadcast begins at 9 p.m., main event after 11:30

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