ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - The fighter and the trainer agree: If Hasim Rahman is to defeat Evander Holyfield tomorrow night, he'll have to be both a boxer and a puncher, not exclusively one or the other.
For if Rahman tries to play it safe by backing up, Holyfield will wade in and fire away at him. If Rahman tries to go for an early knockout, he could be the one who winds up on the canvas.
"It's going to take plenty of heart and plenty of smarts," Rahman said.
Said Rahman's trainer, Bouie Fisher: "Power is great, but speed and power are better."
Rahman, 29, coming off November's fourth-round knockout loss to International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Council champ Lennox Lewis, will try to rebound with a victory over Holyfield, 39, the sport's only four-time heavyweight champion.
Their bout will be televised from Boardwalk Hall, a venue that has undergone a $90 million renovation. Rahman was the last fighter to take a punch at Boardwalk Hall, a right hand by Oleg Maskaev on Nov. 7, 1999, that blasted him through the ropes and out of the fight in the eighth round.
But Rahman returned to Atlantic City on May 20, 2000, knocking out Corrie Sanders, a 6-foot-7 South African left-hander, in the main ballroom of Bally's Hotel & Casino.
Two fights later, Rahman scored his dramatic fifth-round knockout of Lennox Lewis to become Baltimore's first heavyweight champion. Rahman discussed the strategy for his coming fight with members of the media Tuesday night as his new trainer, Bouie Fisher, wrapped his hands before a light workout.
"I've looked at people like Lennox Lewis, who came back from a devastating knockout loss to me, and he's champion again, so I know I can be champion again," said Rahman. "I'm already strong, so my power's not going anywhere. But I realize I don't have to load up and throw big shots and try to reach in and do this or that. I've learned to set my stuff up and let my punches go in bunches, and it's been effective."
Fisher, who will turn 75 on fight night, has spent nearly the past three months trying to teach the young dog the new tricks.
"The goal is to have my fighter believe in me and have confidence in me. He has to be able to take the instructions given to him and be able to rely on those instructions," said Fisher. "What he's doing now is a change from what he was doing before. It's a change, 1,000 times over, but he's been a good student, and the response on his part has been unbelievable."
Both trainer and fighter acknowleged Rahman could revert back to old habits - trying to slug his way out of trouble - during the heat of battle or the first time he gets hit.
"We're going to mix it up," Rahman said. "I know I'm going to take some shots. I know I'm going to get hit. I know I'm in for a fight. But I have to make sure that it's not for a sustained period.
"I'm going to try to get there first and last, be able to switch up and change strategies from round-to-round. I'm not going to win it on just one punch. I need to be disciplined in my strategy, but my team is designed to keep me calm and to keep me on the game plan."
Fisher said: "Will he go back to some old habits? Experience will tell you that he will. But it's my job to be able to tell him, don't forget this or don't forget that."
Rahman said he is motivated by the fact that, should he defeat Holyfield, he can lay claim to an accomplishment that no other heavyweight of this era can: "Who else can say, `I got a victory over Evander and Lennox Lewis?' " Rahman asked.
"If [Mike] Tyson knocks Lennox out in one round flat, he still can't say that," said Rahman, who had only 11 amateur fights. "I'm a guy who has always fought people who had more experience than me. So in terms of me, somebody who didn't have the amateur background of most of the guys I've fought, if I can come up and get a victory over Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield, I mean, who else can say that? I'm looking to add some more chapters to the history books."
The Rahman-Holyfield winner will be the No. 1 contender for the World Boxing Council version of Lewis' championship belts. But if Lewis should defeat Mike Tyson in their June 8 bout in Memphis, Tenn., he likely would defend against the International Boxing Federation's No. 1 contender, Chris Byrd, before the Rahman-Lewis winner gets a shot.
"I've seen Rahman in both the Lennox Lewis fights. I saw the Corrie Sanders fight. ... You have in Rahman a guy who really gives his all, each and every fight," said Holyfield. "He has very good basic skills and he uses them to an effect, but it's his desire and determination that he wins on. I know I have to outsmart him, out-think him and make things difficult for him. It will be a tough fight until I take him out."
Who:Hasim Rahman vs. Evander Holyfield
Where:Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, N.J.
When:Tomorrow, approximately 10:30 p.m.
TV:HBO, 10 p.m.
Records:Rahman, 35-3-0, 29 KOs; Holyfield, 37-5-2, 25 KOs
Purse:Rahman, $2 million; Holyfield, $5 million
Tale of the tape