ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - When Hasim Rahman steps into the ring at Boardwalk Hall for tonight's 12-round heavyweight fight against Evander Holyfield, his motivation will be simple: to prove that his one-punch knockout of Lennox Lewis, which made him Baltimore's first world heavyweight champion, was not a fluke.
And if he can't defeat Holyfield, Rahman said, he will retire.
"This is do or die for me," said Rahman, 29, who lost the crown he won in April 2001 in a November rematch with Lewis. "I'm not in boxing to be an opponent, so if I can't be heavyweight champion of the world, I don't need to be in this business."
At Thursday's weigh-in at Kennedy Plaza, Rahman showed the effects of a new diet and the strict training regimen under new trainer Bouie Fisher. He came in at a surprisingly low 224 pounds to 216 for Holyfield.
Rahman has not weighed below 230 since knocking out Herman Delgado in two rounds on Dec. 17, 1996. His previous lows were 217 for a Jan. 6, 1995, first-round knockout of Robert Jackson in his second professional fight and 220 for a May 3, 1996, second-round KO of Steve Edwards.
"I haven't had any cheeseburgers. Cheese was the hardest thing to give up, because I put cheese on everything," said Rahman, who weighed 236 for his last fight against Lewis, and has a career high of 245. "It's a little light. I thought I'd come in maybe 231, 232. I definitely worked it off; it wasn't just diet. But whatever I weighed, if I weighed 199, I feel strong."
The bout will mark the debut of boxing at the refurbished, 13,800-seat Boardwalk Hall, whose new look finally is complete after 2 1/2 years and $90 million. No other venue in this gambling town has more than about 2,000 seats.
The Rahman-Holyfield winner becomes the No. 1 contender for the World Boxing Council version of Lewis' heavyweight title. The winner also assumes the No. 2 ranking in the International Boxing Federation behind champion Lewis and top contender Chris Byrd. Lewis will defend his titles against Mike Tyson on June 8 in Memphis, Tenn.
Though Holyfield is 10 years older than Rahman, the fighters have a lot of common, including devotion to their religion (Rahman is a Muslim, Holyfield a Christian) and a mutual respect for each other.
"We've displayed ourselves as athletes who don't really have to hate each other in order for people to realize that we're both good," said Holyfield, the sport's only four-time champion.
"You have two people from different eras, but we both have the mutual goals of winning. My goal is to be heavyweight champion of the world and to prove how good I still am."
Holyfield first became heavyweight champion with a knockout of Buster Douglas on Oct. 25, 1990. It has been 12 years and 19 fights since then, and many of the younger fighters Holyfield has vanquished, including Riddick Bowe and Michael Moorer, have come and gone. Holyfield, meanwhile, simply fights on. Regardless of the outcome tonight, Holyfield said he has no intention of retiring.
"Before I even put on a pair of gloves, they were saying Evander Holyfield was too old. They were even saying that when he won his first fight with Riddick Bowe," said Rahman. "We can eliminate the question of whether or not Evander is too old. Every time they say he can't do something, he goes and does it. So I'd appreciate it if everybody says he's going to do it."
Rahman called his taste of being champion "an appetizer," and said he still hungers for a third shot at Lewis, if not Tyson.
"I believe if I walk away with a convincing victory, people will want to see Rahman-Lewis III or Rahman-Tyson I," Rahman said, adding that his respect for Holyfield will end once the fighters enter the ring. "Once someone starts to throw bombs at my head, all the respect goes out of the window."
Who:Hasim Rahman vs. Evander Holyfield
Where:Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, N.J.
When:Tonight, approximately 10:30
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
........................ Holyfield Rahman
Weight............. 216.............. 224
Height.............. 6-2 1/2........ 6-2
Reach* ............77 1/2............84