Memory of Tua's late punch stings Rahman

Baltimore heavyweight was ahead in 1998 bout, now gets shot at payback


March 28, 2003|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Hasim Rahman was unbeaten in 29 bouts. He was 26 and only a fifth-year professional. Yet the Baltimore heavyweight had dubbed himself "the heir apparent" to the crown.

All that stood between Rahman and a shot at champion Lennox Lewis was a Miami bout against once-beaten David Tua.

Rahman boxed beautifully during the December 1998 fight, blending powerful combinations with effective counter-punching. He clinched when the hard-hitting Samoan got too close and had a huge lead entering the later rounds.

But as the bell sounded to end the ninth round, Rahman dropped his guard along the ropes as a left hook by Tua found Rahman's jaw. The blow dazed Rahman, but no foul was called. Rahman, not given any recovery time, still was shaken when Tua cornered him 35 seconds into the 10th round, and Tua's unanswered combination caused the referee to stop the fight.

"The best shot he got was a blatant foul, and he didn't give me a rematch," said Rahman, 30, who led by five points on one judge's card and by seven on the other two cards. "People say, `You got stopped by David Tua.' People look at my record, and I don't acknowledge it as a loss. If you're real with yourself, you know I didn't lose that fight. I'm comfortable with myself knowing I beat that man."

Rahman (35-4, 29 knockouts), nevertheless, will be looking for payback tomorrow against Tua (42-3, 37 KOs) in their HBO-televised 12-rounder at the First Union Spectrum in Philadelphia.

It will happen on the undercard of the record 16th title defense by undisputed middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins, who will face Mourade Hakkar.

"This is a must-win for me," said the 6-foot-2 Rahman, who expects to enter the ring at 245 pounds.

Like Tua-Rahman I, which granted Tua a failed attempt at Lewis' crown, the rematch is an International Boxing Federation title eliminator bout, this time earning the winner a shot at IBF belt-holder Chris Byrd.

In his past two fights, Rahman has been flattened in four rounds by Lewis in November 2001 - seven months after lifting Lewis' crowns by fifth-round knockout - and lost by a technical decision in June to aging four-time champion Evander Holyfield. Only two of the 40 boxing experts polled for Tua-Rahman II give the edge to Rahman.

"Because this man hit me with a good shot after the bell in the first fight, people think I can't stand up to a shot," Rahman said. "I might not be able to stand up to a punch when he hits me after the bell, but did Tua ever hurt me at any other time in the fight? But I like it like this. I want the odds to be 20-1. I'm a stronger, much smarter boxer now."

But just 21 days ago, Rahman, citing an erosion in chemistry, replaced trainer Bouie Fisher with former two-time welterweight champion Buddy McGirt. Fisher had worked one bout - Rahman's loss to Holyfield - after replacing Adrian Davis.

McGirt, however, is contracted to Main Events, a rival to Rahman's promoter, Don King. The organization prohibits McGirt from working the corner of Rahman, who will instead rely on his cut man Miguel Diaz, a noted trainer himself.

McGirt might be close enough to the ring to have a say, but Rahman said: "No corner man ever took a punch for me.

"My defense is tighter, my offense is better, but I'm not going to sit there and prove my chin. If I don't have to get hit, I won't."

Rahman could opt for the style that helped Lewis and Byrd in lopsided victories over Tua, 30, who is 5-9 and about 240 pounds, that were 10 months apart. Each remained at a distance in out-pointing Tua, who lost his November 2000 challenge for Lewis' IBF and World Boxing Council titles by as much as 10 points on one card and his IBF eliminator bout with Byrd by as much as four points on two cards.

Only one fighter, hard-hitting Ike Ibeabuchi in June 1997, stood toe-to-toe with Tua, who lost the first bout of his career by one, three and six points on the judges' cards.

His April 2001 single-punch knockout for Lewis' title notwithstanding, Rahman likely would be ill-advised to trade punches with Tua, a man who has rolled over many opponents in the later rounds.

"I feel good about this one," Rahman said, "like I can win every round."

Fight facts

Who:Hasim Rahman (35-4, 29 KOs) vs. David Tua (42-3, 37 KOs) in a 12-round International Boxing Federation heavyweight eliminator bout

Where:First Union Spectrum, Philadelphia

When:Tomorrow, 10 p.m.


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