Rahman can strike a blow for boxing

December 13, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

THE SPORT of boxing needs Baltimore's Hasim Rahman. Rahman can't do for boxing what Tiger Woods did for golf, but he can fill a void, especially in the heavyweight division.

Go ahead, name the five best heavyweights in the world. Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield ... dah, dah, dah. OK, time is up.

And then there is Rahman, 31. Right now, he happens to be the most marketable of them all. He is still young and good enough to have some name recognition. He is articulate, a family man and one of the world's greatest success stories, having gone from the penitentiary to once being the heavyweight champion of the world.

So when Rahman fights former champion John Ruiz tonight in Atlantic City, N.J., for the World Boxing Association interim title, the boxing world will hold its collective breath, waiting for a Rahman victory. If he wins, it's party time over at HBO headquarters.

"He's a solid guy, and boxing needs someone with some charisma," said Bert Sugar, the noted boxing historian. "There hasn't been once since Ali left. Rahman is reliable. It's refreshing to hear him speak. He's a family man as opposed to Holyfield, who can have his own million-man family march."

"There is a total vacuum in the heavyweight division, even though there are four champions," said Sugar. "Lennox Lewis has retired, despite what anybody says. Roy Jones Jr. is a champ, but really wants to remain in the light heavyweight division. If Chris Byrd and Corrie Sanders both walked down Charles Street with shorts on and Everlast boxing gloves, people still would like to know what they did for a living."

Rahman's name has been linked to two criminal cases since 2001, but he has never been charged in those cases.

In July, one of two men charged with running a well-organized Baltimore drug ring. which disguised its operations behind nightclubs and other businesses, testified that he used a $100,000 investment from Rahman to reopen a nightclub. But Rahman denied having an ownership interest in the club.

In July 2001, federal authorities alleged Rahman helped launder $37,000 in suspected drug money for a cousin in 1998. Rahman's attorney denied the allegation.

In March 2002, two people were found shot to death in Northwest Baltimore in a car owned by Rahman, but he was not implicated. One of the victims was Rahman's employee.

Despite his controversial past, Rahman can still become the 246-pound media darling of his profession. Look at boxing, with its staged news conferences and vulgar language. It's really pro wrestling with gloves.

Earlier this week, Ruiz canceled two interview sessions that were open to the media. Nice guy, eh? And then there was an expletive-laced tirade at a press conference from undisputed welterweight champion Ricardo Mayorga, also earlier this week.

Is this what you want your children to hear? It's standard in boxing.

"I have never heard so many four-letter and eight-letter words, and they were delivered in two different languages," said Sugar. "And then you have a Rahman step forward, and he thanks Don King, then he thanks HBO for having him. Boxing needs more athletes like him."

"He has tremendous determination and is conscious of self," said Sugar. "He knows what he can do in and out of the ring. He has flaws, but is still a competent fighter. He isn't great, but in a division of one-eyed men, he can be the king."

Without question. That's because Rahman has a way of reinventing himself. On Nov. 6, 1999, Rahman got nailed by Oleg Maskaev in the eighth round. He was knocked out of the ring and into TV monitors in Atlantic City in one of the most embarrassing moments in his career.

But six months later, he threw about 40 unanswered punches in the seventh round to stop Sanders. Nearly a year later, Rahman shocked the world by knocking out Lewis to become the undisputed champion of the world.

With Rahman, there never seems to be a dull moment when he fights. There was the lump fight with Holyfield in June 2002 when Holyfield head-butted him, raising a huge lump (another head, Rahman called it) on his forehead that led to a loss by a technical decision in the eighth round.

There was the fight with David Tua 10 months ago when Rahman came into the ring weighing about 260 pounds, almost 14 to 15 above his prescribed fighting weight. Despite not having the Goodyear label on his forehead, Rahman managed a draw.

Now, he is back near center stage against Ruiz, a brawler whom some call a dirty fighter. If Rahman wins, it should eventually lead to a title fight.

If he loses, no one will want to fight him again because Rahman is too dangerous.

"Rahman should win," said Sugar. "Ruiz has the Lawrence Welk style; one, two, punch, clinch; one, two, punch clinch. It should be an easy fight for Rahman. Ruiz is a statue. If Rahman doesn't get him by the third or fourth round, then the birds on his shoulders will."

At age 31, it would seem Rahman would be on the decline, but that's far from the truth. He hasn't been involved in any of those Ali-Frazier type, drawn-out brawls. Those who have been around him believe he has some good years left.

Former trainer Buddy McGirt said: "Rock has not reached his full potential as a fighter. There is so much more he can do, and he can get so much better."

"He's very talented," said Bouie Fisher, another one of Rahman's former trainers. "I most certainly think he has a great shot at winning the championship again. I can talk for an hour about Hasim Rahman, but I can't think of anything bad to say about him. He's got a great future in front of him."

That's what boxing enthusiasts want to hear. They need a competent fighter who can make a good impression. Boxing needs Rahman just as much as Rahman needs boxing.

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