Rahman's eye on big prize has become tunnel vision

Boxing: The Baltimore native, who will trade punches with Monte Barrett tonight, says he has learned from his mistakes.


August 13, 2005|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Hasim Rahman has been in the spotlight before, but somehow he has always ended up slipping back into the shadows.

This time, though, could be different. Heading into tonight's World Boxing Council interim heavyweight title fight with Monte Barrett in Chicago, the Baltimore native appears more focused, having shed distractions and pounds that once dragged him down.

"A man that don't know his history is bound to repeat it. And I'm here to tell you that I've been there, done that. I know clearly what happened and what I did wrong," Rahman said last month at his home - and training base - in Las Vegas.

Rahman's history includes at least three occasions when he was poised to launch himself into a starring role in the heavyweight ranks, but each time turned in a disappointing performance.

In December 1998, he was 29-0 when David Tua stopped him in the 10th round of an International Boxing Federation title elimination bout.

Rahman came back three years later to shock the boxing world by knocking out Lennox Lewis and taking his undisputed heavyweight crown. But in their November 2001 rematch, Lewis recaptured the title with a fourth-round knockout.

Rahman entered a November 2003 bout with John Ruiz as the more popular fighter and heavy favorite, only to fight poorly in a 12-round loss that earned Ruiz the World Boxing Association interim title and, later, the WBA crown.

After earning millions in two bouts with Lewis, Rahman saw his appeal and marketability plummet. After tonight, he will have pocketed less than $300,000 total for his past six fights, including the $100,000 he will make against Barrett's $250,000.

"Hasim Rahman knows that he blew it, that he never should have lost the heavyweight championship," said Steve Nelson, who co-manages Rahman with promoter Don King's son, Carl. "It was his to own for years, but instead he has the shortest reign of anybody out there.

"Why did Hasim Rahman give away the greatest title that anyone could have, not only in boxing, but in all of sports? Rock was not able to hold onto the greatest achievement in sports because he defeated himself."

But Rahman said the factors that led to his failures - sloth in training and the distractions of an oversized entourage - have been replaced by a tireless work ethic, a downsized and more focused team and a deeper commitment to clean living and his faith as a Sunni Muslim.

He said he "felt like a changed man - as clean as the day I was born" - after he joined fellow Muslims in January for the pilgrimage to Mecca.

"If I want somebody else to get the title, all I have to do is start taking shortcuts," Rahman said. "But everything I do religiously has now become more important than anything else I do. That allows me to concentrate on boxing, allows my focus to be sharper.

`I've got to step up'

"I'm not going to be hanging out late at this club or that club or have any distractions. I'm a proud former champion who is back in the position and status of being a future champion. I've got to step up and do what a champion is supposed to do."

During a meeting with national and international media at his Las Vegas base, Rahman, who will turn 33 in November, said: "I'm not 28 or 29 anymore. I don't really have any more legs to stand on. So I work my legs, I work my body, I work my mind, I keep my prayers in order. I feel like I'm the hardest puncher in the division, but it's up to me to convince the public and the media. I have that kind of responsibility on my shoulders."

Before arriving in Chicago on Sunday, he spent a little more than two months living and working out in Las Vegas under Thell Torrence, who is in his second fight with Rahman and is the boxer's ninth different trainer in a career that has spanned 11 years.

Torrence, 69, spent 44 years as a chief second to the legendary Eddie Futch. As such, Torrence had a hand in the development of heavyweight champs Riddick Bowe, Tony Tubbs, Ken Norton and Joe Frazier. He also mentors unbeaten British prospect Audley Harrison.

"Rock knows most all of the heavyweights I've been with have done well," Torrence said. "And he knows that I'm all business - a no-nonsense guy who can enhance what he's already doing."

This time, it seems that whatever Rahman works on, there isn't a moment when Torrence isn't in his face, staring into the fighter's eyes, teaching him.

"We're working hard every day of the week, running six to eight miles in the mountains at 5-, 6,000 feet of altitude, and I'm hitting all cylinders in the strength and conditioning," Rahman said.

"I'll keep training hard and stay focused - that's what has to be done if I want the title. I've got a career that is on the upswing and I'm out to show everyone that there's nothing any other heavyweight out there can do with me."

Whether skipping rope, hammering a speed bag with his massive fists or ripping punches into Torrence's hand-pads during simulated sparring sessions, Rahman has toiled like a man who knows the clock is winding down on his career.

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