Arum joins Rahman's fight

Renowned boxing promoter takes Baltimore native under wing

March 15, 2006|By LEM SATTERFIELD | LEM SATTERFIELD,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore native Hasim Rahman's sometimes turbulent boxing career may be on the rise even as there are still those who question his ability to sustain its upward momentum.

But fight promoter Bob Arum, chief executive officer of Top Rank, is not among the doubters. In fact, Arum acts as if he can turn the 33-year-old two-time World Boxing Council champion into the sport's greatest heavyweight attraction since Muhammad Ali.

"I'm not a neophyte in this business. Tomorrow will mark the 40th year that I've been in boxing promotion, so I know, based on experience, who is promotable and who isn't promotable," Arum, 74, said during a March 7 conference call. "Hasim Rahman is eminently promotable. And if he does his part, he ain't walking down any street without people knowing who he is. He has a great personality. He can be a major sports star, and I believe he will."

Rahman makes the first defense of his crown against James Toney on Saturday night in a bout that will be televised on HBO from Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J. And Arum said Rahman, who now lives in Las Vegas, is the reason he has re-entered the heavyweight picture for the first time since April 1995, when he promoted George Foreman's victory over Axel Schulz.

"We found Rahman to be a very intelligent, appreciative guy, somebody we could work with. And the reason we decided to stay in the division was because of Hasim Rahman," said Arum, whose career began with a March 1966 bout between Ali and George Chuvalo in Toronto. "The public is going to get great fights in the heavyweight division, and we have confidence in Rock's ability to beat any of the heavyweights out there."

Arum speaks from the experience of having made Oscar De La Hoya a household name and a millionaire. Former undisputed middleweight king Bernard Hopkins credits Arum for helping him to earn his largest payday - $10 million for his September 2004 knockout of De La Hoya. Arum promotes two of boxing's premier fighters in three-division champ and welterweight Floyd Mayweather, considered the sport's best fighter, pound-for-pound, and junior welterweight star Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico.

Arum has only invested in one heavyweight so far, and that's Rahman, whose six-bout winning streak positioned him to be the No. 1 contender to the WBC crown of Vitali Klitschko. Arum outbid rival Don King on Aug. 17 for the right to promote Klitschko-Rahman.

But Klitschko's retirement because of injuries in November forced the cancellation of that month's scheduled defense against Rahman, who then replaced the Ukrainian as WBC champ. Arum's path was further cleared later in November, when a Las Vegas judge made Rahman - who had filed for bankruptcy a month earlier citing a debt in excess of $5 million - a promotional free agent.

And in December, Judge Bruce A. Markell rejected a deal by King in favor of one by Arum, who later avoided a purse bid by paying Toney's co-promoters, King and Dan Goosen, $2.8 million to split with their fighter.

Rahman, who stands to make about $1.5 million against Toney, said Arum's insertion has led to a rebirth in his enthusiasm and the downsizing of his entourage.

"My whole team has had a makeover," Rahman said.

"My new management has my brother [Yah Yah Cason] and Steve [Nelson] collaborating. I think that I have a stronger management team because of it," said Rahman, referring to Nelson, who has managed him since his first fight. "I have a new promoter, and I'm really the focus of their heavyweight boxing. I'm not one of 400 heavyweights they promote. It's a chance to write a new chapter in my career and my history."

Nelson said: "I've always believed that Rock has been sort of a jigsaw puzzle. We've always been sort of piecing the puzzle together, slowly but surely. When we beat Lennox Lewis [to win the world title], a lot of people thought the puzzle was complete. It was far from complete.

"We realized we had to go back to school and rebuild this puzzle because there needed to be a lot of corrective surgery. The four quick comeback fights in Baltimore, Dover Downs and Rochester got Rock back in the winning way."

Still, there are those, such as Toney's trainer, Freddie Roach, who are not yet convinced of Rahman's prowess in the ring.

"Let's be honest: He's looked good one fight in his life. He knocked out Lennox Lewis," Roach told The Las Vegas Review Journal recently.

"What has he done since? Who has he beaten? He's lost to all of them," said Roach, referring to Rahman's 0-3-1 record since defeating Lewis before the start of his present winning streak. "He struggled against Monte Barrett [a decision in August 2005] - I don't care if they're friends or not. ... The thing is, I think [Rahman] is a little bit lazy. It seems he doesn't want to give a full effort."

Rahman said he understands the criticism.

"There are a lot of people on the fence, and justifiably so," he said. "Because they don't know which Rahman is going to show up. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. I don't blame them. ...

"Bob Arum went to bat for me, and I'm going to make Top Rank look like pure genius. It's a perfect marriage, and we're going to do big things in the next couple of years."

lem.satterfield@baltsun.com

Fight facts

Who: Hasim Rahman vs. James Toney, for Rahman's World Boxing Council heavyweight title

When: Saturday

Where: Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, N.J.

TV: HBO, 10 p.m.

Records: Rahman 41-5-1, 33 KOs; Toney 69-4-2, 43 KOs

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