After sour split with Rahman, promoter King is quite bitter

March 20, 2006|By RICK MAESE

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Even before he strode to the ring last night and even before we heard the first bell. Before Hasim Rahmans name echoed from the ring announcers throat to every corner of Boardwalk Hall and before a single one of his jabs connected with James Toney's face. Before any of that, Rahman was already a winner.

You know why? Because another man showed up at the party and gave every indication that he'd lost something.

"Forsake and be gone with the Rahman thing. But be that what it is, whats going to happen happens."

Recognize the cadence (or at least the confusion)? Several hours before Rahman and Toney squared off in the ring, Don King sat on a dais to talk about another fight, next months Floyd Mayweather-Zab Judah bout. But somehow, King kept coming back to Rahman.

He had with him more props than Carrot Top a couple of American flags, bling that resembled costume jewelry, the cigar, the hair. He was vociferous and vivacious, boisterous and noisterous with a pompous pompasity that pragmatically only exists in America (as hell remind you with the muddled eloquence of a dime-store thesaurus).

But we saw a new side of King yesterday. Up on that stage sat a bitter, bitter man.

Rahman was to enter the ring later that night, and King was only a bit player. With the help of a bankruptcy court, the fighter with roots in Baltimore freed himself from Kings control earlier this year. The fight against Toney was Rahmans first decent paycheck in 2 years about $2 million. A small percentage of that money funnels down to King, but the promoter had little to do with staging last nights show.

Top Rank, headed by legendary promoter Bob Arum, won rights to Rahman in a bidding war, ordered by the court.

So while King was supposed to be talking about Mayweather-Judah at yesterdays news conference, he kept coming back to Rahman, just the latest heavyweight who got away.

"I'm going to do this big fight that will be much bigger than this fight youll tonight. ..." King began, before stringing together a series of extraneous multisyllabic words that wouldnt do you much good this side of a Scrabble board.

The outspoken promoter has parted ways with a lot of fighters over the years. "The only one I ever called a traitor," he says, "is Rahman."

King says he stood by his fighter, gave him opportunity after opportunity. And then when it came time to reap the rewards, Rahman high-tailed it for someone else.

"You do everything you can to maneuver this fighter and get him back in there with all your acumen and time, King says, and go out there and put him in elimination matches and make him something that he couldnt do himself in a thousand years and then find out hes a betrayer."

It still stings King, and its easy to see why. There isn't a whole lot of hope in the heavyweight ranks. Last nights bout seemed like a big deal merely because it featured a pair of names that casual fight fans recognize.

Arum has avoided heavyweights for the past decade because there werent any money-makers in the field. Hes back because he thinks Rahman is worth the gamble. And even if he won't admit it, part of why King is still fuming is because someone else might make money off his guy. Its like losing a lottery ticket in court.

Though Rahman carried the champion label into the bout, no one who watched him fight Toney is about to confuse him with a Tyson, an Ali or a Foreman. But promoters are always looking several steps ahead. King and Arum both know the key to revitalizing the heavyweight ranks is to have the public buy into a singular heavyweight champion.

"If just one guy comes along, no one will talk about how bad the division is anymore, HBO analyst M-5Larry M-5Merchant said before last nights fight. People just need to know who the best is. If you go back through boxing history Dempsey, Louis, Marciano no one [cares] about the 10 guys after the champ. But they need to know who the champ is."

Right now, four different men can make a claim as heavyweight champion. Last nights bout was for the World Boxing Council belt. Chris Byrd has the International Boxing Federation belt. Hell face Wladimir Klitschko M-5next month. The World Boxing Association belt is owned by Nikolay Valuev, a 7-foot, 350-pound Russian who is lightly regarded in boxing circles. And Lamon Brewster, who might be the best of the bunch, is the unknown World Boxing Organization title-holder.

King has a piece of Valuev and still promotes Brewster. But nearly every fighter in the heavyweight ranks has a questionable upside.

Win or lose last night, Rahman wasn't ready to be catapulted. King might point to the fighter's "scheming and diabolical treachery," but it's Rahmans track record that will continue to raise eyebrows.

The critics have had a field day pointing to his shoddy wins and big losses. Yeah, last night was a big fight. But it's worth noting that Rahman already scored one major victory this year, long before he touched gloves with Toney.

The easiest way to discern a winner is to see how the opponent reacts, and yesterday King left few doubts that he felt like he lost something.

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