Rahman declares this parade a winner

May 15, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

Of the estimated 1,400 participants and the 10,000 spectators at Saturday's Westside Preakness Parade, none anticipated it or enjoyed it more than the grand marshal.

"That's a dream in and of itself," the grand marshal said the night before he was scheduled to ride down a major thoroughfare in his hometown in a bright yellow convertible during one of its signature events. "How many people can say that he's the heavyweight champion of the world, and he's grand marshal of the Preakness Parade?"

Hasim Rahman then let out a laugh. "And people ask me, `How are you doing?' How can you ask me that? How do you think I'm doing?"

Rahman, champion for the second time, got the Baltimore parade treatment for the second time Saturday, and he did just fine. Better than the previous time, just over five years ago, when the celebration of his victory over Lennox Lewis was disrupted by a speeding car plowing into the motorcade, spilling him, his wife and children into the street and leaving them with minor injuries.

This time, as he rode down Eutaw Street - with his wife, Crystal, safely in a car behind him and the kids even safer at home - he waved to the fans cheering him, chatted up some of them and basked in the glow.

Call it a good omen. With the result of the previous parade reversed, Rahman might be able to look forward to a couple of other factors turning in his favor, too. He lost the first title defense after gaining the title the first time, in the 2001 Lewis rematch.

And in his next title defense, in August in Las Vegas, he faces Kazakhstan's Oleg Maskaev, who spectacularly knocked him through the ropes in a 1999 bout in Atlantic City. At the relatively advanced age of 33, and after a series of career ups and downs that multiple champs rarely experience, "Rock" wants to add to his World Boxing Council belt, unify the four titles, take out a Klitschko along the way (Wladimir, whose brother's retirement last summer handed the title to Rahman, is the World Boxing Organization champ), and eventually go out on top.

As serious a task as that is, Rahman has brought his usual expressive nature and sense of humor to the coming fight. At a news conference in New York last week, he cracked that he looked forward to fighting Wladimir Klitschko because "we've got all these Rahman-Klitschko hats and shirts, and we've got to get rid of all that stuff. ... I've got to save you guys a few dollars."

Yet when it came to the honor bestowed Saturday, Rahman was seriously introspective. The ties between Baltimore and Rahman have been tenuous at times, before and after he became champ and before and after he lost his crown. But he has never denied his heritage and has always yearned for his hometown's love and support. He got plenty of that Saturday.

"It was overwhelming," he said during the parade. "All the people from all the different racial and economic backgrounds who came out to see me and who were calling my name, welcoming me back to Baltimore as their own. It goes to show me that all of the blood, the sweat and the miles of training that I dedicate don't go unappreciated. I came away with a tremendous sense of gratitude."

One parade observer, Woodlawn's Ameena Karim, said she wanted to make sure her children, and her younger sister, recognized and understood who they were seeing. "To me, he's significant, because it means a lot to have a hometown hero," she said. "I know that he was a struggling, inner-city youth, and that he rose above his obstacles and became a boxer. I think that's really a commendable thing."

Appreciative as Rahman is of such praise, getting it from an institution like the Preakness celebration is special. Like many residents, he saw the race as a source of pride even while never attending or being part of the hoopla.

"When you tell people `Baltimore,' they tell you, Preakness and seafood. They know about crab cakes, and they know about the Preakness," he said.

When the parade organizers called him, Rahman said: "I said absolutely. I stayed here an extra week for this." Even by starting training for the Maskaev fight this week instead of last week, he's still jumping in early, determined to be in peak physical condition.

It didn't escape Rahman's notice that the grand marshal of the pre-race parade for the Kentucky Derby had been Muhammad Ali, and that Louisville got a chance to smooth over any past unease between the city and the champ.

Consider everything between the current champ and his hometown smoothed over. "I was already focused," he said Saturday, "but now, I feel completely rejuvenated, feeling that Baltimore is truly behind me."

And this time, there were no speeding cars near him.


Read David Steele's blog at baltimoresun.com/steeleblog

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