Final bell?

On Hasim Rahman

Heavyweight's future hinges on tonight's fight

July 16, 2008|By RICK MAESE

Anyone who thinks Brett Favre is indecisive and functionally foolish about retirement should have a talk with a boxer. Any boxer. Even after the alarm clock on his career starts buzzing, he's likely to either ignore it or hit snooze a few times and sleepwalk his way through fights.

"I feel like I can do things now that I've never done before," former heavyweight champ and Baltimore native Hasim Rahman told me the other day. "I'm stronger, I'm wiser. I'm taking it to levels that I've never taken it before. When I won the title, I wasn't as good as I am now."

Eight months since he has fought anyone, and nearly two years since he has fought anyone who matters, Rahman is back in the ring tonight for a rematch with James Toney. It's the rematch no one particularly wants to see, but there is a silver lining. Each fighter - Rahman is 35, Toney 39 - has promised the same thing: loser retires.

"It's clear to me that if I can't win a title, then why am I here?" Rahman says.

There's a sad symmetry to a fighter's career. Too often, he begins the way he started. He comes from nowhere, fights nobodies, spends as much time at his peak as possible, fights nobodies and then disappears to nowhere.

After fighting Toney (70-6-3, 43 KOs) to a draw in March 2006, Rahman (45-6-3, 36 KOs) lost his World Boxing Council title to Oleg Maskaev in August 2006. I had first floated the idea of retirement then. For better or worse, Rahman has fought four times since, beating slugs by the name of Sykes, Ryan, Fox and Lawrence. Sounds like an aging law firm, doesn't it? They were all Rahman wins, all uninteresting, most unimpressive.

The most recent Rahman-Toney fight was held on a Saturday night in Atlantic City, N.J., aired on pay-per-view and had a legitimate title on the line.

The sequel is a random Wednesday in Temecula, Calif., airing at 11 p.m. on regional cable (a part of Best Damn Sports Show Period programming on Comcast SportsNet), and the winner will wear a belt sanctioned by the NABO. (Which stands for either Not Another Belt, Oy vey?! or North American Boxing Organization.)

Each fighter has described tonight's bout as his last chance. Win tonight and because the heavyweight waters are so shallow, a shot at a real title might not be far down the road. Lose, though, and each seems to agree there's really no reason to continue.

"If he beats me, then maybe he has a shot at the title," Rahman says. "But I certainly don't.

"[Retirement] is a regular thought. But I really feel like I can do it. As long as I feel that way, I'm going to try. If I stop feeling that way, I'll walk away. [But] I think I may have more success in the future than I had [in] the past, and that's why I'm still here."

Rahman's entire reputation still hinges on one punch, the one that put Lennox Lewis on his back in 2001. The only reason he's even still entertaining championship thoughts is because he knows the names atop his in the rankings are fragile. Rahman points out that no heavyweight is consistent and even though the crop is unproven, there is plenty of parity.

But you have a lot to prove, too, I point out. You have to include yourself in that critique.

"I'm definitely including myself in that," he says. "The knock on me has always been: Which Hasim Rahman is going to show up? Focused, strong, prepared? Or a boring one, going through the motions?"

Rahman should've walked away after the first Toney fight because it had been too long since we'd seen him at his inspired and formidable best. He has been training in Phoenix with Marshall Kaufman, though, and says he'll prove tonight that he's taking this last lunge at a title seriously.

"I'm not going to let someone else tell me to quit because they perceive this, that or the other," Rahman says, "because they think something about my age or something about my fights. I'm not going to let anyone else retire me."

Though Toney hasn't fought in more than a year, he'll take his best shot tonight. After entering their first bout looking like a Sea World attraction, Toney is said to be in better shape this time around. After the draw with Rahman, Toney lost twice to Samuel Peter and won a narrow split decision over a heavyweight hitchhiker named Danny Batchelder.

(Impressively, both Toney and Batchelder tested positive for steroids after the fight.)

How sad it is that Toney, too, might be just one win away from a title shot?

For fans, the heavyweight division is easy to ignore, and for Toney and Rahman, they hope, easy to ascend.

"I want to put them all on notice," Rahman says. "I'm coming back like I left something. I'm coming back to get what's mine."

If it's not there, though, let's just hope Rahman is able to admit it.

An athlete like Favre can afford to linger. In boxing, it's not your legacy that suffers. It's your faculties. You stand to lose a lot more than a title shot.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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