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Rahman not ready to write himself off

14
Jun

Eighteen months ago, in a ring in Mannheim, Germany, Hasim Rahman had referee Tony Weeks’ arm draped over his shoulder, signaling an end to his fight with Wladimir Klitschko. To most observers, it also signaled the end of the former heavyweight champion’s career as a fighter of consequence.

Frankly, after that one-sided, seven-round beatdown – the seventh loss of Rahman’s career and arguably the sixth in which he’d given a disappointing performance – there were a lot of boxing fans who hoped they’d never have to see Rahman fight again.

Rahman is perhaps the most recognizable name from a wave of American heavyweights who appeared poised to receive the baton from the Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield-Riddick Bowe generation in the mid-’90s, only to fall short of expectations. Now in their late 30s, many of them are laboring on in a heavyweight division so shallow that they all believe they can still make an impact. Shannon Briggs is still around. So are Michael Grant and Lance Whitaker. David Tua, who’s not American-born but fought in the U.S. regularly and was part of that crew, is still out there, threatening to fight somebody with a pulse someday.

It seemed Rahman was done when he came up empty against Klitschko in December 2008. And if the one guy from that group who actually reached the top, knocking out Lennox Lewis for the legitimate heavyweight championship in 2002, was finished, then maybe that whole generation of heavyweights was finished and fans could forget about them.

One look at the current fight schedule, however, reveals that Rahman is not finished. He’s in action this Saturday night in Niagara Falls, N.Y., against tough guy Shannon Miller in what will be “The Rock’s” second fight in less than three months. (He KO’d sub-.500 Clinton Boldridge in the first round on a club show in Kansas City, Mo., in March.)

Some might view the news that the 37-year-old Rahman is still fighting with contempt. Others might just adopt an “I couldn’t care less” attitude. But Rahman still believes in himself, and the proof is in his willingness to build his way back up in untelevised clubfights, something former heavyweight champions don’t always have the humility to do.

“I was off for 15 months after the Klitschko fight, and I spent that time re-evaluating everything,” Rahman told RingTV.com. “I was re-evaluating if I could make a dent in the heavyweight division. I asked myself, when I look at these guys, can I beat these guys? And I really, honestly can say that if I get myself in top shape, I can. I truly feel like there’s not a heavyweight fighting right now that I can’t knock out. It’s never been about ego for me. Fighting in ballrooms and the whole nine, this ain’t the first time that I had to take this route. It’s easy for me to do, because I know that this method works for me. I went from being champ, to fighting in ballrooms, to being champ again.

“Boxing is not Disney World. It’s not a situation where somebody says, ‘Put this tooth under there, the tooth fairy’s going to come and give you money.’ You have to get back to the top with hard work. This is a realistic path for me. I know for a definite fact that doing this is what leads me to being champ.”

Almost every time Rahman has suffered a defeat, he has tossed his ego aside and done what was necessary to put together a winning streak. After his first loss, against Tua in 1998 (the one defeat in which he didn’t underperform at all, but rather got screwed by the ref), Rahman came back with an ESPN2 fight against Michael Rush and an off-TV bout against Arthur Weathers. When he got knocked out by Oleg Maskaev the following year, he returned with a win over iron-chinned trialhorse Marion Wilson on a club show. When Rahman lost to John Ruiz in ’03, two of his next three fights came in clubfights at Michael’s Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie, Md. When he lost again to Maskaev in ’06, he assembled a four-fight winning streak against Taurus Sykes, Dicky Ryan, Cerrone Fox and Zuri Lawrence.

Each time, this rebuilding method has led Rahman to HBO paydays or title opportunities. That’s where he’s hoping it will lead once again – although money and championships aren’t his primary motivations this time around.

Rahman took the Klitschko fight on relatively short notice, came in heavy at 253¾ pounds (point of comparison: when he knocked out Lewis, he weighed 238) and was struggling with injuries that required surgery and rehab after the fight. That wasn’t the way he wanted to bow out.

“I want to go out on my terms and on top,” he said. “I want to give myself another 18-month run, and if I don’t fight for the title again, that’s OK with me. I’m satisfied with my career. But I just want to fight a top guy and go out with a nice victory, preferably a knockout victory, over a top-rated guy. I just want to go in and upset the apple cart. There’s plenty of fight left in me.”

Not everyone is convinced that last statement is true. Former Baltimore Sun boxing writer Lem Satterfield covered Rahman’s career as closely as anyone, and in the Klitschko fight, he saw a fighter who “really didn’t have anything at all.” And unlike Rahman, Satterfield is not so willing to chalk it up to injuries and questionable conditioning.

“I’m very conflicted over him continuing to fight, because I’m close to the guy. There’s a lot of punishment to be taken when you’re that age,” said Satterfield, now the boxing editor at AOL FanHouse. “He’s a great guy, I love the guy to death. He had all the talent in the world, but he squandered it at the times that the ball was in his court. I think the inability to take advantage of the moment will forever be his legacy. He never should have lost those fights to Maskaev, but he didn’t take him seriously enough. Now, even if he does all the right things to prepare, I just think it’s going to be really hard to outwork a younger guy at his age.”

Helping in that pursuit is Rahman’s new trainer, former light heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. Yes, that’s right; Rahman has another new trainer. (“You’d be here for an hour and a half if I had to list all my trainers,” Rahman joked.)

This will be Rahman and Muhammad’s second fight together, and Muhammad is adamant that this is one old dog who’s capable of learning new tricks.

“I’m showing him how to come back with the left hook,” Muhammad said. “He never came back with the left hook. I’m showing him how to fight. I’m showing him defense and offense, to hit and not get hit. He’s losing weight rapidly, and he’s looking good. Right now he’s throwing his punches in combination, not fighting like a lumbering heavyweight. He has stamina and conditioning, and the mental attitude of, ‘Hey, I can do this again.'”

Perhaps most impressively, Rahman has the attitude of wanting to fight his way into shape and get in synch with Muhammad without the world watching. He doesn’t need the TV lights shining down on him. He doesn’t need a six-figure payday every time he steps in the ring.

Rahman is perfectly content to take on a guy like Shannon Miller at the Niagara Falls Conference Centre as a small step toward his end goal. And he’s well aware of what he has to do in the ring on Saturday night to make people take his comeback seriously.

“Somebody like Shannon Miller is very dangerous because the risk-reward don’t make sense for me,” Rahman said. “I could go in there and beat Shannon Miller, and I could beat him every round and get four knockdowns, but if I don’t knock him out, then I look bad! So it’s a lose-lose for me. I’m in a situation that I gotta go in and pretty much destroy a guy. If I don’t, then it’s ‘Why is he still fighting? Oh, Rahman’s still around? He couldn’t even get rid of Shannon Miller.’ So I gotta go against the whole adage, ‘Don’t go in there looking for a knockout,’ because I really have to go in there and knock this guy out.”

Whether or not he knocks Miller out, the name Hasim Rahman is likely to remain relevant in boxing for the foreseeable future. That’s because even if The Rock’s road reaches its end soon, his 19-year-old son, Hasim Jr., the eldest of the former champ’s five kids, is an amateur heavyweight developing a serious buzz and setting his sights on the 2012 Olympic team.

So for those who thought Hasim Rahman would vanish after he lost to Klitschko, you were wrong in more ways than one. But before the junior version is ready to try to be the savior of heavyweight boxing in America, the original is giving it one last shot.

Rahman knows firsthand that in boxing, one punch can change everything. But he’s choosing to take the long, hard road back because he wants to give himself more than just a puncher’s chance at the ending he’s looking for.

RASKIN’S RANTS

ÔÇó Poor David Lemieux. He’s ugly, he can’t punch, he fights out of a city that doesn’t support boxing and his last name has no cache in the world of sports. Must suck to be him.

ÔÇó One edge Elvin Ayala had over Lemieux on Friday night: the better nickname. Seriously, “The Wrath Of God” might be the best nickname in all of boxing at the moment. Based on the evidence presented against Lemieux, God’s wrath isn’t what it used to be, but still – great nickname.

ÔÇó I’ve long insisted that controversy alone doesn’t sell, and the pathetic pay-per-view numbers (somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 buys) for Antonio Margarito’s return certainly support that viewpoint. Good for all the fans for sending a message; hopefully these numbers will discourage Bob Arum from pushing Margarito as a back-up plan for Manny Pacquiao in the fall.

ÔÇó On the other side of the numbers game, how about the 3.9 HBO rating for Miguel Cotto-Yuri Foreman? It’s interesting that the novelty of a fight at Yankee Stadium didn’t go far in drawing fans out to the ballpark, but it did go far in selling the fight as something worth watching at home.

ÔÇó It’s not often that you scream at the TV “that guy looks like a friggin’ bantamweight” and you’re marveling over how big someone is, but that was the case when I saw Jesus Iribe in the ring with Ivan Calderon on Saturday night. Add another example to the list of fights that prove that size advantage is highly overrated.

ÔÇó Smart move by Top Rank putting punchless Gabriel Bracero on Saturday’s card at the WaMu Theatre at Madison Square Garden. They succeeded in making their headliner, Calderon, look like Earnie Shavers by comparison.

ÔÇó There will be a new episode of Ring Theory coming this week, featuring a guest appearance by RingTV.com co-editor Michael Rosenthal. The episode will also premiere our brand new, non-’70s-porn-tastic theme song. We realize we’ll be losing most of listeners who fall into the “55 to 62 years of age with bad moustaches” demographic, but that’s a price we’re willing to pay.

Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected] You can read his articles each month in THE RING magazine and follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin.

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