- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Chaos has surrounded Hasim Rahman from the moment he knocked out heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and stunned the sports world, to the point when he signed his lucrative long-term deal with Don King.
But that is nothing new for Rahman.
Rahman has seen his share of uncertainty and unpredictability since the Baltimore heavyweight turned pro and stopped Greg Herrington in the first round of his debut fight in December 1994. However, things became a little clearer yesterday when Rahman announced at a New York news conference that he would be fighting on King's Aug. 4 card in Beijing.
Rahman likely will face journeyman Brian Nielsen in the first defense of his World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation belts, on the same card as Evander Holyfield, who will face World Boxing Association champion John Ruiz.
The entire process leading up to the Lewis fight, in fact, was so uncertain that at times it seemed as if the entire house of cards would collapse prior to the bout. However, the bout did occur on April 21 in South Africa and was capped by Rahman's surprising fifth-round knockout of the longtime reigning heavyweight champion.
Just minutes before Rahman's right hand landed on Lewis' chin, the Baltimore heavyweight was bleeding from a cut above his right eye, the result of a head butt in the fourth round. However, the big concern was Rahman's ribs, which he hurt sparring about 10 days before the fight. Lewis landed some body blows in the fourth round that aggravated the injury.
"He came back to the corner and said, 'My ribs are gone,' " said Adrian Davis, Rahman's trainer.
Prior to the fight, Davis talked to Rahman about fighting hurt. He told him stories about undefeated heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano, who somehow found a way to win every one of his professional fights despite sometimes being beaten, battered, bruised and behind on the judges' cards.
"I told him to remember what we talked about. I told him to fight through it and go out there and bring that title back to the United States," said Davis, referring to Lewis' reign as the first British heavyweight champion in 100 years.
Moments after saying his ribs were "gone," Rahman was the heavyweight champion of the world.
The 28-year-old Rahman dug down and found focus a focus he never had before and got through the fifth round and reached the moment that changed his life forever.
"Before the Lewis fight, I had a sense of calm and confidence that many people probably believed it was an act," he said. "But that was me. The same way I am now was the same way I was in front of Lennox. I was relaxed, and I believed I was going to win the fight the whole time, because I trained hard for this fight. I had never really trained hard for any fight."
He showed a remarkable display of confidence for someone who wasn't supposed to be there in the first place. However, Rahman's career has been marked with such instances.
When talks began for Lewis' next fight, the opponent was going to be undefeated Canadian heavyweight Kirk Johnson. However, Johnson felt he wasn't yet ready and didn't take the fight.
That opened the door for Rahman. The Baltimore fighter was considered the easy payday for Lewis until the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation champion could get Mike Tyson in the ring for a major score. It was an opportunity Rahman nearly turned down.
Originally, the fight was supposed to be in Las Vegas, but Lewis wanted to stage a title fight in South Africa to honor Nelson Mandela. However, Rahman didn't like the location and talked about pulling out.
Rahman changed his mind after he considered the situation. He realized South Africa would be more of a help to him than Las Vegas. Rahman arrived in South Africa nearly a month before the fight, which enabled him to adjust to the time change as well as the mile-high elevation. Because he arrived so early and enjoyed interacting with the public, he was embraced by the people and became a South African media darling.
Lewis arrived less than two weeks before the fight. He was sullen and withdrawn and turned off fans and the media. "He had bodyguards surrounding him, keeping everyone away," Davis said. "He would show up late, wear dark glasses and refuse to sign autographs."
Lewis, who appeared out of shape, arrived in South Africa so late because he was filming his role in a movie, the remake of "Oceans 11" in Las Vegas of all places.
Nelson Mandela? He didn't even come to the fight.
Each of these decisions played a role in placing Rahman at the top of the boxing world. And Rahman's position became even stronger when Home Box Office, inexplicably, didn't lock him up for future fights before it signed the agreement for the Lewis fight. That made Rahman a free agent, with no television commitments, and set off the frenzied bidding between HBO and Showtime. The latter wanted Rahman to fight its heavyweight meal ticket, Tyson. A bidding war, in which King emerged from nowhere as the winner, left HBO with egg on its face.
It wasn't the first time HBO and Rahman's promoter, Cedric Kushner was left holding the bag in its dealings with Rahman. Three years ago, Rahman tried to leave Kushner to sign with King, and even went as far as faking an injury to pull out of an HBO-scheduled bout against David Tua. Rahman took a payment from King, believed to be $125,000.
When he did that, the heavyweight came under fire from HBO and Kushner, and appeared to jeopardize his career. At the time, Rahman, a promising young contender at 28-0, was still just a young heavyweight contender without much leverage.
Lou DiBella, then head of boxing at HBO, said Rahman was finished as a fighter, at least on HBO. "This kid has shown a complete lack of character," he said. "Personally, I don't care if he eventually becomes heavyweight champion, he'll never appear on HBO again." It was a strange statement, considering HBO's obsessive pursuit of Rahman after he knocked out Lewis. "In the 10 years I've held this job, I've never questioned a fighter when he said he was injured. But I know this isn't the case with Rahman. It's all about Don King. Like my mother once said, 'If you sleep with pigs, you'll get up smelling like garbage.' "
Kushner, the former rock promoter who moved into boxing, had made a promotional agreement with Rahman three months earlier. Then, suddenly, his fighter was with King. "I gave Rahman a substantial bonus, plus a personal loan [believed to be $200,000] and thanked him for his confidence in me," Kushner said. "I told him we'd make a lot of money together.
"This is one of the worst situations I've ever been in as a promoter."
That wasn't true. Now Kushner is in the worst situation he has ever been in as a promoter. His fighter was in one of the biggest moneymaking positions in the history of boxing and he found himself frozen out. Rahman's deal with King leaves Kushner with nothing, as boxing sources say Kushner failed to keep his contract with Rahman going when he missed a required $75,000 payment to the fighter before the fight. He tried to make the payment to Rahman after his win over Lewis, but the fighter refused to take it. That made it clear Rahman was exploring other options, the sources said.
In 1998, and today, Kushner believed he had a valid contract with Rahman. And like 1998, Kushner said he will file suit against King and the fighter. His 1998 lawsuit against King is still in the legal system. It awaits a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kushner dropped Rahman from that 1998 suit when the fighter agreed to return to Kushner a month after bolting to King. Rahman also apologized to HBO officials for withdrawing from the first scheduled date for the Tua fight. Today, Rahman said he was never worried that his move would jeopardize his career.
"[HBO was] pretty angry, but I felt like I was in a position where I was a key piece of the puzzle as far as the heavyweight prospects," he said. "I didn't feel like I was going to be frozen out. Maybe I would have been frozen out by HBO, but not out of the whole heavyweight picture. I was too highly ranked, undefeated, and felt like I was bringing too much to the table.
"If you really look at the situation, and analyze the facts, it was me who chose to go with Don King and Showtime, so at that point I was leaving HBO. But when it was all said and done, I fought my next fight on HBO. I was never with King, just flirting with the idea. I stayed with Cedric. I feel like all promoters are the same, but I just felt like Cedric was the lesser of the two evils."
He heeded the advice of one of his co-managers at the time, Robert Mittleman, who now says he warned Rahman that it was the wrong time to sign with King.
"The time to sign with King is when you have leverage," said Mittleman, who later split with his partner, Steve Nelson, but remains one of Rahman's confidants. Mittleman brokered the deal to have Nielsen be Rahman's next opponent on King's China card and said he told Rahman, "You don't have the leverage now."
However, that ugly financial dispute seemed to set off a series of events in the ring that almost ended Rahman's professional career. He met Tua, in December 1998 three months later than originally planned and dominated Tua throughout. Rahman looked to be on his way to a win and a No. 1 IBF ranking, setting him up for a title fight against Lewis. However, as the ninth round came to an end, Tua landed a brutal left hook that clearly came after the bell rung.
The blow clearly hurt Rahman, but his corner mistakenly failed to seek extra time for Rahman to recover, and sent him out for the 10th round. Rahman got trapped on the ropes by a series of blows and referee Telig Assimnenios stopped the fight. At the time, Rahman claimed he was not hurt. It was a setback for Rahman, but he felt he could recover from it.
"I felt like after the Tua fight that I was talented enough to work my way right back," he said. "So I felt like I would see Tua again, and it wasn't really a big deal because I didn't consider it a loss."
He would soon find out what a loss felt like.
Rahman came back with two straight wins Mike Rush in five rounds and Art Weathers in one round before he got another major fight. It was against contender Oleg Maskaev in November 1999 in Atlantic City on Rahman's 27th birthday.
Just as in the Tua fight, Rahman was leading but he was beginning to tire in the middle rounds and began taking some tough shots from Maskaev. Then, in the eighth round, with about 40 seconds remaining, Rahman took a right hand that sent him through the ropes and out of the ring. It was a wild scene. Rahman landed on a broadcast table and sent television equipment flying everywhere. A post-fight melee ensued in the audience involving some of Rahman's supporters.
Rahman was so upset by the loss that he dressed quickly and drove back to Baltimore that same night. Rahman said it was a wake-up call.
"Getting beat by Oleg Maskaev in the fashion I got beat was the worst moment of my career," he said. "This man knocked me out. I underestimated this man. I didn't train for him, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was totally humiliated, on top of getting beat by him, getting knocked out of the ring by him. On top of it all, it was my birthday. I felt like in order to survive and succeed in this game, I needed to buckle down and take it seriously… . I was pretty upset. I felt like on paper, and from what I had seen of him, there was no way he could beat me. I underestimated him, and trained accordingly, and I got punished for it. I was humiliated. I vowed from that moment on never to underestimate anybody."
After the Maskaev fight, Rahman began making the moves to lead him to his fateful moment in South Africa. He had several trainers throughout his career and he changed again after the Maskaev fight. He turned to local trainer Adrian Davis, whose Round One gym in Capital Heights was within driving distance of Rahman's suburban Baltimore home.
"I felt like he was the best trainer, and geographically it was the best situation for me to be in," Rahman said. "I just wish I had done it earlier. I had turned into a part-time boxer, and I suffered because I would only train when I went away to camp. Then I got with Adrian Davis, and he is one of the best trainers in the game. I don't think he gets enough credit. So now it's a full-time thing. And it shows for all of my fights."
That depends. Rahman won his next three fights under Davis after the Maskaev loss. But he looked bad in the first one, a 10-round decision over Marion Wilson in March 2000, an opponent Rahman should have dispatched of easily. He then stopped Corrie Sanders in seven rounds in May 2000. It was a hard-fought slugfest which was far tougher than it should have been. Finally he dropped journeyman Frankie Swindell in eight rounds in August.
Then Rahman had another setback. He was supposed to fight Danell Nicholson in October, but had emergency surgery in September to remove an abscess on his spine which was causing him weakness in his legs. He was out of action and didn't begin training again for two months.
So after the loss to Maskaev, three wins, none of which would strike fear in anyone's heart, and emergency back surgery Rahman seemed liked a very suitable second choice after Johnson turned down the fight with Lewis for an easy title defense for the champion.
That suited Rahman fine.
Lewis is on the outside looking in now, trying to enforce a questionable rematch clause in his contract for the Rahman fight. Meanwhile Rahman became the prize for boxing's powerful forces, the target of a bidding war between HBO and Showtime that escalated to $20 million before King swooped in and signed Rahman for the second time. The deal consists of a $5 million signing bonus, $5 million for fighting Nielsen, and anywhere between $15 million and $30 million for his second title defense, depending on the opponent WBA champion John Ruiz ($15 million), Lewis ($20 million) or Mike Tyson ($30 million).
The boxing world seemed shocked when Rahman signed with King, but the newly crowned champion felt the timing was right. As he told Mittleman last week after making the deal, "Now I've got leverage."


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