Monday, November 19, 2001

LAS VEGAS — It really didn’t go too badly for Hasim Rahman in the first round of his heavyweight title fight against Lennox Lewis Saturday night at Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Rahman had a slight cut above his left eye by the time the round ended, but he appeared to be able to match jabs with Lewis. Though the judges saw it differently all three gave the first round to Lewis I thought Rahman had won the round with the better jab.
However, Rahman was discouraged from throwing that jab as the fight went on, and it was Lewis’ right hand that did the discouraging. By the third round, the champion must have realized that this was not the same guy he knocked out in South Africa last April, and a right hand that sent Rahman reeling into the ropes confirmed it.
Midway through the fourth round, Rahman must have thought he was riding in an open car on the streets of Baltimore.
I haven’t picked a fight right since Ali-Frazier I. I thought Rahman’s youth, confidence, hunger and right hand would overmatch Lewis’ uncertainty and cautiousness. It was never a question of Lennox Lewis’ talent. He has most of the skills of a great heavyweight (he’s missing a chin and, some would say, a heart). He is a big, powerful man (6-foot-5, 246 pounds) with a devastating right hand. Under the training of Emanuel Steward, he developed a punishing left jab to set up that right hand.
But Steward himself said days before the bout that you never know what kind of fighter Lewis will be when he gets into the ring. You don’t know if you’ll get the Lewis who walked through Michael Grant and Frans Botha, knocking them out in two and three rounds, respectively, or if you’ll get the Lewis who was content to cautiously jab away at Evander Holyfield for 24 rounds in their two fights, never willing to take a chance on a decisive victory.
Steward said his own doubts went away Friday night, when he visited Lewis in his hotel room. Lewis was watching a tape of his loss to Rahman in South Africa funny, since the former champion complained about how much it was being shown throughout the hotel and casino all week leading up to the fight. But Lewis told Steward, “Emanuel, this is going to be an easy fight.” Finally, Lewis was past the punch that had floored him. Once he was past that it came down to talent, and Lewis wins that fight.
And so now Baltimore’s flirtation with big-time boxing has ended. It was a rough weekend for Charm City. Their heavyweight champion lost, the Ravens lost for the second time to the Cleveland Browns, and Peter Angelos is still the owner of the Baltimore Orioles.
If you think it was rough for the city of Baltimore, imagine how Rahman must feel. After he stunned the sports world with his upset win over Lewis in April, Rahman was in the unusual position in boxing of being a free agent. He was beholden to no television network or, as it turned out, no promoter. He was the heavyweight champion and had all the leverage you could have in boxing. He was courted by Home Box Office and Showtime and received offers that ranged up to $20 million. At the very least, he could have made a deal with HBO to fight Lewis in the rematch for $16 million, with a deal for more fights down the line.
The last thing Rahman needed was a promoter, but he chose to sign with, of all people, Don King. It was heralded as a lucrative package: a $5 million signing bonus, followed by an easy $5 million payday to fight Brian Nielsen on a card in China in August, $15 million to fight World Boxing Association title holder John Ruiz (another King fighter), $20 million for a rematch with Lewis, and $30 million for a bout against Mike Tyson.
The Nielsen fight never happened. Lewis won a court case that forced the rematch against Rahman. And Rahman, with no television contract beyond Saturday night’s fight, certainly didn’t get $20 million for a Lewis rematch. He got a $5 million purse, with a promise of more money from television revenue coming out of the Lewis fight. The expectation is that figure will be at least $6 million. Good luck collecting it.
What happens to King? He still controls the World Boxing Association title two of his fighters, champion John Ruiz and Holyfield, fight for next month. And there has been speculation that Lewis would sign a promotional deal with King after this fight with Rahman. Lewis declared in the past that he would never sign with King, but he sang King’s praises all week, and, at the post-fight news conference, declared King was “truly a great promoter.”
But if Lewis wants to fight Mike Tyson next, as everyone expects, King is only a roadblock for that fight. Tyson is suing King, his former promoter, for $100 million, and has said he will never do business with King again. Lewis’ current promoter, Main Events, is very close to Tyson’s advisor, Shelly Finkel. That would appear to make negotiations for Lewis-Tyson much easier without King in the picture.
The competing television networks previously had been the main problem. Lewis fights on HBO and Tyson on Showtime. But the two networks have been talking for the past year about working out an agreement to make the fight happen. “We have had many discussions and we have made some progress,” said HBO boxing chief Ross Greenburg. “Now is the time to make it happen.”
Showtime balked at letting Tyson fight on HBO in the past, but time is running out. If the network hopes to ever recoup its investment in Tyson, it needs to let Lewis-Tyson happen, with both networks sharing in the monster pay-per-view profits.
Speaking of time, what of Hasim Rahman? At least he will be able to keep time with the watch King presented him this week as a present a present that probably came out of Rahman’s purse, anyway.

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