Klitschko/Rahman - Hasim Rahman: how long can a boxer dine out on one punch?

Hasim Rahman02.11.08 - by Mark Gregory - The announcement that Hasim Rahman will be stepping in to fill the shoes of the injured Alexander Povetkin to face two-belt champion Wladimir Klitschko next month has been met with a mixture of disbelief and dismay by the majority of fans and pundits alike. Rahman’s last bout saw him involved in a controversial no contest with fellow veteran James Toney in a fight which saw accusations of quitting levelled at The Rock, and not just from his ever vocal opponent.

Prior to the Toney controversy, Rahman has strung together a sequence of four wins – all against less than stellar competition – since being stopped in the 12th round by Oleg Maskaev for what was Rahman’s WBC belt. This was his second stoppage loss to the hard-hitting Russian, the first coming some 9 years earlier. That hardly looks like the kind of form you would expect of a man who is about to have his fourth shot at a world title..

So why is it that Rahman, who turns 36 next week, is still a factor in the current heavyweight division? The answer can be traced back to Rahman’s first shot at a world title back in 2001, against unified champion and all-time great heavyweight Lennox Lewis. Rahman was a huge underdog going into a fight that was expected to be a routine defence for Lewis. Despite rumours that Lewis had not prepared properly for the fight and had arrived too late in South Africa to properly acclimatise – the fight was held at altitude – The Rock was not expected to last more than 6 rounds with the dominant champion. After a fairly dominant opening 3 rounds from the champion, Lewis began to look a little tired. In the fifth, with Lewis clowning around on the ropes, Rahman unleashed a stunning right hand that dropped the champion for the full count. Suddenly the unheralded American was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and a household name.

Before the year was out, Lewis had emphatically destroyed Rahman inside 4 rounds to set the record straight. It was a one-sided beating that ended in a crushing knockout. Rahman had received a big pay day for the fight, and with it his 15 minutes of fame. Many thought that would be the end of Hasim Rahman at the elite level, having been exposed in the rematch as something of a one hit wonder, however they were very wrong. In spite of being further exposed in his following two fights a clear technical decision loss to an ageing Evander Holyfield and a 12 round draw with an out of shape and out of form David Tua, Rahman somehow found himself on the receiving end of another shot at the world title against John Ruiz.

Now, one cannot blame Rahman for making the most of the opportunities afforded him by beating Lewis, but having not won any of his last 3 fights one has to wonder how the WBA could justify sanctioning a fight between The Rock and the man who had just emphatically lost his title to a former middleweight. Ruiz outpointed Rahman clearly in a drab affair. Okay, surely that had to be the end of Rahman as a credible fighter at world level? Three defeats and one draw in his last four fights did not indicate that he was a fighter capable of reaching the heights his victory over Lewis had suggested.

And yet, 2 years later and having not fought anyone even remotely world class in the meantime, Rahman found himself contesting the interim WBC championship against Monte Barrett. Now, Rahman had won an eliminator to earn the right to make this fight, but one really has to question quite how the WBC (and the IBF and WBA for that matter) had managed to exalt him to such status given his in-ring performances since that upset win some 4 years earlier. He won the fight by unanimous decision, followed in with a draw against Toney in their first fight, before losing his title to Maskaev.

Based on the career that The Rock has had since that fateful night in South Africa all those years ago, he shouldn’t be anywhere near a championship ring. His best win since that victory came against a three times beaten Monte Barrett (one defeat only two fights previously against mediocre prospect Joe Mesi). He has lost or drawn every time he has faced anything like elite level competition. To my mind you may as well give Brixton’s Danny Williams a shot at Wlad in December based on his upset KO of Mike Tyson back in 2004. Williams has as many losses as Rahman since that victory, and his victories have been over a comparable level of competition. At least Williams managed to win his last fight. The fact that the idea of the Brixton Bomber getting into a championship ring sounds so ridiculous is testament to just how undeserved The Rock’s latest title shot is.

Wladimir Klitschko should be more than a little embarrassed for agreeing to take this fight. The fact is that he is chosen to fight someone who is nothing more than a name, and it is a name that was made the better part of decade ago on the basis of one thunderous right hand. The fact that Rahman was destroyed in the rematch seems to matter little when you look at the career he has carved out for himself since. Rarely has a fighter been given so many unearned chances to capture one of the most prestigious titles in sport. Of course it is short notice to find a credible opponent, but why not give an up and comer a chance? Why not fight the guy who was originally awarded a TKO win over him just a few months ago, James Toney?

The most depressing thing about the whole affair is that, even if Rahman is badly beaten in December, as I expect him to be, it would come as no surprise if another ‘champion’ was to give him a shot in the future. Rahman’s star burned brightly for a split second when he unleashed that vicious shot which put Lewis down for the count, since then it has faded to the point that it can no longer be seen by anyone other than a champion looking to earn a few extra dollars or a sanctioning body looking to take a shortcut to ‘credibility’. His career has been a story of one false beginning and several false endings. For the good of the heavyweight division, I hope that when he faces Klitschko next month that we will finally and belatedly see the end of Rahman’s career at the top of the game.

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Article posted on 03.11.2008

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