Rahman vs Klitschko: The end of the ‘Thunder in the Jungle’ Legacy?

By Kieran Redmond, photo by - This Saturday, on December the 13th in the SAP Arena in Germany Hasim Rahman will fight for three world titles. This will be the 4th time he has fought for a world title. He will be facing a man who many consider to be the top heavyweight of the post-Lennox Lewis era. If he wins he will hold three world titles and be given top status in the heavyweight division. Given the fact that Hasim Rahman – during most of his boxing career – has rarely performed well against top level opposition we have to ask two questions: (1) Does Rahman really deserve such an opportunity as this?, (2) Does Rahman stand any chance of winning?

klitschko rahmanRahman’s first shot for the title came three fights after losing to Maskaev. In his fight with Makaev Rahman was knocked out cold in the 8th round, causing him to fall through the ropes and out of the ring. Following this setback Rahman fought 3 opponents with a combined record of 81 wins and 56 losses. The best name of that group was Corrie Sanders who certainly did not qualify at that time as a gatekeeper to a world title shot. It was at this point where Rahman threw the most significant punch of his entire career. In South Africa, in a fight pitched as ‘Thunder in the Jungle’ Rahman, faced a Lennox Lewis who had made the fatal error in boxing of not taking his opponent seriously enough. Lennox had arrived in South Africa far too late and had evidently failed to acclimatize himself, especially considering that the fight in Carnival City was occurring several thousand feet above sea level. This lackluster attitude towards preparation was also evident in the ring and was paid for heavily by a 5th round KO. The reason for the stoppage was not a shock but the stoppage itself was. Rahman had been a 20 to 1 underdog and the fight was the Upset of the year. The publicity of this fight would pay dividends to Rahman’s career for the next 7 years.

Lewis pursued the titles he had lost aggressively, aggressively in the courts, aggressively in the ring and even aggressively in a TV station. Rahman obviously wanted no part of this – possibly because he knew what a fully committed Lewis was capable of – but in the end Rahman was taken into the ring and taken apart, experiencing an even more devastating KO than that which he had visited on his opponent just 7 months earlier. After this loss to Lewis Rahman fought and lost to an ageing Holyfield and drew with Tua. This was at least a better class of opponents leading up to a title shot but there was one factor missing, Rahman did not actually beat any of them. Rahman was somehow given another shot at the title based on these performances. Contrary to traditional boxing conventions Rahman did not win any fights to earn a title shot. Even more amusingly, Ruiz himself was coming off of a loss to an ex middleweight, preceded by a win by DQ to a limited slugger and a draw to a far past his prime Evander Holyfield. It is quite an insult to think that this was a fight for the belt that Braddock had fought Baer for, that Ali had fought Liston for, and that Ali had fought Foreman for. This same belt that these fighters had given everything to be able to fight for was then up for grabs for two fighters who had a combined record of 1 win, 2 losses and 3 draws in 6 fights. In his 2nd title shot Rahman remained consistent to his previous three fights and produced another loss to John Ruiz.

For his third shot at the title Rahman beat 5 opponents in a row with a combined record of 164 wins and 43 losses. The best name in that group was Kali Meehan. Meehan was coming off a loss to Lamon Brewster and had lost three years previously to Danny Williams within a round. Meehan was again hardly a litmus test to fight for one of the four belts. The title fight was against his good buddy Monte Barret. Barret - whilst a credible gatekeeper to the world top ten – was a fighter that better boxers with Rahman’s level of power would have stopped. Rahman laboured to a rather dull points victory. In his next fight, Rahman, a 6 foot 3 fighter with a 78 inch reach managed to only muster up a draw against a 5 foot 9 ex middleweight in James Toney. Toney – whilst technically excellent – carries too much weight for his frame at heavyweight and is much less effective than he was in the lower weight classes. Even though Toney had reduced mobility he was still able to close the gap on Rahman many times.

In his following fight Rahman met Maskaev. Maskaev was a fighter who had heavy hands but was not a great boxer, and like Barret would not have posed better boxers so many problems. After Rahman had built a marginal lead on the scorecards Maskaev managed – in the 12th round – to do what he had done 7 years earlier and stop Rahman. Rahman then decided to face – yes you guessed it – 4 opponents with a combined record of 111 wins and 30 losses. One of those fighters, Cerrone Fox, had a record of just 8 wins and 6 losses, does that sort of win really improve a fighter’s record at this level? This ‘impressive’ streak of wins was followed by a no contest against James Toney due to an accidental headbutt. And here we are now, for the 4th time, after once again being unable to produce a streak of wins against credible world class heavyweight competition, Rahman is once again given a shot at a heavyweight title. Does Rahman really deserve a 4th shot at the world title? No, he doesn’t.

This title challenge is unlike the previous three however. It is not a complacent Lewis or a limited Ruiz or Barret. In Wladimir Klitschko, Rahman is facing the most significant heavyweight of this era and certainly the most dangerous opponent he has faced since the Lennox Lewis rematch (because you can be certain that Wladimir will turn up to the ring with his A-Game and take Rahman seriously). Rahman has been given 4 title fights and 3 eliminator fights for world titles. He has been given far more opportunities than other much more capable fighters who have consistently beaten stronger opposition. Rahman’s opportunities have been the result of (1) Long lasting publicity from his upset victory over Lennox Lewis, (2) Propping up his record by accumulating winning streaks by beating club fighters, (3) Supernatural powers of boxing promotion which would defy any logic in any other sport. It would be like a group of professional football players deciding to have most of their games of the season against people in the bottom leagues (part time players), and still being allowed to remain at the top of the 1st league. Against Klitschko all this is most likely to end. Rahman stands very little chance of beating Wladimir Klitschko.

Rahman cannot outbox Klitschko to a points victory, he has not outboxed a top 5 heavyweight to a points victory in his entire career. Even more alarmingly is the fact that Rahman has faced too many club fighters and this level of opposition has possibly caused him to regress as a fighter. Wladimir’s extensive amateur background coupled with his consistent performance against the best boxers in the heavyweight division firmly places him as the favourite for a points victory. Rahman can knock Klitschko out but this is not as likely as most would think. Firstly, Rahman’s one significant punch is his straight right. This is a dangerous punch and of course was used to devastating effect against Lennox Lewis. However, as said before, Rahman has cashed in a little too much on this shot and has not been able to stop any top 10 heavyweights with the same punch in seven and a half years. The power is probably still there because it is the last thing to go in a fighter, but it certainly hasn’t been effectively used in quite some time. The problem may be that you generally have to set up a powerful punch with boxing skills, which Rahman does not have to the degree that many other top level heavyweights do. Tyson, Lennox and Wladimir did not just set up KOs with physical strength, they used strong jabs, footwork, angles, feints and combinations to fully utilize and set up opportunities for their power.

Even if Rahman is able to land a solid punch, KOing Wlad is not such an easy task. The Ukranian does tend to get up again no matter how hard he is hit, and in many cases carries on to win the fight. Wlad was genuinely KOed by Corrie Sanders, a fighter with an even harder punch than Rahman, and far faster hands. Sanders decided to just jump on Wladimir from the opening bell, this proved to be a very effective strategy and is probably the best chance Rahman has of winning. Wladimir’s chances of KOing Rahman are very high as he has a lot of power in both hands. He has stopped opponents off straight rights, hooks off the jab, his jab alone, left hooks, and uppercuts. He carries a lot more power than Maskaev who has twice stopped Rahman. Further factors working in Wlad’s favour are the fact that he is 4 years younger and has taken considerably less punishment in the ring than his Baltimore opponent.

For Rahman this is his final make or break test. He can either go back 7 and a half years and produce another of those winning ‘Thunder in the Jungle’ punches and once again seize the place as the top heavyweight in the world. If Rahman cannot produce and capitalize on a punch like that then he is likely to be knocked out by the most devastating punches he has encountered since he lost to Lennox 7 years ago. The heavyweight scene has become a little more competitive recently with the entrance of former undisputed Cruiserweight David Haye, the progress of Alexander Povetkin and the dominant Klitschko Brothers. In this climate it is unlikely – if Rahman loses to Wladimir – that propped up records, magical promoters, and publicity from one punch upsets that happened 7 years ago will be able to secure The Rock another shot at a world title. Look for Wlad to convincingly stop Rahman in the mid rounds, if not earlier. Then look for the heavyweight division to finally see more deserving heavyweight challengers being given a shot at the title.

Article posted on 13.12.2008

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