Rahman-Barrett and the Future of the Heavyweight Division

09.08.05 - By Ben Gonzalez: On April 22nd, 2001, Hasim Rahman achieved the dream of all fighters by beating the man standing atop the most recognized division in boxing by Knocking out Lennox Lewis in the fifth round. At that moment in time, Rahman was on top of the world, yet his world would soon fall apart just a few months later when he met Lewis for the rematch. Lewis did what many had expected him to do in the first fight; That is, he totally dominated Rahman and knocked him out in the fourth round, ending Rahman’s reign as champion after just a few days under seven months. After losing in November of 2001, Rahman would not score another victory until meeting Alfred Cole in March of 2004. Between his Knockout loss to Lewis and his victory over Al Cole, Rahman lost to the old veteran, Evander Holyfield on points after the fight was stopped early due to a freakish subdermal hematoma high on Rahman’s forehead, which resembled something out of the movie “Elephant Man.” Following that loss, Rahman fought to a draw David Tua, and dropped a unanimous decision to John Ruiz.

After losing to Ruiz, Rahman strung together a four match winning streak beginning with Cole, leading to his fight with Kali Meehan in November of 2004 in a showdown for #1 ranking in the IBF and a shot at the title. Rahman came into the fight with Meehan in his best shape of recent memory and easily dominated Meehan, scoring a well-deserved fourth round TKO. This set Rahman up for a shot at Vitali Klitschko, who many view as the legitimate heavyweight champion. However, Klitschko injured himself while training for the fight, and a replacement match with Barrett was set up with the winner to face Vitali Klitschko.

Barrett’s road to this fight has been a little different. Monte “Two Gunz” Barrett has never experienced the thrill of deposing a highly regarded champion but he has put together an impressive record of 31 wins and three defeats. Barrett’s last loss came in a close fight against Joe Mesi in which he dropped Mesi, but nonetheless lost on the cards. Since that loss, Barrett has faced two fighters that were considered prospects before they made the mistake of facing him. He scored a split decision against Dominick Guinn, who at the time was 24-0, thus exposing him as far less than what he was hyped up to be. In February of 2005, Barrett faced another undefeated prospect in Owen “What the Heck” Beck, who has what must be one of the least intimidating nicknames in boxing, and like Guinn, was 24-0 at the time that he met Barrett. This time, Barrett scored a TKO in the ninth round, and looked even better than he did against Guinn.

Looking at the two men side by side, a few things become obvious. First, Rahman has experience in big fights and has fought the better competition. Barrett’s chances in this fight will depend on which Hasim Rahman shows up, in my opinion. If, as promised, Rahman shows up motivated and in good shape, I think Barrett is going to have a hard time. Rahman has tasted what it is like to stand atop the heavyweight division and still has a lot to prove despite his achievements to date, because he has faltered in big fights. Barrett is coming off some encouraging wins against young fighters, but it is hard to assess what the wins against Guinn and Beck mean. Were these two fighters all hype and little substance? Both fighters had fought rather limited competition before stepping up to fight Barrett and may have simply been exposed. Either way, Barrett is riding high on the back-to-back defeats of two undefeated prospects but has a much less impressive resume.

Rahman would seem to be the bigger puncher and while he has been KO’d more often than Barrett he has also faced a higher level of competition and I think the likelihood of Rahman getting knocked out by Barrett is unlikely, especially since Barrett has not shown himself to be the biggest of punchers. It is probably safe to say that if a poll was taken of the likely outcome of the Rahman-Barrett match, a majority would pick Rahman by knock out, while a small minority would pick Barrett to KO Rahman. The interesting thing is, that both fighters are flawed enough that the fight could go either way. I would expect that Rahman will come out early looking to pressure Barrett, who as mentioned previously, is not known as a big puncher. Barrett will likely backpedal, looking to counterpunch, when he can. Barrett will then try to take Rahman into the later rounds and try to tire him out. There is a good chance that if Barrett can avoid getting caught with a big punch, he can give some trouble to Rahman later in the fight when Rahman, as usual, will slow down. If Rahman does not knock Barrett out, I think there is a good chance that “Two Gunz” will manage to pull out a close split decision.

No matter which fighter wins, it should mean a showdown with Vitali Klitschko in the not-too-distant future and either fighter could inject the heavyweight division with a little more personality. None of the current crop of heavyweight champions has captured the interest of the general public, which boxing desperately needs. Klitschko, Byrd, Ruiz, and Brewster all essentially remain off the radar of all but the dedicated boxing fan and a changing of the guard could be for the better. Unfortunately, even should the winner of this match get past Vitali, I can’t see either man holding onto a belt for a significant period of time, and I do not think that either can be the unifying force that the heavyweight division desperately needs. They may be willing to try though and that is more than enough.


Article posted on 09.08.2005

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