Hasim Rahman admits he did not handle everything that came with being heavyweight champion very well during his brief reign two years ago, and every sign since has pointed to a fluke success returning to the margins of boxing's glamour division.
The right hook to Lennox Lewis's jaw that won Rahman the title in April 2001 gave Rahman fame and wealth, but little stability. He hasn't won since, and the subsequent years of his career have been marked by financial disputes, lax training and an acrimonious split with trainer Adrian Davis. He was knocked out in the rematch with Lewis in November 2001, then a grotesque hematoma stopped him in his last fight, an eighth-round loss to Evander Holyfield.
Rahman (35-4) believes Saturday's rematch against David Tua (42-3) in Philadelphia is his chance for redemption. The victor gets a mandatory shot against IBF champion Chris Byrd, and for Rahman, it is a chance to extend a career whose twilight approaches more rapidly with each loss.
"If I'm winning, I'm boxing, if I'm losing, I'm not," the Baltimore native said. "I can't complain about the career I've had."
Rahman acknowledges he went into the second Lewis fight overconfident and ill-prepared. He overcompensated for that against Holyfield, fighting too passively. The turnover in his corner has not helped; after leaving Davis to work with legendary Philadelphia trainer Bouie Fisher before the Holyfield fight, he fired Fisher this month in favor of Buddy McGirt.
"I haven't looked so good my last two fights," Rahman said. "But I think I've got this guy's [Tua's] number."
Rahman and Tua fought in December 1998, with Rahman dominating the first nine rounds before tiring, and Tua battering Rahman for a technical knockout victory in the 10th round. Rahman remains convinced a left hook at the end of the ninth round came after the bell, and still holds the decision in dispute.
"I don't acknowledge it as a loss," Rahman said. "I didn't really lose that fight. The record says one thing, but I'm comfortable with myself knowing I beat this man."
Fighters with good jabs -- and Rahman's left remains one of the division's best -- have long frustrated the squat, 5-foot-10 Tua, whose reach disadvantage is considerable. Byrd, Lewis and Ike Ibeabouchi all kept Tua's power at bay and won decisions, and Rahman nearly did the same thing. Allowing Tua to get inside has consequences: former champions Michael Moorer and John Ruiz both fell to Tua in less than 30 seconds, and he's shown he can take punishment, having never been floored or stopped.
"My style of fighting is very simple," said Tua, 30. "I come to fight. The toughest thing is the practical part of the sport, sometimes you don't get the guys to fight you. They create problems. You have guys who keep me out with a jab, or try to beat me on points. It's an intimidating factor, because I'm going to be right in front of you regardless."
Rahman's jab is why Davis believes the 30-year-old Rahman could someday regain the title even though Tua is an overwhelming favorite among media analysts and oddsmakers.
The dispute between Davis and Rahman, the roots of which both vaguely describe as financial, caused the two to not speak for over a year.
But enough time has passed to cool the anger; Davis said the two embraced at a recent amateur show in Baltimore but still have not spoken at length. Davis expressed a strong desire to train Rahman again. Rahman, while not as enthused as Davis, was not closed to the idea.
"We're cool," Rahman said. "There's always a possibility. Especially geographically, it's so easy to train with Adrian [his gym is in Capitol Heights]. I don't know what the future holds."
Davis sees Rahman as an unpolished gem. Rahman has fewer miles on him than most in his position. His amateur career consisted of less than a dozen bouts and he has fought just 163 rounds in his eight-year pro career. He has shown resilience -- he recovered from the same left hook from Corrie Sanders that knocked out Wladimir Klitschko last month, rallying to knock out Sanders in May 2000. And in his jab, movement and power, Davis sees the end of Rahman's learning curve, as a heavyweight boxer-puncher.
"The reason why I see so much potential in Hasim is that he's still learning," Davis said. "He didn't have the Olympic trials and box-offs, the Pan Am Games, the Golden Gloves that most of these guys had as amateurs. . . . He's got such power, but he doesn't get the most of it. He has so much more potential than anybody else out there."