Ho-hum Hasim going through the motions against Klitschko

"Wake up, Hasim! Destiny's calling again!" Rahman has seemed less than enthused about his chance at regaining the heavyweight title. Ralph Orlowski/Bongarts/Getty Images

MANNHEIM, Germany -- Even as they banged the worn-out drum at a German industrial estate, Hasim Rahman struggled to stay awake.

"I'm a little sleepy right now," he said, having arrived only a few hours earlier on an overnight flight from New York. "Wladimir Klitschko is extremely strong and quick and I have to be ready to take punishment and to dish it out. I'm looking forward to putting on a good performance. It will be a great fight."

The sentiment was expressed without enthusiasm and when one of the protagonists is struggling to show interest in an upcoming event -- jet-lagged or not -- it's difficult for anyone else to be really keen.

Klitschko-Rahman lacks the X factor, as does the whole heavyweight scene. When Sultan Ibragimov and Sam Peter can still be counted among the world's top 10 heavyweights, having been utterly useless against Klitschko and his brother, Vitali, respectively this year, the anti-boxing brigade is almost redundant.

Who needs the abolitionists now that the sport is conspiring so successfully against itself?

Thankfully, boxing is surviving and thriving further down the food chain -- even if the big men have long ceased to pull their weight.

It has been more than seven years since the reggae music resonated throughout Nick Durandt's gym in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa. Back then, a 29-year-old Rahman, in the shadows of a poster which proclaimed, "Lennox: I'll Whip The Bum," trained with precision, speed and zeal a few days before he toppled the last great heavyweight, Lennox Lewis.

At that moment, the world and Lewis lay at Rahman's feet.

"I'll fight any heavyweight. Whether it's Lennox Lewis or Mike Tyson, it really doesn't matter to me," said a jubilant Rahman. "And let me address the point about luck. Luck is being prepared when the opportunity presents itself and I was fully prepared."

Those memories offer a marked contrast to Rahman's demeanor on Monday, when he could not be bothered even to remove his heavy jacket with its fur-lined hood.

But the former world heavyweight champion at least brings name recognition where otherwise mediocrity abounds. Kalle Sauerland, the head of events at Sauerland Promotions who was in London yesterday to announce a new TV deal with Setanta, revealed that his company had looked at Rahman before selecting Evander Holyfield to be Nikolai Valuev's next challenger on Dec. 20.

"Look at the top 15 heavyweights in the world and tell me who there is," Sauerland said. "There is Alexander Povetkin [whom Sauerland promotes], David Haye and who else? There is nobody."

Which explains why Holyfield, pitiably at 46, is still able to make money in a moribund domain.

Klitschko seeks to rise above all of this ordinariness, but how? Two months ago, Vitali's capture of the WBC heavyweight title from Samuel Peter completed an unprecedented return by a former world heavyweight champion. No one in history -- whether it was Jim Jeffries against Jack Johnson, Joe Louis against Ezzard Charles, Muhammad Ali against Larry Holmes or Holmes against Mike Tyson -- had ever reclaimed the title in his first fight back.

Vitali won only a piece of the title, of course, but in an instant he managed to overshadow everything which Wladimir had worked so hard to achieve in the four years since his nadir, a fifth-round technical knockout at the hands of Lamon Brewster.

Rebuilding himself after his humiliating disintegration was no mean feat but the plaudits have proved elusive.

"You know, it's a funny thing but Lennox had the same problem for much of his career [in gaining respect]," Emanuel Steward, who trained Lewis and now trains Wladimir, told ESPN.com. "He was one of the all-time great heavyweight champions but not many people gave him credit for this at the time. Because of his size, balance and great skill, he would have presented a formidable challenge to any heavyweight champion in history and now he's gained that acknowledgement, especially with his induction into the Hall of Fame.

"Wladimir is a highly skilled, very large heavyweight whose balance has got better over the years that I have worked with him. He has all of the attributes. Sure, there have been performances like the one against Ibragimov in which he did not look good but he still won the fight by a landslide decision. He still did his job and he'll do the job against Rahman, whom we consider to be more dangerous than Povetkin."

The 29-year-old Russian became the IBF mandatory challenger when he won a four-man tournament this year involving himself, Calvin Brock, Chris Byrd and Eddie Chambers. But when he tore a ligament in his left foot during training in October, he pulled out of the scheduled December encounter and Rahman stepped into the breach.

"Hasim Rahman is a tough and experienced fighter and I will definitely not underestimate him," Klitschko said. "He always talks big. I know this from the time when he was supposed to meet my brother, Vitali, but that does not impress me. I am really looking forward to returning to the SAP Arena. The fans in the Mannheim region are just great and I am sure the atmosphere in the arena will be terrific."

An emphatic victory by Klitschko could accelerate his redemption and give him momentum going into next year, when he is expected to face the challenge of former world cruiserweight champion Haye in London.

"Suddenly, there are some names in heavyweight boxing, which we have not had in the past couple of years," Klitschko said. "Samuel Peter and Calvin Brock were not so good. We have to get this crossover and get general sports fans interested in the heavyweight division. If we have names and exciting fighters taking part in the heavyweight division, interest will be developed again, as it was going back to the days of Ali, Tyson, [George] Foreman and Holyfield."

Klitschko has so much ground to make up, he could use H.G. Wells in his corner alongside Steward on Saturday.

Brian Doogan is a sportswriter for The (London) Sunday Times and is a longtime European correspondent for The Ring magazine.