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December 06, 2001

Heavyweight renaissance?
By Dan Patrick

The plot unfolded like a good Rocky movie: unknown fighter gets a chance and, despite being a huge underdog, lands one punch to KO the reigning title-holder and become the new heavyweight champion of the world. That's what we love about this sport: Anything can happen.

And for every good storyline there's a sequel -- or, in this case, a rematch. And so far it has been Hasim Rahman's show. Rahman has revived the pulse of the heavyweight division -- something it has been sorely lacking. What makes him so interesting is that he's not afraid to say anything.

Hasim Rahman
Hasim Rahman threw the heavyweight division into turmoil by knocking out Lennox Lewis in South Africa.

Rahman is not afraid to put himself out on the firing line and be controversial. He has openly criticized Evander Holyfield for being a hypocrite, citing that while Holyfield claims to be a devout Christian, he has fathered numerous children out of wedlock. More recently, Rahman has questioned Lennox Lewis' sexuality and manhood.

As a fighter, Rahman may be nothing more than a decent journeyman. At 29, he's not exactly in his prime. But there is a spark to him we haven't had for a while.

Lennox Lewis' reign as the best heavyweight in the world was relatively uneventful. Lewis wasn't necessarily bad for boxing. We knew he was there, but there was no real defining moment to his career -- certainly not the Holyfield fights. Following a pattern set by Larry Holmes, respect was his biggest opponent (not an aging Muhammad Ali or any other fighter). Because he never fought Tyson, Lewis has had to overcome much of the same scrutiny as Holmes, and perhaps the defining moment was the one punch that knocked him out.

Was it fair for Rahman to question Lewis' sexuality? Probably not, but this isn't golf or bocce. The king's rules may apply, but I don't know if etiquette does. Rahman is trying to win a fight any way he can by trying to get into Lewis' head. So far he is beating Lewis to the punch -- both in and out of the ring. He wondered aloud how many kids Lewis had; when someone said none, he gave a mocking "Oh!" He's not about to let that one go any time soon.

It looks to me like Lewis doesn't quite know what to make of Rahman. If so, Rahman is doing a great job of psyching him out. If Rahman's objective is to unsettle his opponent before the opening bell, it appears he has accomplished that goal.

Boxing is about showmanship and entertainment. Build-up and post-fight comments are just as much a part of the show as what happens in the ring. Rahman's comments, and the fact that he signed with Don King, add to the soap opera waiting to unfold.

In the past, the heavyweight division has defined generations. Grandfathers, fathers and sons could argue over whose era had the best fighters. I don't think we've had a heavyweight worth standing up for in quite some time.
The fact that we're clinging to one knockout and some disparaging comments may be a sign of just how much the heavyweight division has deteriorated. Who even knows John Ruiz, the guy who holds the WBA belt? The last charismatic champ was probably Tyson. Though he was probably more controversial than charismatic, at least there was something compelling in his fights and news conferences.

In the past, the heavyweight division has defined generations. Grandfathers, fathers and sons could argue over whose era had the best fighters. I don't think we've had a heavyweight worth standing up for in quite some time. Holyfield? Tyson? They're hardly all-time greats. It certainly didn't happen with Lewis, and it's questionable if it can happen with Rahman.

Even if Rahman delivers another knockout blow Saturday, he would be beating a 35-year old guy who was a good champ, not a great one. This isn't exactly Holmes against Ali. Even if he fought Tyson, it'd be a 30-something-year-old Tyson, clearly past his prime. Ruiz may be a good fighter, but no one knows him, so there would be no awe-inspiring build-up.

In boxing more than any other sport, a champion is measured by whom he defeats. Without a big victory over an acclaimed fighter, a boxer will just fade into history.

So, can a guy we had never heard of before one punch last April in South Africa revive the heavyweight division? Maybe, maybe not. But it sure looks to me like heavyweight boxing is back.

At least for the weekend.

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