Ready or not, Rahman gets a shot

Former heavyweight champ gets (final?) title chance vs. Alexander Povetkin

Updated: September 28, 2012, 11:57 AM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Former heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman -- remember him? -- is still hanging around and is set to fight for a belt again.

Crazy as it sounds, it's true.

To most, it makes little sense, especially considering that Rahman is a mandatory challenger despite having done nothing of remote consequence for years. His most recent fight of note came in 2008, when, as a late replacement for David Haye, he was pulverized into a seventh-round submission by Wladimir Klitschko, the recognized heavyweight champion.

[+] EnlargeHasim Rahman
AP Photo/Thomas KienzleIn his most recent fight of note, Hasim Rahman was broken down in seven rounds by heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko in 2008.

Since that blowout loss, Rahman has beaten five club-level opponents, yet somehow found himself as the mandatory challenger for a sanctioning organization's second-tier title.

But Rahman and promoter Greg Cohen aren't ones to pass up the opportunity and the accompanying payday. So Rahman, 39, is getting what likely will be his final meaningful fight -- unless he pulls the big upset -- when he challenges Alexander Povetkin (24-0, 16 KOs) of Russia for his belt on Saturday (Epix and EpixHD.com, 4:30 p.m. ET) at the Sporthalle in Hamburg, Germany.

In his most recent fight, which took place in June 2011, Rahman stopped Galen Brown -- who had a 35-16-1 record entering the bout -- in the sixth round. But at that time, Rahman weighed a career-high 284 pounds.

"The Galen Brown fight was over a year ago and really was a tuneup," Rahman said. "About the only thing I can say is that I will be in a lot better condition for the Povetkin fight than I was for Galen."

Rahman (50-7-2, 41 KOs), a Baltimore native living in Las Vegas, is predicting a knockout against Povetkin, but few probably are buying it.

"Povetkin is a very good fighter," Rahman said of the 2004 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist. "He has proven to be a winner at every level. I have respect for him as a boxer. Regardless of his strengths or weaknesses, I know what I have to do and that is to knock him out. I know that when I'm at my best, no one can take my power and I will knock him or anyone else out, period.

"No fight at this level is easy, but I know that I am 100 percent prepared and so I am supremely confident. The fight will not go the distance. I will KO Povetkin."

But Rahman looked out of shape and disinterested during the few interviews he has granted in Hamburg this week.

He is also ticked off at Sauerland Event, Povetkin's promoter, for not including a picture of him on the promotional poster, although it was Cohen who failed to provide one to the company.

Rahman No fight at this level is easy, but I know that I am 100 percent prepared and so I am supremely confident. The fight will not go the distance. I will KO Povetkin.

-- Former heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman, on Saturday's fight against titlist Alexander Povetkin

Those on the ground in Germany say Rahman appeared to be limping and his trainer, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, had a passport issue and won't able to jon him for the fight, which was supposed to take place July 14 but postponed because Rahman had to have surgery to remove a cyst from his wrist. Instead of Muhammad, Rahman's corner will be run by conditioning coach Rodney Crisler.

That has left his corner unsettled in the days leading up to the bout, even though Rahman tried to brush it off.

"With or without my trainer, it's not going to change anything," he said.

The vibe sure sounds a lot different from the all-positive energy he exuded 11 years ago. Believe it or not, that's how long it has been since that 2001 night on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa when Rahman fired the right hand heard 'round the world and knocked out Lennox Lewis in the fifth round to win the heavyweight championship in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history.

Lewis waxed Rahman in the fourth round of their rematch seven months later to reclaim the title, but Rahman has lived off that one punch for more than a decade -- even though he has lost virtually every other significant fight he has had since, including to Evander Holyfield, John Ruiz, Oleg Maskaev (for the second time) and Klitschko.

Rahman did win a vacant interim belt against Monte Barrett in 2005 and was later awarded the full title when Vitali Klitschko went into a four-year injury-induced retirement. But in his first defense, Rahman drew with James Toney and in his second defense, in 2006, Maskaev knocked him out for the second time.

Cohen, if you buy what he is selling, said that Rahman's irritation toward Sauerland Event just makes him hungrier for the win.

"Rahman has been motivated by the Sauerland team for this fight like never before, and we thank them for that," he said. "Although he's been disrespected, he has still gained a motivation I haven't seen in him in years. And this will bring the heavyweight belt back to the U.S.

"They've been basically writing Hasim off since the start of the promotion. Hasim isn't even on the posters for this event. They've been making jokes and having fun. But while they were doing that, Hasim has been getting himself into fantastic shape."

Cohen said it's reminiscent of the buildup to Rahman's win against Lewis.

"Hasim is going to shock the world again," he said. "This is the exact situation you don't put Rahman in -- disrespected, overlooked. An overconfident champion thinking he can just show up and win. But in the gym with Hasim, and seeing how focused he is, you know something's about to happen."

Not if Povetkin can help it.

"You can't foresee what will happen, and I don't like giving such statements ahead of a fight," Povetkin said though a translator. "I just know one thing for sure: I will be 100 percent for that bout and will do my best to be the one standing tall when everything is said and done. It doesn't matter if it will go for 12 rounds or if it will end prematurely. The main thing is me keeping my belt."

Povetkin, 33, won a vacant belt against former titlist Ruslan Chagaev in August 2011 and will be making his third defense. The first one was an easy eight-round wipeout of 42-year-old Cedric Boswell followed by an epic struggle with cruiserweight titlist Marco Huck in February. Povetkin eked out a majority decision in a fight many believe he lost.

[+] Enlarge Kostya Tszyu
AP PhotoAlexander Povetkin is taking his cues in the ring from yet another new trainer, Hall of Famer and former junior welterweight champ Kostya Tszyu.

"It was a hard and tough battle, and both of us had to go to the limits of our capacity," Povetkin said. "However, in the end I beat Marco, as I landed the more precise punches than him.

"I learned a lot from that fight. My team and I know what we have to do to prepare myself in order to be better than last time. For example, we have worked a lot on my stamina during my current preparations."

That preparation was overseen for the first time by his new trainer, former undisputed junior welterweight champion and Hall of Famer Kostya Tszyu, who has liked what he has seen from his pupil.

"Since we started working together, Alexander has progressed about 40 percent," he said.

Povetkin, who used to be trained by ESPN analyst Teddy Atlas, said his work with Tszyu has gone well and that he expects to see the fruits of their union in the ring against Rahman.

"I feel privileged to be working with him," Povetkin said. "He was an excellent boxer and now he is an excellent coach. I have learned a lot from him. We want to improve aspects that I am already good at. We also are working on my weaknesses as well and want to wipe them out. Altogether, I will be a more complete boxer."

That probably spells doom for Rahman.