Hasim Rahman: From Baltimore streets to world title straps
“I felt like I was in a maze with no exit. There were only two ways out, death or the penitentiary.”
The words of Hasim Rahman hit hard. Brutal and candid, but there could be no other way with someone who has never forgotten what life was like before he became a world champion.
Title bouts and bruising battles amid the bright lights of Las Vegas or the historic Madison Square Gardens in New York City seemed a distant dream when he faced his biggest fight, that for survival on the streets of hometown Baltimore as a youngster.
“All my role models were going to jail or the graveyard,” revealed Rahman at this week’s Doha GOALS Forum. “It was very, very tough.
“My friends, their parents were drug dealers and the children were drug dealers. Like generations, it would pass down. Some people’s parents are doctors and lawyers and then their children are doctors and lawyers. This was the same thing, but in a criminal lifestyle.
“I was always one of the guys that wasn’t intimidated by anybody. It was peer pressure, but volunteer peer pressure, I accepted it. It wasn’t a fear factor, where I couldn’t say no and they would think less of me as a man. I wanted to do it because there was the money, the glamour, almost like a ghetto celebrity.
“The only sport I used to play was swimming. I was OK, I was 13-14, but swimming wasn’t paying bills, swimming wasn’t getting me the new Michael Jordans, wasn’t getting me what I wanted. I wanted everything now.”
It was almost over for Rahman before it begun. He survived a shooting that saw him hit five times following a street fight, and then when a friend’s speeding pick-up truck flipped over his face was crushed under the gas tank.
“The scars never leave me,” he said. “When something can potentially take your life in an instant I don’t think you ever forget those type of moments.
"It was a tap on my shoulder, get your mind right, get yourself right, you are doing the wrong things. It was a wake-up call and I had to adhere to it sooner rather than later.
"The way I got out was because I had a son. I was 18 and wanted something different for him, didn’t want the cycle to keep repeating. When Allah blessed me with a son, when I was responsible for Hasim Jr, I had to make a conscious decision to provide something better for him.”
When given probation instead of jail time after being caught up in more trouble, Rahman used his past to shape the present.
He took up boxing at 20 and, two years later, in his 18th fight, he beat former champion Trevor Berbick.
Rahman’s transformation and rise to the top was complete in 2001 when he stunned Lennox Lewis in their duel in Gauteng, South Africa, as a huge right delivered a fifth-round knockout.
The Briton forced a rematch seven months later and regained the WBC, IBO and IBF titles with a fourth-round KO.
“Lennox Lewis is one of the greatest heavyweight champions ever,” says Rahman, nicknamed ‘The Rock’. “But when you talk about Lennox my name is synonymous with him. He beat everybody in our generation, so for me to not just beat him, but knock him out was phenomenal.
“But after my first fight with Lennox my head was so big. When you are the heavyweight champion of the world you think you are the baddest man in the universe. You can send someone from Jupiter I will knock them out – ain’t nobody going to beat me.
"Then me and Lennox got into a scuffle on an ESPN tour and I manhandled him. I had knocked him out and manhandled him, and was in a place where I felt he was not on my level. But I disrespected him and didn’t prepare properly for him in the rematch.
“What I should have done was postpone the fight. When I fought him it was during the month of Ramadan and I observed my fast.
“In retrospect that weakened me to a certain degree, but I had such little regard for him I thought I would knock him out anyway and went on with it. I regret that.”
It took four years for Rahman to win the title again, beating Monte Barrett, then drawing with James Toney before Oleg Maskaev dethroned him as WBC king.
Now 41, his career is not officially over, but last year’s loss to Alexander Povetkin could well prove his 61st and final fight.
For Rahman, fresh challenges come with community development initiatives in Baltimore that focus on job creation, building lowto- moderate income housing and drug treatment.
Working with groups like Interculture, Park Reist Corridor Coalition and the Gwynn Oak Islamic Community Trust, he has spent millions to help make a difference.
“Fighting would be something I would still be pursuing if I didn’t win a title twice,” he added. “But everybody has a time and I need to be a heavyweight champion of business entrepreneurship at this point. I need to go do some things for my community, need to get with the right people and bring up a lot of things for community development.
“For me, if I can save a little kid from getting shot five times, or from having a car flip on his face, then that’s more important for me at this point in my life than winning a title for a third time. I don’t ever say never, but slim and none are the possibilities.”
Rahman retains hope that sons Hasim Jr, 21, and Sharif, 17, will follow in his footsteps.
“Sharif will be the one, I think,” added the father-of-eight. “Hasim Jr don’t take it as a business. As dangerous as this sport is you have to be 100 per cent focused and I don’t think my Junior is as focused as that. Sharif, I have got high hopes for him.
“He’s a perfect gent outside of the ring, but when he gets in the ring he wants to hurt somebody. That’s the mindset you have to have in boxing. He’s light-heavyweight now, but I think he’s going to have a growth spurt and he’s ultimately going to be a heavyweight.
“I don’t believe there’s ever been a father-and-son heavyweight champion so I would be ecstatic if that happened.
“He’s training at the Mayweather gym and, for me, it’s invaluable because, in Floyd, he gets to see the best. If I had that type of experience when I was younger, who knows what I could have achieved.”
Born: Baltimore, USA. November 7, 1972
Career: 1992-current; 61 fights (50 wins, 41KO). Two-time world champion
Obviously people will look at the win over Lennox Lewis. I don’t believe it was the best I ever fought, but the biggest stage. In terms of the opposition and execution, I would rate that number one, but it wasn’t my best performance. That was in 2004 when I fought Kali Meehan at Madison Square Gardens, a legendary place and on a card with Evander Holyfield and John Ruiz. I felt I stole the show, the best performance from start to finish. I was in beast mode and won in four.
Ones to watch
Floyd Mayweather Jnr is always the one that tickles my fancy the most, but Deontay Wilder is coming through at heavyweight. I’m curious to see what he can do, he’s 30 wins from 30, with 30 knockouts, and will be getting ready to fight for a title soon.