Clash of nice guys not worthy of champ

Aug 9, 2005 12:53 AM

A living reminder of how fragile boxing intelligence can be headlines one of Don King’s schlock pay-per-view shows. Sometimes I think Hasim Rahman is also a living memento of the decline of the heavyweight division.

This is one of the most unlikely heavyweight champions in history. Few gave him much of a chance when he faced Lennox Lewis in South Africa’s high altitude. Lewis arrogantly did not focus on the Rock and from one solid right hand a new champion was crowned.

It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. His smile is as warm as his big right hand. Remember Beethavean Scottland, the family guy who died from wounds suffered in a fight in New York? He was a gym-mate in Baltimore of Rahman, who went into his pocket to pay for the funeral.

Whatever luck comes his way, bless him. He’s fighting another good guy Monte Barrett, so there can’t be a rooting interest based solely on character. These guys, as a matter of fact, are good friends, but they’ll be leaving that aside.

They are fighting for something called the "interim" WBC heavyweight title. To put it another way, the winner faces oft-injured WBC belt-holder, Vitali Klitschko.

For a long time it appeared that Klitschko was ducking Rahman, his mandatory challenger, although for what reasons I am not sure. Rahman can punch, but so can the big Ukraine. Klitschko also has a major advantage with his delivery system. Three times a date was made for the fight, three times Klitschko came up with an injury.

Finally the WBC, worried that it wasn’t collecting any sanction fees — ordered Rahman to face Barrett. Though it is difficult to give the banditos much credit, this was not a bad example of matchmaking.

It should be a good fight. Rahman, who gave the title right back to Lewis, has become perhaps the worst ex-heavyweight champion since the decline of Leon Spinks. Of course, there is Oliver McCall, who will open the pay-per-view portion of the Aug. 20 show in Chicago as a late sub for Andrew Golota. The injured Foul Pole was to have faced a countryman, Przemyslaw Saleta, who was hired by Don King to get Golota back on the winning track.

Rahman, since giving back the title, lost to the remains of Evander Holyfield, was lucky to get a draw with an out-of-shape David Tua and lost to John Ruiz. He then was held to a narrow decision over ancient Al Cole and has since beaten flotsam and jetsam.

At 32, and with his recent record, it just didn’t make any sense for him to be a 3-1 favorite. Barrett is not a bad fighter, though he doesn’t have Rahman’s punch. If he gets out of the first few rounds, he probably will take charge.

The odds have come down, of course, though I think they are still generous — laying 12-5 on the Rock against a man coming off victories against previously unbeaten Dominick Guinn and Owen Beck. At 34, Barrett seems to have peaked. I believe he will be the more intense of the two. Much of the last year, Rahman was concerned with trying to get Vitali into the ring. He might well be looking past his old buddy, and at +2.10, I think he is of value.

The McCall-Saleta match is not going to be on any board that I would respect, but there are a couple of other possible action fights. Ricardo Mayorga of Nicaragua has a big chin, a big punch, but he showed against Cory Spinks he has little finesse. In Michele Piccirillo of Italy, he will be up against another slick boxer. Still, it is unlikely the Italian, who was given a gift decision over Spinks, has enough to keep off Mayorga.

Luis Collazo, who upset Jose Antonio Rivera for the meaningless WBA welterweight title, is in with another Don King favorite, Miguel Angel Gonzalez, whom he insists upon digging up regularly. Zab Judah is "the" 147-pound champion, period. If there’s any dispute, it should come from Antonio Margarito, who has the WBOgus belt. Should be a walk in the park for Collazo.