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  CyberBoxingZone, March 30, 2003

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Heavyweight Gainers: Tua-Rahman II/Hopkins' Executioner's Song


The smart money was on David Tua last night.  Nobody gave Hasim Rahman a chance. Then, after Friday’s weigh-in for this IBF heavyweight eliminator at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, the scales seemed to tip even further in Tua’s (43-3-1, 37 KOs) favor. Rahman (35-4-1, 29 KOs) came in at 259.5. This dramatic weight gain caused the cognoscenti to speculate it was all beer and Buffalo wings.

In his last bout in June against Evander Holyfield he weighed 35 pounds less.  (He lost that match, which went to the cards, when a welt that Mini-Me could've done pull-ups on swelled on his forehead from a trademark Holyfield head butt.) The boxing media was so fixated on the quantity of the fighters’ weights—at 245 the squat Tua received less flak than his opponent because he's reached his current heft incrementally since the late ‘90s—that they forgot to look at the respective quality of the weight.  As his sobriquet states, Rahman was a “Rock”; though his waist wasn’t trim, the stomach didn't giggle when he bounced on his toes.  He carried his newly-acquired bulk amazingly well.  Tua, on the other hand, looked doughier than in his last outing, with drooping pecs that would benefit from a Victoria's Secret push-up number.

While I can offer no hard evidence on the matter, a highly-regarded matchmaker, who wishes to remain nameless, suggested to me recently that steroids are the 800-pound gorilla in the heavyweight division: Just because Sports Illustrated hasn't run an exposé on the issue (yet), doesn't mean it's not rampant.  One heavyweight he was especially suspicious of was David Tua, because his body contour changes from fight to fight.  One time he'll come in cock-diesel, with bulging muscles encased in taut skin (see his 30 second demolition of Michael Moorer last August); and other times, such as last night, he’s a plump shell of his former self, though his weight was the same for both fights.  What's odd is that he supposedly had an intense, 11-week camp leading up to last night's bout.  If, as one might speculate, he has been using his body as chemistry set, why wouldn't he stick with a winning formula?  The verdict is not in on this one.  As to Rahman, certain facts may be hard to ignore: He was not fat last night, almost all muscle.  It seems implausible that a person could add 30 pounds of lean muscle to his frame, in ten months, by natural means.  This is what he has appeared to have done since fighting Holyfield last June.  Even Holyfield, another boxer whose name inevitably comes up when steroids and prizefighting are discussed (recall his pate that went bald seemingly over night, and his various heart troubles), last fought at cruiserweight in '87.  His pumped up and sculptured 220-pound build has been 16 years in the making.
Maybe there's a good reason why the above issue is not a major topic of discussion . . . perhaps it’s because these athletes compete in what is known as the Sweet Science.  You can take all the juice in the world and it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that skill thing.  Little Roy Jones Jr. made this amply clear to us recently when his boxing acumen allowed him to dominate a solid heavyweight in John Ruiz.  Which reminds me, I should probably get to the fight, huh?
It was a draw.  Shocking, yes, but forgive me if I'm feeling a little desensitized lately.  Only three months into 2003—Down goes Forrest! Down goes Klitschko!  Hasta la vista Ruiz!—The Year of the Upset indeed!
When Tua and Rahman first squared off in December 1998, they were contenders on the rise, and significantly lighter—roughly 20 to 25 pounds apiece—than they are today. Rahman was undefeated at the time (29 wins) and Tua had suffered only one loss in 33 fights, a controversial  decision in a legendary slugfest with Ike Ibeabuchi.  Rahman thoroughly outboxed Tua through 9 rounds, when Tua connected on a brutal left hook thrown after the bell.  Rahman was not granted time to recover from the illegal blow and was consequently stopped in the 10th round.  Since then, they’ve both had their ups and downs.  Rahman briefly took the title from Lennox Lewis, only to be devastated in the rematch.  He looked bad in his last fight with Holyfield.  Tua, coming off a string of KO victories over respectable opposition, has appeared focused and on the upswing.
Before the opening bell last night, one of the HBO commentators made a point of saying that Tua is somewhat of a “freak” in that he has never been cut and never touched the canvas.  Why’d they have to jinx him like that?  
Rounds 1 through 4 went to Rahman who fired his jab as if it were a nervous tic he couldn’t control; he threw 83 in the 3rd round, a CompuBox record.  Wisely, he kept the fight in the middle of the ring—like another great left hooker, Philadelphian Joe Frazier, Tua is most dangerous in the corners—and held his right hand high against his temple.  By round 4 Tua was bleeding from his nose and under his left eye.  He was unable to close the distance with his ineffective jab, and did a poor job of setting up his winging punches.
Tua changed the plot in rounds 5 through 8, as Rahman jabbed less, opting to lean on and hold the shorter man.  While Tua’s production was hardly awesome, one of his power shots seemed to equal 20 Rahman jabs.  1:20 into round 7, Tua landed a chopping overhand right that should have felled Rahman whose chin is suspect.  Then a couple more shots connected, but Rahman somehow weathered the onslaught.  Tua quickly tired from the expenditure and didn’t get busy until the last 30 seconds of the round.  Then he put together one of his first effective combinations, a three-punch deal—right, left uppercut, left hook.  It must have been daunting for the stout bruiser when Rahman just stood there and took it?  Round 8 was a bore until the last half-minute when, once again, Tua summoned a few hard lefts and rights that had the former champ wobbled against the ropes.  Smelling blood, Tua unloaded two wide left and right hooks that would’ve caused irreparable damage had they not cartoonishly missed their mark.   
Having saved himself for the last 12 minutes, Rahman felt ready to work again in the 9th round, and started popping the jab again into Tua’s bloody, swollen eyes.  Still, Tua was good for the occasional hard overhand right, which his trainer/manager Kevin Barry referred to between rounds as “the 45”; it was unclear whether this was meant to signify .45 caliber or 45 degrees, the trajectory his arm described when he threw the punch?  Round 10 was soporific as both fighters took a breather; CBZ called it even.  The 11th went to Tua, just barely, because he inflicted more damage on the hibernating Rahman who seemed more interested in pawing at a cut above his right eye than he was in hurting his adversary.  Apparently, he felt that he’d done enough to win (HBO’s color-casters concurred), and stuck and moved through the last round, rendering Tua unable to get off.  At one point he even got up on his toes as if to indicate to the judges and fans how much he had left in the tank. 
Then a funny thing happened.  With a few seconds left, Tua had Rahman against the ropes and swung wildly.  As the bell sounded—or was it a millisecond before?  This will require as many viewings as the Zupruder footage—Rahman slipped in a sneaky short left cross that knocked Tua backwards and onto the seat of his skirt (I’m not being cute here, the man wears a skirt in the ring).  George Foreman dismissed it as a slip; Harold Letterman was intrigued and thoroughly impressed.  I say it was a clean punch.  Tua’s legs looked fine when he got up, which he did quickly, but he wore a bemused expression.  He seemed to be thinking to himself, First I get cut, and then I get floored.  This is novel.
The bout was meant to be an eliminator, the winner going on to fight the IBF champion Chris Byrd.  Look for Tua-Rahman III, coming to your small-screen soon; I guess the smart money was not so smart after all.

* * *


In last night ’s main event, Bernard Hopkins defended his middleweight crown against unknown WBC mandatory challenger Mourade Hakkar of France.  This was a bad joke told poorly, and is not worth retelling here.  Let it be said, though, it is with good reason that Hakkar is unknown to even the most hard-core fight fans.  He was so thoroughly outclassed by Hopkins that it is inexplicable how he was able to last 8 rounds with the 38-year-old champ.  Oh, yeah, Hakkar did his best Carl Lewis impersonation for the first few rounds until his stamina gave, and he began getting caught with a vicious body attack in the 6th round that dropped him to a knee.  The next two rounds were ugly, for Hakkar and for the viewing public.  All were relieved when the Frenchman’s promoter halted the bout.
It appears that there is no one left at middleweight for Hopkins to fight.  He either has to make a fight with one of top junior middleweights—Fernando Vargas, Winky Wright or Oscar De La Hoya—or go up and face one of the not-so-wonderful European super middleweights.  Maybe De La Hoya saw something in the ageless champ last night—say, his inability to put Hakkar away with one clean shot and/or his overall ring-rust—that will give him the confidence to make a fight with him.  It’s a fight fans would like to see and a check Hopkins might want to deposit before his time runs out.  Let’s hope it happens before he’s blowing out 40 candles on his cake.




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