MIAMI -- Hasim Rahman knows his ring history.
He can tick off the names of the five Baltimore natives who won world boxing championships: Kid Williams, a bantamweight; Harry Jeffra, who won the bantam and featherweight titles; Joe Dundee, a welterweight; his younger brother, Vince, a middleweight; and, most recently, junior-middleweight Vince Pettway, who is still active.
"Tell everyone back in Baltimore to sit tight -- their first heavyweight champ is on the way," said the unbeaten Rahman (29-0, 24 KOs), who battles David Tua (31-1, 27 KOs) in 12-round elimination bout tonight at the Miccosukee Casino to determine the No. 1 contender for Evander Holyfield's International Boxing Federation crown.
"Whether I ultimately have to go through Holyfield, Lennox Lewis or Mike Tyson, I'm going to get that title," he promised. "But first I have to go through Tua. Beating him will make it all believable, plus he's standing between me and millions of dollars."
Disposing of Tua, a youthful Tyson clone, will be no easy matter. The stocky Samoan who grew up in New Zealand is one of the more powerful punchers in his weight class, having stopped 26 of his opponents, with many falling victim to his hellbent style in the first few rounds. He starched Rahman Johnny Ruiz in 19 seconds in March 1996 on an HBO show featuring a number of promising young heavyweights.
Now 26, two weeks younger than Rahman, Tua was pushed into boxing by his father, who arranged neighborhood fights for his adolescent son in front of his convenience store in Auckland, New Zealand.
"If they whipped me, my father would give them free sweets," he recalled.
But Tua won more often than not, and by the time he was 14, he had grown to 175 pounds and was winning national amateur titles against boys three years older.
He earned a bronze medal as a heavyweight in the 1992 Olympic Games and caught the eye of Hall of Fame trainer Lou Duva, who brought him to the United States.
Tua won his first 27 fights in rather convincing fashion before losing a 12-round decision to Nigeria's Ike Ibeabuchi in Sacramento, Calif., on Dec. 21, 1996.
"I was surprised by the decision," Tua said. "But I don't want to be a typical American fighter who complains. That's not me.
"Ibeabuchi was a tough fight, but it hasn't hurt my confidence. That loss has nothing to do with my career. Any day spent dwelling on it is wasted. If you let problems continue, you'll be in trouble."
Duva blamed the loss to Ibeabuchi on a slow start by Tua and worked with co-trainers Ronnie Shields and Roger Bloodworth to get the heavy-fisted slugger to be more aggressive rather than seeking a one-punch knockout.
Said Duva, "We're trying to get across to David that his offense can become his defense and he should be fighting more like Joe Frazier."
Despite the warning, the same problem surfaced last March at the Pikesville Armory when Tua seemed fortunate to win a controversial majority decision over left-handed Jeff Wooden, whom Rahman had stopped a year earlier.
"I've got to go back to the drawing board," Tua later confided. "I got in the mode of standing in front of Wooden and doing nothing. I should have been putting punches together. But all that should've and would've doesn't matter until you do it."
Duva, a master motivator, has not lost confidence in his young slugger.
"He's a lot better than what he showed against Wooden," the veteran trainer said. "He was about 10 pounds overweight that night. Now he's in top condition, and I'm still guaranteeing he'll win a world title.
"There is a changing of the guard in the heavyweight division going on now with the aging of Holyfield and Mike Tyson, but even if they don't go away, Tua can step in with any of them."
Rahman, of course, sees a different scenario.
"Yeah, Tua's dangerous, but he's one-dimensional," the Baltimorean said. "He comes straight at you, and I'm not going to be there to get hit. Basically, I'll win this fight with my left hand, my jab and giving him a lot of angles. I'll beg him to throw his hook, and then I'll take him out with one of my own.
"I'm not leaving anything in the gym. I plan on bringing all my weapons with me tonight."
NOTE: The Rahman-Tua match, which is rated a toss-up by Las Vegas sports books, will serve as a prelude to a World Boxing Council super-featherweight championship bout between unbeaten Floyd Mayweather (18-0) and Angel Manfredy (25-2-1). Mayweather, 21, became one of the youngest champions in ring history in October by stopping Genaro Hernandez in eight rounds to capture the World Boxing Council title. "My son is the best fighter in the world today," said Floyd Sr., his trainer, a title contender in the 1980s. Mayweather is a 2-1 favorite.
Fight facts Who: Hasim Rahman (29-0, 24 KOs) vs. David Tua (31-1, 27 KOs), 12-round heavyweight elimination bout for Rahman's USBA title and No. 1 IBF ranking. Also, Floyd Mayweather (18-0, 14 KOs) vs. Angel Manfredy (25-2-1, 19 KOs), for Mayweather's WBC junior-lightweight title.
Where: Miccosukee Casino, Miami
TV: HBO, 10 p.m.
Pub Date: 12/19/98