Baltimore heavyweight Hasim Rahman will fight for the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation championships held by Lennox Lewis on April 21 at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, according to Rahman's handlers and an HBO source close to negotiations.
"It'll be Rahman," an HBO official confirmed yesterday. HBO will televise the bout as part of its "World Championship Boxing" series. The two sides have agreed on the money, the HBO official said, guaranteeing Rahman (34-2, 28 knockouts) about $1.5 million, by far his biggest payday. The purse for Lewis (35-1, 27 KOs) was unavailable last night.
Steve Nelson, Rahman's co-manager with Stan Hoffman, said yesterday afternoon: "We reached the agreement about a half an hour ago, but the talks and negotiations have been going on for at least a month."
The agreement cancels Rahman's previously scheduled appointment in March with former Olympian Danell Nicholson, a bout that would have determined the No. 1 contender for Lewis' IBF crown.
"Rock and David Izon were the top considerations," Nelson said, "but Rock's going to be fighting Lennox Lewis for the IBF and the WBC titles, which will make Rock the next heavyweight champion in everybody's eyes."
Neither Kathy Duva nor Gary Shaw, Lewis' promotional representatives, could be reached.
Another HBO official said the deal was nearly done, but not complete.
"The two sides have agreed to some basic terms, and the negotiations are fairly close to completion, but we don't like to announce fights until everything is done," said Kery Davis, senior vice president of programming at HBO Sports.
A victory in the fight, which will be Rahman's first since an Aug. 4 knockout of journeyman Frankie Swindell, would make Rahman Baltimore's first heavyweight to hold a belt issued by a widely recognized boxing organization.
Before the Swindell fight, Rahman had earned Ring magazine's Fighter of the Month award for May for a sensational, seventh-round knockout of South African Corrie Sanders (36-2, 26), earning Rahman the fringe World Boxing Union title.
This will be Rahman's fourth fight under Hoffman, Nelson and Capitol Heights trainer Adrian Davis.
"I believe that none of the guys can punch like I can punch now," said Rahman. "I'm bench-pressing over 450 pounds now. I've added so much punching power and muscle."
Rahman had been scheduled to fight Nicholson on Oct. 7, but the bout was called off when Rahman required emergency surgery to remove an abscess on his spine. Rahman said he is fully recovered from the surgery, and has been training since late October after a month off. Nicholson pulled out of the rescheduled match, set for Jan. 13, with an injury."[Rahman is] on a mission to defeat Lennox Lewis," Nelson said. "He's not coming back to Baltimore without a few belts in his hands. He'll bring pride to the city of Baltimore, there's no question about that."
Lewis had been saying he would like to fight Mike Tyson and then retire, but has reconsidered, Rahman said, "because he thinks I'm an easy fight."
Lewis made his third defense of the crown he won from Evander Holyfield on Nov. 11 with a lopsided, 12-round decision over David Tua (37-2).
Rahman has appeared headed for title shots before, but was sidetracked by knockout losses to Tua in 1998 and Oleg Maskaev in 1999.
"I believe that Lewis is a very cautious fighter who gets brave when you allow him to get brave," Rahman said. "I think he looked sensational in his last couple of fights, but I believe styles make fights. I will definitely not let him become comfortable in the ring with me."