For Baltimore heavyweight Hasim "The Rock" Rahman, the past 14 months have been rocky.
Rahman was flattened in the fourth round of his November 2001 world title rematch with reigning World Boxing Council champion Lennox Lewis, considered the division's undisputed titlist.
And he took his lumps in a June 2002 loss to Evander Holyfield, succumbing to the four-time world champion in the eighth round when the fight was stopped after an accidental clash of heads caused a grotesque, baseball-sized swelling on Rahman's forehead.
"Life ain't fair, but you just have to pick up the pieces and you go on," said Rahman, 31.
Rahman (35-4, 29 knockouts) can do that with a victory over David Tua (42-3, 37 KOs) in their 12-round co-feature on March 29 in Philadelphia, which will be televised on HBO.
Their clash, a heavyweight eliminator that should make the winner the mandatory challenger to International Boxing Federation champion Chris Byrd, is a rematch of their December 1998 bout, won by Tua with a controversial 10th-round knockout. Rahman was 29-0 before losing to Tua after being dazed by a late punch following the bell to end the ninth round.
"The best punch [Tua] threw was a foul. He took way more punishment than I did the first fight," Rahman said in a conference call yesterday from Vero Beach, Fla., where he is training to face Tua on the undercard of the middleweight bout between undisputed champion Bernard Hopkins (41-2-1, 30 KOs) and Mourade Hakkar (29-3, 18 KOs).
"[If I lose], in terms of fighting, this isn't something I'd be interested in doing anymore," Rahman said, adding that the division is wide open considering recent events. "I've buckled down, I'm ready to mix it up and give a great performance. The winner should be right there, deserving of a title shot."
Byrd, who owns a lopsided decision over Tua, also has been dominated in a loss to former World Boxing Organization champion Wladimir Klitschko. But Klitschko, in his last fight, was knocked out in the second round by South Africa's Corrie Sanders, a fighter Rahman knocked out in May 2000.
And John Ruiz, who has beaten Holyfield but been knocked out by Tua, recently lost his World Boxing Association belt in a lopsided loss to Roy Jones.