ROCHESTER, N.Y. - Hasim Rahman watched four opponents come and go during pre-fight negotiations. Only on Saturday did the fifth man, Terrence Lewis, step up to the plate for a shot at the ex-heavyweight champion from Baltimore.
But last night at a minor league baseball stadium called Frontier Field, it was Rahman who did the hitting, scoring a knockout of Lewis 43 seconds into the second round of a scheduled 10-round bout.
Rahman (39-5-1, 32 knockouts) won his fourth fight in the past five months before a crowd of about 5,000.
In scoring his third consecutive second-round knockout, Rahman drove Lewis, 31, to the canvas with a hard left jab to the head.
Lewis (31-15-1), on his hands and knees, and with referee Dick Pakozdi standing over him, was unable to beat the count of 10.
"I knocked him out with the jab," Rahman, 31, said. "I basically controlled the fight with the J-A-B.
"When I don't go for the knockout, that's when I get it. I wound up knocking him out in the process. I threw a couple of right hands when I had him in the corner, [when I] wasn't trying to knock him out."
Rahman won the first round, bloodying Lewis' nose with his jab, and throwing rights to the head and body. Near the end of the round, Rahman drove Lewis to the ropes and landed a right that sagged him. Only the ropes held Lewis up. Lewis' nose was broken by a Rahman right hook in the round.
"I know nobody expected me to come out and blast Terrence Lewis out like that," Rahman said. "He's a tough guy who has been in life-and-death wars. People probably expected me to win by late-round stoppage or a decision.
"I've been working on my defense on the pads every day with my trainer [Adrian Davis]. If I can get used to timing punches like I did tonight, the heavyweight division doesn't have a chance. This should catapult me into another title shot. I don't think another champion could have done what I did tonight."
The victory kept alive Rahman's hopes of regaining a title belt for the first time since earning the undisputed championship with his knockout of Lennox Lewis in April 2001.
"The Al Cole fight [a lackluster 10-round decision in March] was a blessing in disguise," said Rahman, who weighed 246 3/4 pounds for last night's bout.
"If I had knocked [Cole] out early, I would have continued on the same path, training when I want to train. I couldn't figure it out for a long time. But I just think it was God's way of telling me, 'Get your act together, boy.' All of the chips are falling into the right place."
Rahman's four-fight winning streak has him rated No. 1 by the World Boxing Association, No. 3 by the World Boxing Organization, No. 4 by the World Boxing Council and No. 5 by the International Boxing Federation, whose respective champs are John Ruiz, Lamon Brewster, Vitali Klitschko and Chris Byrd.
As the WBA's top-ranked contender, Rahman is the mandatory challenger to Ruiz, who defeated Rahman by unanimous decision in December. But Ruiz does not have to fight Rahman until April, in accordance with WBA rules, and is said by his attorney to be pursuing a fight with Golota.
So rather than remain inactive until an opportunity surfaces against Ruiz, Rahman might opt for a more lucrative - and perhaps more dangerous - non-title fight against James Toney (67-4-3), said his co-manager, Steve Nelson.
"Rock could earn a lot more money for fighting Toney than for Ruiz," Nelson said of a fight that could land him on HBO for the 10th time in the fall. "Right now, the talks are more about Toney than about Ruiz because it's a better fight and a better opportunity for Rock in a lot of ways."
Toney earned Fighter of the Year honors from the Boxing Writers' Association of America after his past two wins over former cruiserweight champion Vassiliy Jirov and ex-heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield.
Rahman wants a title shot, preferably against Ruiz.
"I feel like [Ruiz] is trying to avoid me in trying to take the Andrew Golota route," Rahman said.
"But I feel like at the end of the day, it's going to be me and Ruiz for the WBA title at the end of the year."