World Boxing Council official Mauricio Sulaiman calls Vitali Klitschko-Hasim Rahman "the best heavyweight fight out there." HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg says, "It's not only a logical fight for HBO, but one of the most intriguing."
But if WBC heavyweight champion Klitschko has his way, the 33-year-old title-holder will make a second defense - this one in Germany in March - of the crown vacated by Lennox Lewis before taking on Rahman (40-5-1, 33 knockouts) during the mandated month of June.
Klitschko (35-2, 34 KOs), who stopped Danny Williams in the eighth round this month in Las Vegas, has fought 29 times in Germany.
"Vitali is very popular in Germany, and they pay very high numbers for him there. He hasn't fought there in a while [since a November 2002 knockout of Larry Donald]," said Tom Loeffler, of Klitschko's K2 Promotions. "Rahman is definitely on the radar screen. It all depends on the next few weeks."
Sulaiman, the son of WBC president Jose Sulaiman, said Klitschko must fight Rahman by June. But Sulaiman said it's unclear whether organization rules allow the 6-foot-7, 250-pound Ukrainian an interim defense. "We have not heard that from Klitschko, but if it's true, then we would have to make a ruling on that," Sulaiman said.
Rahman is the No. 1-rated contender to the title owned by Klitschko, as well as the top dog to face champions John Ruiz, Chris Byrd and Lamon Brewster, owners of the World Boxing Association, International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Organization crowns, respectively.
But Loeffler said Klitschko's hands "were badly swollen, but not broken" after his fight with Williams and that the timetable for future bouts "depends on Vitali's hands."
"He'll take it through the holidays, and by the beginning of the year we'll have a look," Loeffler said. "Rahman is very well-known to HBO viewers. HBO is interested. It would be a matter of working out the details with [Rahman's promoter] Don King, which isn't always the easiest thing. But I really don't see any obstacles."
However, Rahman's manager, Steve Nelson, said WBC rules "are very clear when a champion becomes champion by winning the title that has been vacant," as Klitschko did by defeating Corrie Sanders in April nearly a year after losing to Lewis.
"Vitali has the right to have one voluntary defense, which he had against Williams, and then he must fight his mandatory," Nelson said. "We earned the right to the fight by winning a title-elimination bout, therefore, we are the mandatory, and there is no leeway as far as Klitschko having the right to a second voluntary defense."
Rahman is coming off his fourth straight knockout and his fifth straight win - a fourth-round stoppage of Australia's Kali Meehan - on Nov. 13 at New York's Madison Square Garden.
Rahman-Meehan was the eliminator for the right to face Klitschko. It was also Rahman's sixth fight in 11 months dating to a Dec. 13, 2003, loss by 12-round decision to Ruiz in Atlantic City, N.J.
"I don't blame Vitali for trying to milk the title, but I've done everything in my power to put myself in the position to be the No. 1 contender for this fight. I believe he doesn't want this fight, because if he did, he would just step up to the plate," said Rahman, 32. "I really just don't think he wants to see a Hasim Rahman at 235 pounds or below, because he's aware - just like all of the other champions are aware - that a Hasim Rahman at that weight is the most dangerous guy out there."
King could not be reached, but Sulaiman said, "We've heard they are very close to making a deal."
Said Bobby Goodman, vice president of boxing operations and public relations for Don King Productions: "Don's been trying to work on that and get it done, especially being that the Rock has earned his way to the mandatory challenger's spot. I haven't been able to talk to Don today, but I know he's been talking to the HBO people, the Klitschko people and the WBC."
Klitschko-Rahman "is a wonderful drama, where you have two fighters who have had roller-coaster careers," Greenburg said.
"In the case of both Vitali and Hasim, they've fought off some difficult times out of the ring," Greenburg said. "In Vitali's case, it's been the difficulties in the Ukraine, and for Hasim, he's had his own personal demons in the past. Everyone's given a second chance, and these two boxers are very familiar with second chances."
Although it is unclear when the clock begins ticking, the two camps - King, Loeffler and Klitschko adviser Shelly Finkel - have 45 days within which to sit down and negotiate a deal.
If an agreement is not reached, the fight goes to purse bids, under which King and WBC-registered promoters propose an overall dollar amount to be divided between the fighters. Under this scenario, the money would be divided 75 percent to 25 percent in favor of Klitschko.