Baltimore native Hasim Rahman's chance to become a two-time world heavyweight champion by defeating World Boxing Council title holder Vitali Klitschko will likely happen May 7 at New York's Madison Square Garden, promoter Don King and representatives of both fighters said yesterday.
"I've talked to [Klitschko adviser] Shelly Finkel, and he told me that the Garden is available, so the fight will be there on May 7," King said from St. Louis, where he is promoting next weekend's welterweight title fight between undisputed champion Cory Spinks and Zab Judah. "I will verify that the date is available, make a deal for the site, and we'll be in business to put on the fight."
Plans to have Klitschko-Rahman on May 14 in Las Vegas were scrapped when King made a deal on that date for a middleweight pay-per-view bout between Felix Trinidad and rising undisputed junior middleweight king Winky Wright. A May 21 date for Madison Square Garden was taken by a U2 concert, Finkel said.
"Rahman serves us better in New York than in Los Angeles or Las Vegas," said Finkel, who works with Klitschko's manager, Bernd Boente, and his promoter, Tom Loeffler of K-2 promotions. "The fight draws better at Madison Square Garden than of all possible venues."
The Garden would mean a return for Rahman, 32, to the site of his previous bout on Nov. 13, when the 6-foot-3 fighter entered the ring at a svelte 232 pounds and scored his fourth straight knockout and his fifth straight win over Australia's Kali Meehan.
For Rahman (40-5-1, 33 knockouts), Meehan was the sixth fight in 11 months dating back to a December 2003 loss in a 12-round decision to World Boxing Association champion John Ruiz. Rahman is the WBC's No. 1 contender to face Klitschko (35-2, 34 KOs).
"We have not come to terms with Don King in respect to a purse, but we're planning to meet with Don next week to finalize the deal," said Rahman's manager, Steve Nelson. "Rock wants the fight, and we believe it's a fight that Rock wins."
Klitschko, 6-7, 250 pounds, is coming off an eighth-round TKO of Danny Williams that was televised on HBO pay-per-view. But after a significant financial loss on Klitschko-Williams, as well as King's four-fight heavyweight pay-per-view card in November, HBO president Ross Greenburg prefers Klitschko-Rahman be televised live on the cable network.
"There needs to be an injection of life into the heavyweight division, and that could come by way of a live airing on our network rather than asking people to fork over 50 dollars to watch yet another heavyweight fight," Greenburg said.
"We need significant heavyweight fights seen by many people, and this would be a first step if Vitali Klitschko and Hasim Rahman fought live on HBO. We're optimistic that we can convince all of the parties that it's in their best interest to air the fight live on HBO."
If Klitschko, 33, had his preference, he would fight ex-champion Lennox Lewis. Lewis retired after defeating Klitschko, who led on points when their fight was stopped after six rounds due to a long cut over Klitschko's eye. Lewis has denied published reports hinting at his return to the ring.
"My job is to get Vitali the most attractive fight for the most money at minimum risk. I believe that with Lennox being out of the ring for as long as he has, he'd be prime pickings," said Finkel, adding that rumors about Lewis did not interfere with negotiations to face Rahman.
"Vitali wants the fight with Rahman in the respect that Rahman is there as the mandatory - even though we had until June to take another fight and then go and fight Rahman," Finkel said. "Vitali has never tried to get around Rahman. There's no issue of avoiding him. We're going right to him. Vitali is going to start training in February, and he'll be ready for him."
Rahman had been the No. 1 contender to face champs Ruiz, Chris Byrd and Lamon Brewster, respective owners of the WBA, International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Organization belts.
King has outlined what hopes to be the beginning of a unification tournament. It begins on April 16 at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn., with Brewster defending against Andrew Golota, loser of a November decision to Ruiz. It includes an April 30 defense for Ruiz against James Toney, one of two men who have knocked out Evander Holyfield. And on Nov. 23, King looks to match Byrd against Wladimir Klitschko, who has beaten Byrd.
King said the Byrd-Wladimir Klitschko and Ruiz-Toney deals are close to completion.
"Everything, right now, is scheduled to be televised on HBO," King said.
NOTE: King said the Brewster-Golota undercard will feature a middleweight battle of former world champions Ricardo Mayorga and Javier Castillejo.