Atlantic City, N.J. -- Hasim Rahman's last four fights here have varied from bizarre to exciting to boring.
On Nov. 6, 1999, the day before Rahman's 27th birthday, the fighter was knocked out of the ring and into the lap of HBO commentator Jim Lampley, resulting in an eighth-round loss to Russian Oleg Maskaev.
In May 2000, Rahman overcame an early knockdown to defeat 6-foot-7 South African Corrie Sanders, whom he pinned on the ropes and nailed with nearly 40 unanswered blows before the bout was stopped.
Rahman, a Baltimore native, then lost the next two times he fought in this city - once by eighth-round technical decision in June 2002 to Evander Holyfield, whose accidental head butt left his opponent with a baseball-sized knot on the left side of his forehead; and the other by 12-round decision in December 2003 to John Ruiz, whose jab-and-grab style was effective against Rahman, but effectively put ringsiders to sleep.
Rahman (41-5-1, 33 knockouts) will have no room for error tonight at Boardwalk Hall when he makes his first defense of his World Boxing Council title against plump, 37-year-old defensive wizard James Toney (69-4-2, 43 KOs), a man boxing historian Bert Sugar called "a throw-back fighter" who can "use his shoulders to block punches and set himself up to counter like very few fighters today."
Toney, who stands just 5 feet 9, weighs 237 - his heaviest for a bout.
"Toney looks like you could write 'Goodyear' on his backside and float him in the the Macy's parade," Sugar said, referring to Toney's weight problems. "But don't be mistaken about James' ability - it's the best in the heavyweight division. It's going to take Rahman on a good day to even give James a battle."
Toney enters as a slight favorite, but Rahman, 33, said being the underdog brings out the best in him. Rahman said he felt similarly in his first fight with Lennox Lewis, whom he knocked out in April 2001 to become undisputed champion only to lose their rematch seven months later.
He also felt that way against Sanders and David Tua - a draw in March of 2003 that most observers thought Rahman won.
"Toney is an excellent boxer and fighter and a first-ballot Hall of Famer," said Rahman, whose six-bout winning streak includes four KOs. "If I feel like there's a threat in front of me, I go to the well, I dig down deep and bring out whatever I need to bring out.
"When I feel like it's a real easy, winnable fight, then I might half-prepare. That's where the inconsistency has come from. But the worst thing you can do is back me against the wall and I feel like I've got to come out fighting," said Rahman, who will earn "appreciably in excess of $2 million" toward clearing up a $5 million bankruptcy debt, according to his promoter, Bob Arum.
Rahman weighed in at a sculpted 238 pounds for Toney, the same as for his victory over Lewis.
"I haven't ducked out on anything in preparing for this fight," Rahman said. "No matter what James Toney does, I'm going to make this fight. I'm not just relying on power; my conditioning is excellent. I'm going to let my hands go. The public will see an exciting heavyweight fight."
Rahman's last win came in August over Monte Barrett, giving him a shot at then-WBC titlist Vitali Klitschko. When Klitchko's retirement forced the cancellation of a November defense against Rahman, Rahman was elevated to WBC titlist and Toney was named his first challenger.
Toney, who played high school football at 205 pounds, won titles as a middleweight (160 pounds), super middleweight (168) and cruiserweight (190) prior to becoming a heavyweight.
If there is an aberration on Toney's record it is his May 1997 loss to light heavyweight Drake Thadzi. They fought as cruiserweights because Toney was overweight. Toney was outhustled and rocked several times by a fighter who entered with a 28-8-1 record.
"I've heard it all about my weight. The last time I got my [butt] whupped was by a doctor 37 years ago. If I'm bald-headed, fat and out of shape, why am I beating up all of these top heavyweights?" said Toney, who never has been knocked out.
"I'm fighting Hasim Rahman, who is the best heavyweight out there. I'm going to destroy him. I'm going to knock Hasm Rahman out. I'm the best fighter in the world, pound for pound, and the only way to prove it is to fight a guy wearing a belt."
Who: Hasim Rahman vs. James Toney, for Rahman's World Boxing Council heavyweight title
Where: Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, N.J.
TV: HBO, 10 p.m.
Records: Rahman 41-5-1, 33 KOs; Toney 69-4-2, 43 KOs
WHO WILL WIN?
How people see tonight's Hasim Rahman-James Toney fight:
LAMON BREWSTER, WBO champion -- "I'll say this much: My pick is James Toney. I've had two, three, maybe four years of sparring in the gym with this guy. We both were trained by Freddie Roach at one time, and this guy is hard to hit. ... I know the style that can beat James, and it's not Rahman's style. Rahman may be bigger and stronger, but James is an oddity. He's a gift to boxing because of his boxing abilities. If he's right, he can win this fight with his eyes closed." Toney
CALVIN BROCK, heavyweight contender -- "Rahman has been the undisputed champion of the world before, and he's boxing a man shorter than him. Rahman's shown that he can box a shorter man well with David Tua, and he's big and strong with a great jab to keep you outside. ... James Toney's got great skills, but if somebody gets knocked out, it will be Toney." Rahman
TOMMY BROOKS, trainer -- "I think Rahman by knockout. Rahman's too big, too strong and he's an excellent boxer. Toney knows all of the tricks, but Rahman's not going to go for them. [Rahman's trainer] Thell Torrence knows all the tricks, and they're going to be ready for Toney." Rahman
CHRIS BYRD, IBF champ -- "This is the first big, solid heavyweight Toney will face. Rahman's got to stay patient, use his jab to set up the right hand. Rahman's got to keep the distance for 12 rounds. You let Toney rest on the ropes, he's back in the fight." Rahman
BERNARD HOPKINS, former undisputed middleweight champ -- "I give the edge to James Toney for his skills and youth - and I'm not talking in terms of age, but in terms of wear and tear in the ring. Rahman's been involved in some tough [knockout losses], but Toney has never been knocked out or even beat up. Plus, Toney's got speed and a middleweight fighting style in terms of his defense." Toney