They say Hasim Rahman Jr. looks like a heavyweight world champion because he resembles in so many ways the father who was once just that.
When Hasim Jr. is sparring in the ring, his headgear on, onlookers have confessed to his father, the Baltimore native who knocked out Lennox Lewis in 2001 to win the unified heavyweight title: "Wow, I thought that was you."
They eat alike, Hasim Jr. says, and drink alike. They darn sure look alike, both now and across generations. When the elder Rahman made his professional debut, in 1994, he weighed 234 pounds. The younger Rahman will face Brian Imes (1-4) in his first pro fight Friday at the Showtime Championship Boxing event at the MGM National Harbor, and "I think I'll be 234 pounds," he said sheepishly.
"I come from him," he explained Thursday. "I'm Junior."
Even their scars, tragic and unfading, bond them. When the elder Rahman was 20, he was in a friend's speeding pickup truck when it flipped, killing the driver and pinning Rahman's face under the gas tank. It left a permanent mark on his right cheek.
When the younger Rahman was 20, the SUV he was driving in Las Vegas collided head-on with a delivery truck. The truck driver, Ricardo Martinez, 43, died, leaving behind a wife and three children. Rahman was sentenced to two to five years in prison.
He left behind a life there, too, his father believes.
"I'm always trying to find the good in something," Rahman said. "I look at that little stay as he's been almost reborn, if you will. It's like now he's focused."
Hasim Jr. was focused once before. His father never desired to see his children in the ring — "Every part of me wanted that," he said — but he never wanted to control their lives as his parents had his. They told him he couldn't play football. He thought he could've been the next Ray Lewis. The coaches at Randallstown begged for him to play. He said he couldn't.
When he became a father and then a boxer known the world over, he made a parenting pledge: "If they want to do [boxing], I'm going to support them."
So his oldest son, Hasim Jr., took up the gloves and did right by his name. Growing up in Baltimore, then Las Vegas and Detroit, he won the Junior National Golden Gloves and Junior National Police Athletic/Activities Leagues Boxing championships. He studied under Emanuel Steward, an International Boxing Hall of Famer who trained boxers such as Wladimir Klitschko and Thomas Hearns. He learned how to fight ambidextrously, how to move around the ring with both speed and power — "things I could never do," his father said.
But when he reached the senior level, the scene he saw "poisoned" him, Rahman said. The top fighters, the ones he had read about and looked up to, would lose, shrug and go party. Hasim Jr. never felt good about losing. This unsettled him. It weakened his resolve to fight like a champion, his father believes, until the accident that kept him out of the ring altogether.
"Before that, if he would've turned pro at that stage, I wouldn't have been involved in his career," Rahman said. "I didn't see him at the focus level [necessary]."
Hasim Jr. is penitent about that fateful day. His strong voice softened as he talked about the father who never made it home to his kids. He accepted responsibility for his actions. He offered no excuses.
But like the namesake he carries into the ring, his stint in prison was no more a curse than a blessing. He hasn't fought in a match since May 2014. He feels stronger now: The time he spent in prison reflecting on the life he wanted to lead out of it was "the best thing that could've happened to me."
At the Upton Boxing Center in Baltimore, he has become "the sailor of his ship," said co-trainer Calvin Ford. In Las Vegas, he was the son of Hasim Rahman, and that entitled him to certain privileges.
"But I told him here, it ain't about your name," co-trainer Kenny Ellis said. "You've got to do what we tell you." And he has, they say, showing up on time, following instructions, being smart.
Ellis and Ford fixate on that word for a beat: He's definitely smart. Hasim Jr.'s hoping to enroll at the University of Maryland, College Park within the next year to study broadcast journalism. If he moved to, say, Laurel, he explained, he'd be about 20 minutes from school and 20 minutes from Upton.
Maybe five to seven years separate Hasim Jr. from a shot at a title fight, he guesses. He'd like to be a world champion like his father, but he'd also like to do something his father hasn't: graduate from college. His father likes to say he has given him a blueprint for success in the ring. Hasim Jr. is eager to find out the rest on his own.
"I can't wait," he said. "I can't wait to start and get the ball rolling on my life."
Hasim Rahman Jr. is not the only Baltimore boxer competing Friday in the Showtime Championship Boxing event at the MGM National Harbor.
Welterweight (eight rounds)
Malik Hawkins (10-0, seven KOs) of Baltimore vs. Carlos Soto (13-0-2, seven KOs) of Mexico
Junior featherweight (eight rounds)
Glenn Dezurn (8-0, six KOs) of Baltimore vs. Leroy Davila (5-0, three KOs) of New Brunswick, N.J.
Light heavyweight (eight rounds)
Travis Reeves (13-2-2, seven KOs) of Baltimore vs. Taneal Goyco (9-9-1, four KOs) of Philadelphia