- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum lives in Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world, and has come to the East Coast's wagering mecca to roll the dice on the heavyweight division.
Long out of boxing's glamour division, Arum is again dabbling with the big guys as the new promoter for titlist Hasim Rahman.
But Arum has made it clear that he is betting the future of his Top Rank promotional company's involvement in the heavyweight division on the outcome of the Rahman-James Toney championship fight at Boardwalk Hall Saturday night (10 ET, during HBO's free preview weekend).
If Rahman is successful in his first title defense, Arum said he'll get back into the division in a serious way. If Rahman (41-5-1, 33 KOs) loses, Arum is out.
But his return to the division, brief as it might turn out to be, is all because of Rahman.
"I know, only based on experience, who's promotable and who isn't promotable," Arum said. "And Hasim Rahman is eminently promotable. Believe me, if he does his part, as I believe he will, in the ring, we'll do our part and he ain't walking down any street without people not knowing who he is, believe me. He has a great personality. You can see when he answers questions how intelligent he is. He can be a major, major sports star, and I believe he will."
Arum knows a thing or two about heavyweights. The first fight he promoted -- and the first fight he attended -- was 40 years ago this month: Muhammad Ali vs. George Chuvalo for the world title. Arum would go on to promote more than 20 Ali fights and guide the historic comeback of George Foreman, and he likes what he sees in Rahman.
"I can't replicate Ali or Foreman but if I am going to promote a heavyweight, I want a guy with charisma and someone who is intelligent that I can discuss a promotional plan with who won't give me a lot of grief. That's Rahman," said Arum, who, by the way, also promoted Toney (69-4-2, 43 KOs) throughout his reign as middleweight and super middleweight champion.
After Foreman's mid-90s comeback ended, Arum turned his attention to rising star Oscar De La Hoya, which led to a heavy involvement in promoting Hispanic fighters, who mainly fight in the lower weight divisions.
Rahman-Toney is Arum's most meaningful heavyweight fight since Foreman's title defense against Axel Schulz on April 22, 1995.
"What drove me away from the heavyweights was that Ali and Foreman were larger than life," Arum said. "And after Foreman, I was like, 'What am I gonna do now?' All of these other heavyweights were problems and it was a big mess. And I was promoting De La Hoya, who was my main guy. So I went after all of the Hispanic fighters.
"Heavyweights have always been a lot of trouble. They always have these huge demands and then you had [Don] King monopolizing all of the titles. Who needed the headache?"
Arum's return to the division happened on a lark when he made an offer at last year's purse bid for Vitali Klitschko's title defense against Rahman, who was then promoted by King.
"Shelly Finkel [Klitschko's adviser] convinced me to bid on the Klitschko-Rahman fight and it seemed like it would be fun and we could make some money," said Arum, who shocked the industry with a winning bid of more than $10 million. "But it was a one-shot deal. Then I met 'Rock' for the first time. He was a great guy and I had known his manager, Steve Nelson, for many years. Then the opportunity to promote Rahman full-time came up. He was not hard to deal with and he seemed like the kind of guy we could enjoy promoting. I believe he is extremely promotable."
The Klitschko-Rahman fight never took place because Klitschko injured his knee shortly before the fight. It was canceled and Klitschko retired. But Arum had gotten to know and like Rahman during the promotion.
When Rahman ended his relationship with King and got bogged down in bankruptcy court, he turned to Arum for help, who decided to take him on.
"The reason we decided to stay in the heavyweight division was because of Rahman," Arum said. "If Rahman had been somebody else fighting Klitschko, who is a nasty, ornery guy, trust me, we wouldn't be in the heavyweight division."
Rahman said he appreciates the help that Arum gave him during the bankruptcy case and the faith he has shown in him. He is anxious to prove Arum right by beating Toney and going on to even bigger fights.
"I'm just going to go, 'Hey, whoever Bob puts in front of me.' I'm looking for him to give me the biggest most attractive fights out there," Rahman said. "He ain't going to have no resistance on my part and we're going to go ahead and take over the division."
For Arum, just the way it used to be.
Around the Ring
Weighty issues: While Rahman, 32, weighed in Thursday at a lean and cut 238 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame -- appearing to be in as impressive a condition as he has ever been -- the same couldn't be said for Toney.
Toney, 37, who is 5-9 and has been dubbed by some as "The Human Bowling Ball," was flabby with ample love handles. He weighed in at a career-heavy 237 pounds. His weight has risen with each of his heavyweight fights, from 217 against Evander Holyfield in 2004 to 227 for his lone 2004 fight against Rydell Booker to 233 against John Ruiz and 235 against Dominick Guinn last year.
"Why should it bother me? I can fight," Toney said. "They ain't whupping my ass. Ain't nobody yet."
Toney, whose weight has always been an issue while winning three world titles during his rise from middleweight to heavyweight during an 18-year career, was 80 pounds heavier than when he won the middleweight title by knocking out Michael Nunn in 1991.
"It's doesn't matter. But look, like I say, I'm always in shape," Toney said. "If I'm always being fat and out of shape, why [am I] beating all these top heavyweights? Why [am I] beating all these top cruiserweights? Why would I beat all these middleweights back in the day? Tell me that."
The excessive weight, however, is something that Toney and trainer Freddie Roach have clashed over, although 237 is less than the 251 Toney claimed he weighed during a media conference call last week.
"We're always, you know, overweight. I like him lighter," Roach said. "He wants to be bigger because he's fighting a big, strong guy, and feels he needs the weight. And James so far has always been right, so I'm not going to argue with him."
Toney said he is tired of his weight always being an issue.
"A lot of people don't know when I [played high school] football I was 205 pounds," Toney said. "Everybody was always telling me I should fight heavyweight at the time, so I dropped down. I lost a lot of weight. So I always struggled with my weight throughout my whole career to maintain an unnatural weight for me. When I was middleweight champ of the world, I would live on just water and lettuce the last week."
When the questions about his weight continued, the always-on-edge Toney said enough was enough.
"I'll give you a quote," he said. "I'm going to give you a good bite right here: The reason I'm on the edge is I'm short and fat and old. Is that what you're going to write about me? I'm short, fat and old and bald."
Hatton plan derailed: After weeks of sorting through possible opponents for junior welterweight champ Ricky Hatton's May 13 fight -- expected to be the first bout of a multifight contract with HBO -- the fighter's camp and HBO had settled on Juan Lazcano, a former lightweight title challenger who has won his past three bouts since moving up to 140 pounds.
However, it turns out that Lazcano suffered a broken finger during his victory against Ben Tackie late last month. The injury was diagnosed this week, meaning Lazcano is out of the fight.
That has left Hatton co-promoter Artie Pelullo and HBO -- which agreed to pay an exorbitant license fee of at least $2.8 million for the May fight -- arguing over opponents.
The Hatton camp would like to satisfy a mandatory against obscure Australian-based Tunisian Naoufel Ben Rabah (24-1, 13 KOs). HBO, which wants to see Hatton make a splash in his U.S. debut as champion and get some bang for its buck, prefers a more significant opponent. Among those the network would accept are former titlists Vivian Harris and DeMarcus "Chop Chop" Corley or Ricardo Torres, who pushed titlist Miguel Cotto to the brink in a sensational fight last fall.
Torres appears the least likely of the trio to fight Hatton because the IBF, whose title Hatton holds, inexplicably won't rate Torres, a prerequisite for qualifying for a title fight.
If HBO and Hatton can't agree on an opponent, the HBO deal may be delayed and Hatton would return to England for his next fight and defend against Rabah.
A pair of fringe contenders are calling out Hatton, hoping to get the fight in the wake of Lazcano's injury.
Australian Lovemore Ndou (41-8-1, 27 KOs), who lost highly competitive fights to Cotto and former champ Sharmba Mitchell, was the first to notify the press of his desire for the fight.
"I think there is a greater power working to make this fight," Ndou said. "Ricky Hatton vs. Lovemore Ndou must happen. HBO and the fans will not be disappointed when this fight goes down. Ricky and I are the two fittest fighters in the (junior welterweight) division. We are punching nonstop round after round. This will be a guaranteed contender for 'fight of the year' when I give Ricky a whipping.
"I gave Miguel Cotto and Sharmba Mitchell hell in fights at short notice. With time to prepare, I will defeat Ricky Hatton on May 13. Anyone who has seen me fight knows it will be a war. Send me the fight contract for Hatton and I will sign on the dotted line."
New Jersey's Kendall Holt (20-1, 12 KOs) also wants the fight.
"HBO promised my promoter, Dino Duva, that my time would come to fight in a big fight, so I'm calling out HBO to get me this fight and I'm calling out Ricky Hatton to fight me," Holt said. "I'm ready, willing and able to step in. This is my destiny. All HBO has to do is keep their word to me and a star will be born that night. I've waited my whole life for a chance like this."
Soliman-Ouma not in cards: Although there has been discussion about a May middleweight fight on HBO between Sam Soliman and former junior middleweight titlist Kassim Ouma, it doesn't look like it is going to happen if you listen to Soliman promoter Dan Goossen.
"Sam wants the fight, but it's purely financial for us," Goossen said. "We're in a great position to fight the winner of Jermain Taylor-Winky Wright. Sam wants the fight with Ouma, but it's got to be the right money or it doesn't make the right business sense."
Soliman surprised many with his excellent performance against Wright in losing a close decision in December. He followed the loss by taking a fight on a few days' notice, flying from Australia to the United States and scoring a sixth-round TKO of Raul Munoz on March 3.
On paper, a Soliman-Ouma fight looks like a crowd pleaser given their penchant for nonstop punching. But Goossen said after the Wright fight and the impressive short-notice victory, Soliman deserves to be paid substantially more than the couple of hundred thousand or so on the table for the fight with Ouma.
"That fight [with Ouma] doesn't help us at all because we have made our mark," Goossen said. "People know who Sam is. He gave Winky everything he could handle in a fight that could have gone either way. They also know Sam jumped on a plane four days before the fight and flew halfway around the world to do it. He's game for anything. He's shown where he stands, so fighting Ouma goes backwards for us. To fight Ouma doesn't make any sense unless there is money for it."
Calzaghe wants Beyer: Having already unified two of the major super middleweight titles with his dominant shutout decision against Jeff Lacy March 4, 168-pound king Joe Calzaghe is looking to add another belt to his growing collection.
Representatives for German titlist Markus Beyer said they have received an offer from Calzaghe's camp for a July 8 fight.
"We are interested in a bout," Beyer promoter Wilfried Sauerland said. "But the current offer is not acceptable for us. It is financially unsatisfactory."
The date also conflicts with the soccer World Cup, which is huge in Germany, which means there would be issues scheduling the fight on German TV and maximizing media coverage.
"But we keep negotiating and would like to make this attractive bout happen in September or October 2006," Sauerland said.
Beyer is coming off a 12th-round knockout of Italian Alberto Colajanni in January and is slated to fight again May 13 against an opponent to be determined. Calzaghe is known to the German boxing fans for twice beating Mario Veit.
Beyer said he would like to meet Calzaghe in the fall.
"Of course, such unification bouts are very appealing for the audience and it is my intention, too," he said. "A bout against Calzaghe and a bout for three world championship belts is definitely a big challenge."
Abraham-Sturm? While the two best American middleweights -- champion Jermain Taylor and No. 1 contender Winky Wright -- prepare to face each other on June 17, the division is just as hot in Germany, which boasts a pair of title holders in Arthur Abraham and Felix Sturm.
Sauerland, who promotes Abraham, has offered Sturm $1.2 million to face Abraham on Aug. 19 as long as Abraham survives a May 13 defense against an opponent to be determined. Sturm claimed a spurious belt last weekend in a dominant performance against Maselino Masoe.
"The boxing fans in Germany want to know who the true middleweight champion is," Sauerland said in a statement, perhaps forgetting that it was Taylor who earned recognition as the true champion with two wins against Bernard Hopkins last year. "We offer this attractive fight to the fans because Arthur is ready. We've always held the opinion that Abraham against Sturm only becomes a topic if both are world champions. Now, Felix Sturm also has the title and we can have the fight."
Austin continues comeback: Former bantamweight champ Tim Austin (27-1-1, 24 KOs) is continuing his comeback after a 2½-year layoff following his title loss to Rafael Marquez. Austin, who fights at either junior featherweight or featherweight, has won his two fights since launching his return in September. His next assignment will come against an opponent to be named on promoter King's April 1 undercard headlined by the Lamon Brewster-Sergei Liakhovich heavyweight title bout in Cleveland.
Austin, from nearby Cincinnati, has his eye on a significant matchup.
"Tim has been champing at the bit to box superstars Manny Pacquiao, Marco Antonio Barrera or Erik Morales in [the] spring," trainer Aaron Snowell said. "We have challenged them all, champions and contenders, but to no avail. Our next step is to fight up the ladder to mandatory contender status."
King said he is working on trying to get Austin into the mix with the big-name opponents in and around Austin's division.
"I'm going to try to get him in there for a title shot at 122 or 126 or 130," King said. "If he dedicates himself, he has a great future. He can get back in the mix if he wants to. I thought he looked excellent [in his comeback fight]. He looked like the layoff did him good."
Johnston stays active: Former two-time lightweight champion Stevie Johnston (38-3-1, 17 KOs) is set for the fourth fight of his comeback after a two-year layoff that was caused, in large part, by injuries suffered in a 2003 car accident. Johnston, now a junior welterweight and 3-0 since his return in October, faces Luis Ernesto Jose (24-4-2, 22 KOs) March 31 in a 10-rounder in Tampa.
"I'm keeping busy and staying in top shape," Johnston, 33, said from his Vero Beach training camp. "I'm doing everything I'm supposed to do. I've fought all over the world, but this will be my first time fighting in Tampa. I live in Vero Beach now and Tampa is about an hour drive away, so it'll be like fighting in my new hometown."
Johnston relocated to Vero Beach to work with trainer Buddy McGirt, whose gym is there.
Johnston is coming off a unanimous decision win against Steve Quinonez on Jan. 27 and looking for a shot at one of the big names in a talent-laden 140-pound division.
Cardona hungry again: Onetime lightweight contender Israel "Pito" Cardona (34-6, 26 KOs) is making a comeback beginning Friday night. He'll face Bobby McAndrews in a six-rounder in Worcester, Mass.
Cardona, 31, retired almost four years ago because of his frustration with his management and the politics of boxing. Now, he's ready to give boxing another shot.
"I was so frustrated with the sport, I got out," he said. "Eight months ago, I weighed 190 pounds. I work the third shift as a lieutenant for a security company and eating late, well, it was easy putting on weight. I started working out to lose weight, trained with fighters like Ray Oliveira for his last fight and Matt Remillard, and decided I was going to give my boxing career one last chance." Cardona beat Ivan Robinson, Golden Johnson and Joel Perez, but in his only title shot, Cardona lost a lopsided decision to Paul Spadafora in a 1999 fight for a vacant lightweight belt.
"I'm taking things fight by fight, but realistically, I'm going to have a few fights to get my feet wet," Cardona said. "I'm stronger than ever and I'm going to make 147 easy. I plan on fighting at 140.
"Ultimately, I want to get the world title that I didn't win. This is a dangerous sport and I'm in it again to be a world champion. I should have been world champion a long
time ago. This is my last chance and I'm going for it."
• After featherweight titlist Scott Harrison pulled out of his mandatory against Joan Guzman because of a gum infection, promoter Frank Warren slid hot heavyweight contender Danny Williams into the main event of the March 25 card in Scotland. Less than a week later, Williams injured himself in training and the card has been canceled. The Harrison-Guzman fight has been rescheduled for May 20 in Belfast. No word on the extent of Williams' injury.
• Heavyweight Tony Thompson (26-1, 16 KOs) has been added to the undercard of Saturday's Rahman-Toney heavyweight championship fight. Thompson, a 6-foot-5, 253-pound southpaw from Silver Spring, Md., in his third fight since signing with Goossen, faces fellow southpaw Maurice Wheeler (10-4-1, 1 KOs) of Philadelphia.
• Junior middleweight Anthony "The Messenger" Thompson (20-1, 15 KOs) was once one of the hottest prospects in the sport until a surprising third-round knockout loss to Grady Brewer in February 2004. Thompson has won five in a row since and promoter Top Rank and manager Cameron Dunkin are ready to put him back into prime time. Thompson will get another opportunity to impress the public when he faces Darnell Boone (10-4-1, 4 KOs) in a 10-rounder at Maywood, Calif., on the March 31 "ShoBox: The New Generation" main event (Showtime, 11 p.m. ET/PT). Boone doesn't have the best record but last month he pulled off two upsets, defeating unbeaten prospect James Countryman and fringe contender Rasheem Brown. Boone also came close to a knockout win against 2004 U.S. Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward in November. He knocked Ward down hard in the fourth round but lost a close six-round decision. In the co-feature, Victor Ortiz (12-1, 8 KOs) faces Freddy Barrera (10-0, 1 KO) in an eight-round junior welterweight fight.
• Former junior middleweight titlist Verno Phillips will meet J.C. Candelo on April 5 (ESPN2) in something of a must-win for both men. Phillips is looking to rebound from back-to-back close decision losses to Ike Quartey and Kassim Ouma, to whom Phillips lost his belt in October 2004. Candelo, a fringe contender for years, is mired in an 0-3-1 stretch. However, most observers felt that Candelo did enough to beat Teddy Reid in January, but the 10-round fight was ruled a draw.
• Light heavyweight champ Antonio Tarver and former undisputed middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins, who will face each other June 10 (HBO PPV) in Atlantic City, kick off a four-city press tour to promote their fight next week. The tour begins Tuesday with stops in New York and Hopkins' hometown of Philadelphia. They'll move on to Tarver's hometown, Tampa, on Wednesday and finish in Los Angeles on Thursday. Win or lose, Hopkins has said he will retire after the fight.
• Promoter Joe DeGuardia has signed junior featherweight prospect Roberto Benitez (3-0, 2 KOs). Benitez, 25, was a decorated amateur, winning five U.S. amateur championships. Benitez was a 2000 U.S. Olympic alternate and then made the 2004 U.S. Olympic team but did not compete in Athens because he lost a pre-Olympic qualifier. His first fight for DeGuardia's Star Boxing is April 7 on an ESPN2 card headlined by the Nate Campbell-Isaac Hlatshwayo lightweight elimination fight. "Roberto Benitez is a young man with talent and charisma, and he's got 'star' written all over him," DeGuardia said in announcing the signing. "I'm proud to have him on the team here, and what's even better is that this is a New York fighter with a strong local following, so we'll be able to bring him to his hometown fans on a regular basis."
• Promoter Universum announced that light heavyweight titlist Zsolt Erdei of Hungary will defend his belt May 6 in Dusseldorf, Germany. An opponent will be announced later. Erdei is coming off a dramatic victory against former titlist Mehdi Sahnoune of France on Oct. 22. Erdei, despite a broken rib, came on strong to knock Sahnoune out in the 12th round.
Quotable: "I'm tired of these little guys getting all the publicity and taking more money than me. I'm going to show them why the heavyweights deserve the most money. They want to see a heavyweight and that's what they're going to get, and that's what I gotta show them to make them give me the most money. I'm willing to do whatever I need to do to make sure I make the most money in this game."
-- Heavyweight titlist Hasim Rahman, on why he plans to give fans a memorable and exciting fight against James Toney on Saturday night
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
Promoter Bob Arum said he'll get back into the division in a serious way if Hasim Rahman is successful in his first title defense against James Toney.