- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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When heavyweight contender Alexander Povetkin tore a ligament in his foot last week and withdrew from a Dec. 13 fight against unified titleholder Wladimir Klitschko, the hunt was on for a new opponent.
All along the leading candidate was former champion Hasim Rahman, and Monday night the deal was signed after several days of hard negotiating.
Rahman, a former two-time titleholder, will take Povetkin's place and challenge Klitschko at the SAP Arena in Manheim, Germany. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Rahman will receive a seven-figure payday.
"There were several other possibilities, but Rahman was the one we were always focusing on," Klitschko adviser Shelly Finkel told ESPN.com. "It took a few days to get done because there were a lot of nuances in the deal, but we knew it would get done. Wladimir is glad to fight Rahman."
With mandatory challenger Povetkin injured, Rahman, 35, was the IBF's leading available contender and, therefore, will count as Klitschko's mandatory fight, Finkel said.
Klitschko (51-3, 45 KOs) has a rematch clause in his contract in the event that he loses, Finkel said.
Top Rank president Todd duBoef, Rahman's promoter, was in the midst of signing the paperwork to fax to Finkel when he told ESPN.com, "This is a great opportunity for Rahman. He shocked the world in South Africa and he plans on doing it again in Germany."
DuBoef, of course, was talking about Rahman's shot heard 'round the world on April 22, 2001, when he knocked out Lennox Lewis in a major upset in South Africa to win the heavyweight championship.
"We're very excited about the fight," said Steve Nelson, Rahman's manager. "It's a super opportunity for Rock to become a three-time champion. We know we're up against the odds. We've been there before, but we expect to come back to the United States as heavyweight champion of the world."
Rahman has some history with the Klitschko family. When Rahman held an interim belt, he was due to face champion Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir's older brother, in November 2005. However, Vitali suffered a knee injury a week before the fight, had surgery and abruptly retired before coming out of retirement last month to win back a version of the title.
"We're very glad to be fighting Rahman," Finkel said. "He's the one his brother Vitali was going to fight before he got injured. Rahman is a legitimate contender who is very well known."
Rahman (45-6-2, 36 KOs) landed the bout despite a poor performance in his last fight, a three-round no contest against James Toney on July 16. Rahman suffered a cut from an accidental head butt and claimed he couldn't continue, although many thought Rahman simply quit.
Nelson said Rahman has already been training for several weeks in Las Vegas and would move to a formal training camp next week in Rochester, New York, Nelson's hometown.
HBO, which has had Klitschko under contract for several years, was scheduled to broadcast the Povetkin fight in the U.S. However, with the change of opponents, the network has not yet committed to the bout and is considering passing.
Finkel said if HBO passes on the fight, rival Showtime is interested.
"We're waiting to hear from HBO on what they want to do, but we are going ahead with this fight regardless of what they do," Finkel said. "If that means going on Showtime or somewhere else, that is what we will do."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.