Originally created 04/27/01

Boxer an overnight sensation

Boxing is brutal and corrupt. It batters the brains of its champions and makes tycoons out of the manslaughterers and miscreants who exploit them.

To be honest, modern boxing has so little redeeming value that I hesitate to give it credence by writing about it.

That said, I have become an instant fan of Hasim "The Rock" Rahman. While critics across the world can debate his worthiness as the newest heavyweight champion of the world, I can only offer one simple thought:

I like this guy. I will gladly strap on a HANS device and jump aboard his bandwagon ... after it's repaired from its parade encounter with a derelict Volkswagen Jetta.

Rahman is likable, which is something that cannot be said about any other champions to come out of Baltimore recently.

Until Saturday night, most of us had never heard of Rahman. I certainly would not have known to pronounce it "ROCK-mon." His "Rock" alias conjures thoughts of rasslin', not boxing.

But after his late-night knockout of an unprepared Lennox Lewis on HBO, Rahman is suddenly getting invites on late night with Jay Leno. He is a legitimate overnight sensation.

Yet even in his hometown of Baltimore, Rahman's feat probably ranks as the third-biggest local sports story of the year - behind the Ravens' winning the Super Bowl and Maryland's finally reaching the Final Four. Frankly, most Baltimoreans had never heard of Rahman until Saturday, either.

But if you're looking for a message from the Inner Harbor, Rahman is the one to follow.

Forget the Ravens. Ray Lewis, Brian Billick and their band of thugs don't warrant admiration. Lewis is an unrepentant bully who shares at least some part in the murder of two men. Billick is just a jerk.

Maryland's Terrapins aren't as unsavory, but head coach Gary Williams and top assistant Billy Hahn invoke an acid brand of verbal abuse that should not be emulated.

Rahman has depth worth investigating. Since emerging from obscurity in South Africa on Saturday night, Rahman's 28 years leading up to his right cross to Lewis' glass chin have been placed under the microscope.

This we now know: He was a street thug arrested a dozen times on charges varying from loitering to battery to robbery to drug dealing to handgun possession. He nearly died twice, once from five gunshot wounds and another from a car accident that left him with a scar on his right cheek.

Eight years ago he turned to boxing as a way out. It worked. He has rewritten his bio to include religious devotion, family values and strong work ethic.

The story isn't entirely unique, especially with regards to boxing. But Rahman doesn't let his end justify his means. He doesn't want anyone who might look up to him to believe that success excuses bad behavior.

"I don't want to give youth the perception, that you can try this and you'll be OK," he said recently. "I really don't."

Here's hoping that Rahman doesn't sink into the cesspool of the blood sport in which he's involved. The world doesn't need another villain such as Mike Tyson or Ray Lewis.

Maybe Rahman will turn out to be another one-hit wonder. But if he can carve a better life for his family and leave behind a fragment of respectability to boxing, he'd be a modern wonder of the world.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219.


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