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Rahman searching for path Road to third title starts in Rochester

Hasim Rahman made a combined $5.15 million the last two times he entered the prize ring. The two-time former heavyweight champion fought in Atlantic City and Las Vegas with his title on the line.

Thursday night at the Main Street Armory in Rochester, Rahman will fight for $50,000 against an opponent obscure enough to have his name misspelled on the promotional posters.

"When you fall off the path, it's dramatic how far down it goes," Rahman's manager, Steve Nelson, said Tuesday. "But a good victory puts you right back up again."

Rahman will return to the town he called home as an amateur and face Taurus Sykes in a televised fight for the minor-league North American Boxing Federation title. The Versus broadcast (9 p.m.) also will show highly rated Almazbek Raiymkulov against Miguel Angel Huerta for the NABF lightweight belt.

The real prize for Rahman wouldn't be a trifling belt or the relative chump change. If Rahman wins as expected, he likely will challenge a world champion by the end of the year in his next appearance.

The only heavyweights to have won three world titles are Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis.

"I can't threepeat unless I get past this guy," said Rahman, who gained his first belt by whacking Lewis in 2001. "It's a long, long way back, and it starts with him. I have to go in there and look as impressive as possible with this guy and set up something for the future."

Because he's one of the last remaining marketable American heavyweights, Rahman has options. Promoter Bob Arum said he has been contacted by IBF champ Wladimir Klitschko's representatives and Friday was approached by WBA champ Ruslan Chagaev's manager about making a match.

"He's one of the few top American heavyweights who has any kind of story, and his story is that he's fought all the great heavyweights and knocked out Lennox Lewis," Arum said. "These Europeans that are looking to make fights with any viable American always come back to him.

"But Rahman has to win this fight. If he loses this fight, it would be a miracle of miracles if he could climb out of the pit. . . . He is considered to be an A fighter, and the other guy is certainly no more than a B."

Sykes' promoter, Sal Musumeci, let out a loud cackle upon hearing Arum's words.

"If Rahman is not ready, then Bob should get ready for the Red Sea to part," Musumeci said. "The transformation in Taurus' body and mind-set, he's going in there with a champion's mentality to beat Rahman."

Rahman is 41-6-2 with 33 knockouts. He shocked the world by knocking out Lewis with one punch but is notorious for not living up to the expectations that followed. Rahman was knocked out in the immediate rematch, a defeat that triggered a four-bout winless streak.

The Baltimore native gained his second title through a press release in November 2005. Due to alleged injuries, World Boxing Council champ Vitali Klitschko pulled out of a mandatory match with Rahman and retired. The WBC appointed Rahman the successor.

He fought James Toney to a tedious draw and eventually lost his title to Oleg Maskaev in August 2006. Rahman went into the final round ahead on two of the scorecards, but Maskaev pummeled him to force the referee to step in before the final bell.

"I think I can give [the fans] a lot more than I have recently," Rahman said. "I'm going in there and try to end the fight early."

Sykes, meanwhile, never has fought for a world title. The Brooklynite is 25-3-1 with only seven KOs. He has lost two of his last four fights, both of them early knockouts.

Rahman's looming offers make a potential match with Town of Tonawanda native Joe Mesi more remote. Although the Mesi camp has been banging the drum for a Western New York showdown between former Empire State Games rivals, it appears to be wishful thinking.

A Rahman-Mesi bout would be lucrative in Buffalo, but it's doubtful Mesi will be licensed by the New York State Athletic Commission because of its stance of not approving fighters who have suffered brain bleeds, as Mesi did three years ago.

"The only way it will ever happen is if Joe gets licensed in New York," said Nelson, based in Rochester. "It doesn't make sense anywhere other than upstate New York. Personally, I don't think it's going to happen."

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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