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Rahman wins at 'home' Ex-heavyweight champ tops Sykes in Rochester

If Hasim Rahman wants to become the fifth heavyweight in boxing history to become a three-time champion, he has a lot of work to do.

The former undisputed Alpha Male of Planet Earth slogged his way to a 10-round unanimous decision Thursday night over Taurus Sykes in Rochester's steamy Main Street Amory.

Although Rahman was sloppy and came into the ring weighing a jiggly 261 pounds, he dictated the action and scored a knockdown at the end of the ninth round to punctuate the victory.

The bout was supposed to portend another world title shot in Rahman's next fight. Sykes was supposed to be cannon fodder, but Rahman couldn't light the fuse.

"I expected to get a knockout," Rahman said. "I felt strong, but he was moving. He was more in shape. He caught me not at my best, but I was good enough to win."

Sensibility is a rare trait among boxers, but Rahman was realistic enough with his performance that he announced he would seek another 10-rounder within the next four to six weeks before he can go hunting for another world title.

"He needs work," said Rahman's Rochester-based manager, Steve Nelson. "We know that."

On the undercard of the Versus telecast, NABF lightweight champ Almazbek Raiymkulov was knocked down in the 11th round, yet escaped with a controversial split decision over Miguel Angel Huerta.

The verdict put the estimated crowd of 3,200 in a foul mood, but they were there to welcome Rahman back to the city he called home as an amateur.

After amassing $5.15 million in his previous two fights -- a draw with James Toney in Atlantic City and a 12th-round TKO loss to Oleg Maskaev in Las Vegas that stripped him of his World Boxing Council crown -- Rahman made a mere $50,000 to face Sykes.

Rahman had Sykes by 23 pounds. But not in a good way. The man who once clocked Lennox Lewis with a single punch never had fought as heavy as he did Thursday. Rahman weighed 235 pounds when he fought Maskaev 10 months ago.

Rahman said his weight had soared as high as 306 pounds during his layoff.

The difference was noticeable the moment Rahman disrobed before the opening bell. Sloppiness was confirmed after ring announcer Michael Buffer said "Let's get ready to rumble!"

The advisory was unnecessary until the ninth round.

Sykes caught Rahman with his share of punches, but with only seven knockouts in 29 career bouts, the affect mostly was negligible.

"I didn't feel like any of his shots hurt me," Rahman said.

Rahman was stronger and pulled away in the ninth round. Referee Dan Schiavone deducted a point from Sykes for low blows, and then Rahman finished off the round with a combination that sent his foe to his knees along the ropes.

Sykes appeared to wobble Rahman in the final round but couldn't finish him off. Rahman is 42-6-2 with 33 knockouts. Sykes slipped to 25-4-1.

Rahman's promoter, Bob Arum, already had been contacted by representatives for International Boxing Federation champ Wladimir Klitschko and World Boxing Association champ Ruslan Chagaev with offers of a title shot by the end of the year.

Boxing's premier division is occupied more and more by those who hail from former Soviet bloc nations. All four major champions are Eastern Europeans, but the sport's biggest money still is made in major U.S. casinos, making Rahman all the more attractive for recycling.

If Rahman were to gain another world championship belt he would join legends Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis as the only heavyweights to have won three of them.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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