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Rahman ready to rock Miller in Falls fight

Hasim Rahman has fought greats such as Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and Wladimir Klitschko, but two of the biggest fights in the two-time world heavyweight champion's life took place before he ever set foot in a boxing ring.

There was that car accident in the early 1990s in which he was thrown through the windshield. He nearly died from his injuries, and the scar on his right cheek serves as a permanent reminder of that brush with death.

"I felt like God had a plan for me. Someone died in that car accident and I walked away," he said.

There also was the time Rahman was shot five times in Baltimore just after his 18th birthday in retaliation for a dispute involving a girl his best friend had been seeing. The only reason Rahman survived is because he got his arm and hand up to protect his face from the flying bullets. He also dodged a bullet when the one that struck his spine didn't cause a life-changing injury.

"It was meant for me to be a fighter because I'm not paralyzed," Rahman said. "I have full capability with my hands. That is what really made me have no fear in the ring. He doesn't have a gun. This is easy work. He doesn't have a gun."

Shannon Miller won't have one either, which has Rahman licking his chops. Miller (16-4, 9 KOs) will be Rahman's opponent during the 10-round main event of the seven-fight "Rock Returns" card Saturday night at the Conference Center in Niagara Falls.

This will be the second time in three years Rahman has fought in Western New York. He beat Taurus Sykes via 10-round decision June 14, 2007, in Rochester.

Rahman (46-7-2, 37 KOs) has the highest profile of any heavyweight not named Joe Mesi to fight in Western New York since Greg Page lost his championship at Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo to Tony Tubbs on April 29, 1985.

The undercard, which begins at 7:30 p.m., includes former state Golden Gloves champion Lionell Thompson of Buffalo (2-0, 1 KO) facing Jesse Lewis (0-1) in a four-round light heavyweight bout. Niagara Falls heavyweight Johnnie Davis (1-0) meets Montreal's Taffo Asongmed (0-3), while Buffalo junior middleweight Andrew Jones makes his debut against Delen Parsley (2-0, 2 KOs). Tickets are available at championsofboxing.com and the Conference Center.

Other bouts include junior middleweight Cecil McCalla (11-0, 4 KOs) taking on Brad Hill (11-12, 9 KOs), Hastings Bwalya (3-0, 2 KOs) against welterweight Ruben Galvan (27-13-4, 10 KOs), and former Canadian Olympian Donnie Orr (15-0, 6 KOs) battles middleweight John Mackey (11-5-2, 5 KOs) in the eight-round co-feature.

But the evening's star attraction will be Rahman, "The Rock," who has already predicted he'll make quick work of Miller. The 37-year-old Baltimore native who now lives in Las Vegas has all the right in the world to be confident in his abilities.

He has proved to be the ultimate survivor in the game of life and in a sport where more experienced and highly touted prospects have failed to come close to matching Rahman's prize fighting achievements.

He's possessed the greatest championship in the sport twice, a somewhat stunning development considering he didn't start fighting -- at least in a gym -- until age 20. The fact he even lived to see 20 was a true test of his mettle as he got mixed up with the wrong crowd in high school and went from promising student to gangster, serving as the muscle for the neighborhood's thugs.

But even then Rahman realized he wanted better, that it didn't make sense to protect those who were ruining the lives of others. He changed his life after the birth of his son Hasim Jr., six months after being shot.

"It was such a responsibility [becoming a father]," Rahman said. "Now I'm responsible for somebody's life so I had to do something with my life."

"I'm from the inner city just as he's from the inner city," said Rahman's trainer, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, who started working with Rahman earlier this year. "He rose out of that. That negative environment, he turned around and used it as a positive."

Top boxing manager Shelly Finkel, who hasn't represented Rahman, considers "The Rock" a very strong-willed, intelligent man.

"He understands what his life has been and where it's going," Finkel said. "He has survived most of it because of it."

Rahman got into boxing after winning a little friendly competition with a Baltimore pro named Louis Butler. After hurting Butler in that body-punching contest, Butler told Rahman if he started going to the gym to train in the sport he'd make millions.

"I checked in my pockets, I had $34 so I said 'Let's go,' " said Rahman, who made $1.5 million when he won the title for the first time.

Butler never took Rahman to the gym but Rahman's uncle, Haleem Ali did and .

"It was like love at first fight," Rahman said.

Rahman went 7-3 as an amateur -- losing twice to Mesi -- and won his pro debut at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, knocking out Greg Herrington in the first round as part of the undercard for the Riddick Bowe-Larry Donald card on Dec. 3, 1994. He won his first 29 fights, earning an eye-opening win along the way over former world champion Trevor Berbick.

Rahman earned his place in boxing history April 22, 2001, in South Africa. That's when the 20-1 underdog shocked the planet when he KO'd Lewis to win the IBF and WBC championships.

"I don't know if I can find the words. It was overwhelming," Rahman said of his championship moment. "You know you're in the books with Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali. It's a real select fraternity. Those are the kinds of things when you're dead and gone, your great grandkids can say 'yeah, my great grandfather was heavyweight champion.' It's just life changing."

"He always had a lot of talent coming up. What he really needed was an opportunity and he got it," said Bruce Trampler, the Hall of Fame matchmaker for Bob Arum's Top Rank.

While Rahman has held the belt twice, he's not considered a legend.

He may not be in the class of Ali, George Foreman, Louis or Lewis, but he's made an impact on the sport and no one will ever be able to deny him his place in boxing history.

"He's been an important heavyweight in the last 10-15 years," Finkel said.

"Some people might think I underachieved, but I definitely feel like I overachieved," Rahman said. "It's quite amazing to me because I looked at all the guys that came out in the class of '92 [including Olympians David Tua, David Izon, Kirk Johnson, Larry Donald and Danell Nicholson], all the amateur champions with international experience and I feel like I've accomplished more than all of them."

e-mail: mrodriguez@buffnews.com