Zahir Raheem and the artwork of staying alive

After a childhood blighted by begging for meals after his dad and mom deserted him in favour of crack cocaine, Zahir Raheem took these survival instincts into the ring

ZAHIR “Z-MAN” RAHEEM was sporting a pink sports activities jacket and a smile as he moved swiftly throughout the stage to simply accept his Pennsylvania Boxing Corridor of Fame plaque. Many in attendance had not seen him since he retired in 2014. Gone was the spindly boxer of years previous, changed by a match man of 45 who has moved on geographically however has not forgotten his roots.

There was at all times one thing ethereal about Raheem, a thin boxer with a pencil-thin moustache. Now you see him, now you don’t, which was mirrored in his slippery defensive type. As a toddler he resembled Dickens’ Suave Dodger, working the streets in the hunt for sustenance, nevertheless it hadn’t at all times been that manner.

“I lived subsequent to a park and my dad would take me down there,” mentioned Raheem. “We’d stroll the canine. I loved life and at all times had fun. Down the road at Ninth and Tioga was a horse steady. I’d go down there, handle them and journey them.

“It was nice, however in the future my dad didn’t come residence for nearly three days. My mom didn’t perceive it. Sooner or later he got here residence after which they each disappeared. They got here again and so they have been on crack cocaine. After that we misplaced every part.”

For a spell the 10-year-old Zahir turned the only real supplier for his 5 brothers and sisters, in addition to himself. He vividly recalled the second he realised how vital issues had change into.

“I appeared within the fridge and the one factor in there was baking soda. Received so hungry I went to see if I may make some cash to purchase meals. I went to a grocery retailer and requested a woman if I may carry her groceries for her. She gave me some meals and a few cash, after which mentioned she would name the cops and get me some assist. I ran. Zoom!

“I went to a different retailer and purchased some groceries and went residence to my brothers and sisters. I assumed wow! I’ve received to do this once more. I did it for a very long time, till I used to be about 12 or 13, after which we moved to a shelter.”

Simply down the road from the shelter was the Athletic Rec Middle that housed North Philly’s ABC Boxing Gymnasium, the place coach and mentor Fred Jenkins presided over a flock of younger males looking for their manner.

“When my life turned the other way up, Fred was the particular person I ran to. He was within the fitness center each day. I’d prepare all day. Even when I simply sat there and watched, I wished to be on the fitness center. I didn’t wish to be residence. Rising up on the Rec Middle I noticed Fred save so many lives. He had a lot respect within the neighborhood it was unbelievable.”


Raheem’s lengthy and busy novice profession climaxed in 1996 when he fought his solution to a berth on america’ Olympic boxing workforce. He was accompanied by Philly’s David Reid one other Rec Middle fighter. Reid took light-middleweight (super-welterweight) gold with a come from behind knockout, however bantamweight Raheem was stopped within the first spherical of his second bout.

“It was the load, man,” mentioned Zahir. “I used to be killing myself making an attempt to make weight. It was 90 levels in Atlanta and I had a sweatshirt on. I wasn’t consuming nothing. It was horrible.”

The Rec Middle put up a big poster alongside one wall, welcoming residence the fitness center’s Olympic heroes. There’s {a photograph} of Raheem and Reid standing in entrance of it, arms raised within the acquainted number-one signal. The expressions on their faces, nonetheless, couldn’t have been extra dissimilar. David was smiling the way in which anyone would who was closing in on a multi million-dollar deal. Zahir appeared like man whose canine had simply died.

His disappointment was comprehensible and he admitted he envied all of the media consideration Reid was receiving. Even so, there didn’t appear to be any animosity between the very long time stablemates. It was not private, it was enterprise, and within the boxing trade a one-punch knockout to win an Olympic gold medal is value significantly greater than getting stopped within the second bout of the Atlanta Video games.

The distinction was apparent from the beginning. Reid signed with America Presents and turned professional on HBO. Raheem’s debut was off TV, a fourth-round stoppage of Cliff Watford at Ballys in Atlantic Metropolis, November 16, 1996.

By then Raheem had a three-year contract with Prime Rank. Bob Arum’s matchmakers stored Zahir busy preventing on undercards in varied casinos: Foxwoods and Mohegan Solar in Connecticut, Trump Taj Mahal and Ballys in Atlantic Metropolis, with aspect journeys to Biloxi, Grand Rapids and Reno. The opposition, nonetheless, by no means appeared to rise above fair-to-middling.

For a lot of his profession Raheem was trapped in a sweaty purgatory of meaningless fights, an unproven commodity ready for an opportunity to show him self on the high stage. He escaped briefly and though he acquitted himself nicely in two of his main fights, his efficiency within the third was nearly unwatchable.

There’s little question a major a part of Raheem’s drawback was his defensive type. He wasn’t a runner [i]per se[i], however knew easy methods to management distance, make his rivals miss, duck, spin away and clinch. His jab was switchblade fast and didn’t even need to land to throw off his opponent’s timing. People who did join chipped away on the different man’s confidence, establishing straight rights and counter hooks that got here in spurts.

Possibly if these offensive surges had come extra continuously Raheem would have been a much bigger attraction, however the survival expertise demonstrated when he was the only real help of his siblings are absolutely linked to his boxing type. For Zahir it was at all times about survival. He discovered easy methods to keep alive as a abandoned baby and took those self same instincts into the ring with him. It’s who he’s.

Lastly, after nearly eight years on the street, Raheem received his first break, a match with unbeaten Rocky Juarez on HBO, July 17, 2004. The Foremost Occasions promotion, held on the Reliant Middle in Juarez’s hometown of Houston, was an IBF featherweight eliminator. Combating the home fighter in his hometown was unhealthy sufficient, however when the Texas boxing fee is concerned the inexplicable is to be anticipated.

“That was the type of combat I wished,” Raheem mentioned. “I instructed my promoter, Tony Holden, I’d take the combat however make them change the judges. He mentioned, ‘Properly, I don’t assume we are able to try this.’ I additionally instructed him I couldn’t make featherweight. I used to be 126 kilos after I was 15!”

Zahir had not fought as featherweight since March 2002, and was settling in properly at light-weight when the Juarez combat introduced itself. He had two selections, make 126 kilos or go residence. In some way he made it, however his troubles have been removed from over.

“What I went by means of in that combat was despicable,” mentioned Raheem.

After a precarious begin, Raheem began to come back on. He boxed neatly, landed cleanly and was clearly within the combat when referee Robert Gonzalez penalised the Philadelphian for holding behind the top within the fourth spherical. Gonzalez, who by no means issued a warning, did the identical within the sixth and tenth rounds.

“That referee made it seem to be Raheem was preventing two individuals,” mentioned HBO’s Larry Service provider.

When Juarez was given a unanimous resolution, Corridor of Fame referee Mills Lane was so offended he wrote a letter to Richard Cole, head of the Texas boxing fee, which learn:

[I have reviewed the tape of the fight between Juarez and Raheem. From the first round through the end of the fight, Robert Gonzales interfered with Raheem’s legitimate fight tactics and strategy. Mr. Gonzalez’s conduct as a referee was despicable. He was blatant in his ongoing attempt to interfere with the flow of the fight. From my view, points should not have been deducted from Raheem. Juarez, on many occasions, held on to Raheem’s glove, and as a result, his head would come into direct contact with the face of Raheem. Raheem’s response to control the head of Juarez was a natural and legitimate technique. Ali often used this technique. Juarez punched on the break several times and was never warned.

In short this was the worst performance by any referee that I have witnessed. Raheem should not be penalized for suffering a loss because of a referee’s conduct. In closing, I would urge the commissioners office to rule this fight a “no contest.”]

The outrage was warranted, however as typical nothing modified. Formally Juarez will at all times be the winner.

Zahir Raheem lands a left uppercut to the top of Shawn Powell throughout their 1998 bout on the Foxwoods On line casino in Ledyard, Connecticut (Al Bello /Allsport)


Following a win over Jose Quintana in February 2005, Raheem signed to combat Erik Morales on September 10 on the Staples Middle in Los Angeles. This was it, a make or break combat.

“I lived in a home in Las Vegas away from the casinos,” Raheem mentioned. “I didn’t do nothing however quick, prepare and pray. I educated for nearly three months. I made sacrifices I’d by no means made earlier than in my life. Once I learn that I used to be only a journeyman, I made up my thoughts to win. They weren’t going to brainwash me. There was nothing anyone may do about it. I used to be going to win that combat.”

Morales was coming off an in depth, exhilarating combat with Manny Pacquiao on March 19, profitable a unanimous resolution by triple scores of 115-113. Prime Rank had already determined it might promote a rematch to maximise curiosity put Pacquiao and Morales on the identical card towards opponents they figured to beat.

Pacquiao held up his finish when referee Lew Moret stopped the combat after Manny knocked down Hector Velazquez twice within the sixth spherical. Raheem was nowhere close to as accommodating. He boxed superbly, befuddling Morales and punishing him with jabs and flashy counters. Morales by no means gave up however appeared decidedly unsteady because the combat drew to an in depth.

Raheem gained a unanimous 12-round resolution by scores of 118-110, 116-112 and 115-113. It was the best efficiency of his profession and chosen as The Ring journal’s Upset of the 12 months.

What ought to have been a joyous event shortly became a downer. One minute Raheem was being carried across the ring sporting a crown, his proper hand raised in victory, the subsequent he was wanting on the bitter puss of the person who managed his profession.

“Initially I used to be very excited,” mentioned Zahir, “however I may inform by the look on Bob Arum’s face that he was upset. I used to be considering, [i]Rattling! I gained however they’re mad at me.[i] I didn’t perceive it.”

Naturally, it was about cash. Regardless of Zahir’s victory, Pacquiao and Raheem wouldn’t be as massive of an attraction as a Morales-Pacquiao rematch. Prime Rank determined to disregard Morales’ loss to Raheem and made the second Pacquiao rematch.

Raheem solely shot at a title got here towards Acelino Freitas for the vacant WBO light-weight belt, April 29, 2006, at Foxwoods. It was an ugly mess of a boxing match. Raheem grabbed, clinched and threw Freitas to the canvas 3 times. Each boxers appeared reluctant to launch a sustained assault, and after 12 ugly rounds two of the three judges voted for Freitas.

A pair of wins and a no-contest later Zahir was in South Africa, the place Ali Funeka knocked him out within the fourth spherical on July 8, 2008. It was the bottom level of Raheem’s profession.

“I received knocked out earlier than I received into the ring,” mentioned Raheem. “I used to be alleged to be there three weeks earlier than the combat, nevertheless it was solely eight days. I had jet lag. I used to be sleeping on a regular basis. I simply couldn’t alter in time.”

The losses to Freitas and Funeka satisfied Raheem he wanted to step away from boxing, which he did for greater than two years. In want of cash he struck a cope with promoter Brian Halquist and launched a comeback April 22, 2010.

Raheem gained six in a row, the final a 10-round unanimous resolution over Bayan Jargal to win the vacant NABO tremendous light-weight title on January 13, 2014. By the point he beat Jargal, going out with a win and minor belt was adequate for Zahir, who exited completely with a document of 35-3, 21 wins inside the space.

Raheem celebrates beating Shawn Powell on the Foxwoods On line casino, Connecticut, in 1998 (Al Bello /Allsport)


Zahir and his household at present dwell Snellville, Georgia, a 35-minute drive east of Atlanta. He makes the journey two occasions most days, working on the fitness center he co-owns together with his associate.

“Seven or eight years in the past it was deserted property that was boarded up,” Raheem mentioned. “We cleaned it out [and turned it into a gym]. There’s a mixture of purchasers. We have now a number of white and blue-collar purchasers and fairly a couple of amateurs. One of many amateurs is Chad “Candyman” Pitts. He’s 17 now and I’ve been coaching him since he was round eight years outdated.”

Zahir is aware of there had been circumstances past his management that hindered his profession, however eight years after his remaining combat he understands he was additionally culpable.

“Plenty of points in my profession have been my fault for not understanding the enterprise,” mentioned Raheem. “Additionally my lack of self-discipline. I’d social gathering between fights. If I’d been constant and never social gathering in any respect, I’d have been a a lot better fighter and have much less weight issues.”

Raheem was born in Philadelphia and discovered to field in considered one of metropolis’s legendary gyms. Positive he “took it on the street” aside from was one bout, however he’ll at all times be a Philadelphia fighter. His return to the town for the PABHOF banquet was met with applause and multiple “who’s that?”

That was the “Z-Man,” the boy who used to hold across the fitness center and by no means wished to go residence.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *