May 18, 2024


Funky Sport

Zahir Raheem and the art of staying alive

Zahir Raheem and the art of staying alive

Soon after a childhood blighted by begging for food stuff after his moms and dads deserted him in favour of crack cocaine, Zahir Raheem took those survival instincts into the ring

ZAHIR “Z-MAN” RAHEEM was carrying a pink sports activities jacket and a smile as he moved quickly throughout the phase to accept his Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame plaque. Numerous in attendance experienced not witnessed him due to the fact he retired in 2014. Gone was the spindly boxer of yrs past, replaced by a in shape person of 45 who has moved on geographically but has not overlooked his roots.

There was often one thing ethereal about Raheem, a skinny boxer with a pencil-thin moustache. Now you see him, now you really do not, which was mirrored in his slippery defensive style. As a boy or girl he resembled Dickens’ Artful Dodger, functioning the streets in search of sustenance, but it hadn’t often been that way.

“I lived next to a park and my dad would choose me down there,” stated Raheem. “We would walk the puppy. I savored existence and always had a superior time. Down the street at Ninth and Tioga was a horse steady. I’d go down there, choose treatment of them and experience them.

“It was wonderful, but just one day my dad did not come house for practically a few times. My mother did not have an understanding of it. One working day he came dwelling and then they equally disappeared. They came back again and they had been on crack cocaine. Soon after that we missing every thing.”

For a spell the 10-calendar year-previous Zahir turned the sole service provider for his five brothers and sisters, as properly as himself. He vividly recalled the moment he realised how important items experienced become.

“I seemed in the refrigerator and the only point in there was baking soda. Obtained so hungry I went to see if I could make some money to obtain food. I went to a grocery retailer and questioned a lady if I could have her groceries for her. She gave me some food stuff and some cash, and then claimed she would get in touch with the cops and get me some assistance. I ran. Zoom!

“I went to an additional keep and bought some groceries and went property to my brothers and sisters. I assumed wow! I have acquired to do that all over again. I did it for a very long time, until eventually I was about 12 or 13, and then we moved to a shelter.”

Just down the street from the shelter was the Athletic Rec Center that housed North Philly’s ABC Boxing Gym, where coach and mentor Fred Jenkins presided in excess of a flock of younger males trying to locate their way.

“When my lifetime turned upside down, Fred was the human being I ran to. He was in the health and fitness center each individual day. I would train all working day. Even if I just sat there and watched, I required to be at the health and fitness center. I did not want to be home. Escalating up at the Rec Center I saw Fred save so quite a few lives. He experienced so a lot respect in the community it was unbelievable.”


Raheem’s prolonged and busy newbie profession climaxed in 1996 when he fought his way to a berth on the United States’ Olympic boxing crew. He was accompanied by Philly’s David Reid another Rec Middle fighter. Reid took light-middleweight (tremendous-welterweight) gold with a appear from driving knockout, but bantamweight Raheem was stopped in the 1st spherical of his second bout.

“It was the weight, man,” said Zahir. “I was killing myself attempting to make excess weight. It was 90 degrees in Atlanta and I experienced a sweatshirt on. I wasn’t taking in practically nothing. It was terrible.”

The Rec Center set up a significant poster alongside a person wall, welcoming home the gym’s Olympic heroes. There’s a photograph of Raheem and Reid standing in entrance of it, hands raised in the common number-a person signal. The expressions on their faces, nevertheless, could not have been much more dissimilar. David was smiling the way anyone would who was closing in on a multi million-greenback deal. Zahir looked like guy whose puppy experienced just died.

His disappointment was understandable and he admitted he envied all the media awareness Reid was receiving. Even so, there didn’t seem to be any animosity in between the long time stablemates. It was not personal, it was business enterprise, and in the boxing business a one-punch knockout to earn an Olympic gold medal is worth noticeably far more than obtaining stopped in the 2nd bout of the Atlanta Games.

The contrast was obvious from the begin. Reid signed with The us Offers and turned pro on HBO. Raheem’s debut was off Television set, a fourth-spherical stoppage of Cliff Watford at Ballys in Atlantic City, November 16, 1996.

By then Raheem experienced a a few-year deal with Best Rank. Bob Arum’s matchmakers saved Zahir hectic combating on undercards in various casinos: Foxwoods and Mohegan Sunlight in Connecticut, Trump Taj Mahal and Ballys in Atlantic City, with aspect visits to Biloxi, Grand Rapids and Reno. The opposition, nonetheless, by no means appeared to increase higher than fair-to-middling.

For significantly of his occupation Raheem was trapped in a sweaty purgatory of meaningless fights, an unproven commodity waiting around for a possibility to establish him self at the top rated level. He escaped briefly and while he acquitted himself properly in two of his important fights, his efficiency in the third was nearly unwatchable.

There is no doubt a substantial aspect of Raheem’s dilemma was his defensive fashion. He wasn’t a runner [i]for every se[i], but realized how to control distance, make his rivals overlook, duck, spin absent and clinch. His jab was switchblade speedy and did not even have to land to toss off his opponent’s timing. All those that did connect chipped absent at the other guy’s confidence, location up straight legal rights and counter hooks that arrived in spurts.

Possibly if all those offensive surges experienced arrive a lot more usually Raheem would have been a bigger attraction, but the survival skills demonstrated when he was the sole aid of his siblings are undoubtedly linked to his boxing type. For Zahir it was generally about survival. He discovered how to keep alive as a deserted kid and took people exact same instincts into the ring with him. It’s who he is.

Eventually, soon after pretty much eight years on the road, Raheem obtained his 1st break, a match with unbeaten Rocky Juarez on HBO, July 17, 2004. The Major Functions marketing, held at the Reliant Middle in Juarez’s hometown of Houston, was an IBF featherweight eliminator. Combating the residence fighter in his hometown was poor sufficient, but when the Texas boxing commission is concerned the inexplicable is to be predicted.

“That was the type of struggle I required,” Raheem said. “I instructed my promoter, Tony Holden, I would acquire the battle but make them adjust the judges. He explained, ‘Well, I never think we can do that.’ I also instructed him I could not make featherweight. I was 126 pounds when I was 15!”

Zahir experienced not fought as featherweight since March 2002, and was settling in nicely at light-weight when the Juarez fight presented by itself. He experienced two decisions, make 126 lbs . or go home. Someway he manufactured it, but his problems had been considerably from about.

“What I went via in that battle was despicable,” explained Raheem.

Soon after a precarious start out, Raheem begun to appear on. He boxed neatly, landed cleanly and was clearly in the fight when referee Robert Gonzalez penalised the Philadelphian for keeping guiding the head in the fourth spherical. Gonzalez, who under no circumstances issued a warning, did the very same in the sixth and 10th rounds.

“That referee made it seem to be like Raheem was fighting two men and women,” reported HBO’s Larry Merchant.

When Juarez was specified a unanimous determination, Corridor of Fame referee Mills Lane was so angry he wrote a letter to Richard Cole, head of the Texas boxing fee, which examine:

[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, but as common practically nothing transformed. Formally Juarez will always be the winner.

Zahir Raheem lands a left uppercut to the head of Shawn Powell through their 1998 bout at the Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut (Al Bello /Allsport)


Adhering to a acquire above Jose Quintana in February 2005, Raheem signed to struggle Erik Morales on September 10 at the Staples Heart in Los Angeles. This was it, a make or crack combat.

“I lived in a residence in Las Vegas away from the casinos,” Raheem reported. “I did not do nothing at all but rapid, coach and pray. I qualified for nearly three months. I produced sacrifices I’d in no way designed before in my everyday living. When I read that I was just a journeyman, I produced up my brain to gain. They weren’t heading to brainwash me. There was nothing at all any person could do about it. I was going to get that fight.”

Morales was coming off a close, exhilarating battle with Manny Pacquiao on March 19, successful a unanimous selection by triple scores of 115-113. Top Rank had previously made the decision it would endorse a rematch to maximise desire place Pacquiao and Morales on the exact card against opponents they figured to defeat.

Pacquiao held up his stop when referee Lew Moret stopped the battle after Manny knocked down Hector Velazquez 2 times in the sixth round. Raheem was nowhere near as accommodating. He boxed superbly, befuddling Morales and punishing him with jabs and flashy counters. Morales never ever gave up but looked decidedly unsteady as the fight drew to a shut.

Raheem received a unanimous 12-spherical choice by scores of 118-110, 116-112 and 115-113. It was the finest general performance of his vocation and selected as The Ring magazine’s Upset of the Calendar year.

What should have been a joyous occasion swiftly turned into a downer. Just one minute Raheem was staying carried close to the ring donning a crown, his ideal hand raised in victory, the next he was wanting at the bitter puss of the person who managed his job.

“Initially I was very fired up,” reported Zahir, “but I could notify by the search on Bob Arum’s confront that he was upset. I was contemplating, [i]Damn! I gained but they’re mad at me.[i] I didn’t recognize it.”

The natural way, it was about funds. Regardless of Zahir’s victory, Pacquiao and Raheem would not be as massive of an attraction as a Morales-Pacquiao rematch. Best Rank made the decision to ignore Morales’ decline to Raheem and designed the second Pacquiao rematch.

Raheem only shot at a title came from Acelino Freitas for the vacant WBO lightweight belt, April 29, 2006, at Foxwoods. It was an unpleasant mess of a boxing match. Raheem grabbed, clinched and threw Freitas to the canvas 3 situations. The two boxers appeared hesitant to launch a sustained attack, and right after 12 ugly rounds two of the a few judges voted for Freitas.

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

“I bought knocked out just before I got into the ring,” stated Raheem. “I was intended to be there 3 weeks in advance of the struggle, but it was only eight times. I had jet lag. I was sleeping all the time. I just could not modify in time.”

The losses to Freitas and Funeka confident Raheem he necessary to stage absent from boxing, which he did for far more than two yrs. In have to have of money he struck a offer with promoter Brian Halquist and released a comeback April 22, 2010.

Raheem gained 6 in a row, the previous a 10-round unanimous decision about Bayan Jargal to win the vacant NABO tremendous light-weight title on January 13, 2014. By the time he beat Jargal, likely out with a win and slight belt was good plenty of for Zahir, who exited completely with a document of 35-3, 21 wins within the length.

Raheem celebrates beating Shawn Powell at the Foxwoods Casino, Connecticut, in 1998 (Al Bello /Allsport)


Zahir and his family members at this time live Snellville, Ga, a 35-moment travel east of Atlanta. He can make the trip two moments most times, performing at the gymnasium he co-owns with his companion.

“Seven or 8 yrs ago it was abandoned house that was boarded up,” Raheem reported. “We cleaned it out [and turned it into a gym]. There is a combine of clientele. We have heaps of white and blue-collar purchasers and really a handful of amateurs. Just one of the amateurs is Chad “Candyman” Pitts. He’s 17 now and I have been teaching him considering that he was all-around eight yrs previous.”

Zahir appreciates there experienced been instances further than his regulate that hindered his vocation, but eight decades following his remaining struggle he understands he was also culpable.

“A ton of issues in my job had been my fault for not knowledge the enterprise,” said Raheem. “Also my deficiency of willpower. I would social gathering amongst fights. If I’d been dependable and not get together at all, I would have been a considerably better fighter and have considerably less body weight challenges.”

Raheem was born in Philadelphia and discovered to box in just one of city’s famous gyms. Certain he “took it on the road” other than for was just one bout, but he’ll usually be a Philadelphia fighter. His return to the metropolis for the PABHOF banquet was satisfied with applause and much more than one “who’s that?”

That was the “Z-Male,” the boy who used to dangle all over the gymnasium and in no way wanted to go residence.