Tuesday, March 10, 2009 | 2:10 a.m.
Hasim Rahman Jr. was 15 when he went to pick his first fight. For an opponent, the kid went big. Heavyweight champion of the world big.
On Aug. 12, 2006, Rahman's father, who he shares his name with, lost his heavyweight title to Russian fighter Oleg Maskaev at the Thomas & Mack Center by a 12th round knockout. The young Rahman was so upset with the outcome he had to be held back by another boxer from going after the newly crowned champ.
Now a junior at Durango High School, Rahman, 17, still laughs when the incident is brought up.
"My emotions got the best of me," Rahman said. "I didn't know as much about the game as I do now. Any fighter can get stopped and any fighter can get knocked out. I love my dad so much though, it's hard to keep your emotions under control. I was going to go after Oleg but another boxer stopped me."
Of course, growing up in the same home as a world class boxer, Rahman had tried a pair of gloves on at an early age. But even after his father first became the heavyweight champion in 2001 by knocking out Lennox Lewis, his son seemed more interested in football than the boxing ring. It was when he saw his father lose the title that all of that changed.
"Right after that fight I was so hungry because everyone had seen my dad lose his title, and I wanted it back for our family," Rahman said. "I wouldn't have gotten into boxing without that fight. I'd maybe just be getting around to it. That drove me. A couple of months later I was here in the gym and I've been here ever since."
Two years later, that drive is still visible every time Rahman puts the gloves on. Last month, he earned a trip to the USA Boxing National Championships in June with a 3-2 decision over Mexican Olympian Javier Torres at the USA Regional Tournament. In January he took the 178-pound Nevada Golden Gloves title by unanimous decision.
Although Rahman's ultimate goal is to follow in his father's footsteps as a the heavyweight champion of the world, a win at Nationals would put him in position to conquer the first step in that journey - taking a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in 2012.
"You've got to crawl before you walk, walk before you run," said Augie Sanchez, Rahman's trainer who narrowly missed an opportunity to represent the US in the 1996 Olympics, losing the spot to Floyd Mayweather Jr. "Our goal right now is to focus on the USA Nationals and see what happens after that. If everything works out, he'll make the 2012 Olympics."
It's a high goal for a fighter with such limited experience in a tournament atmosphere. His official record sits at 14-2, while other boxers he'll see at Nationals may already have hundreds of fights under their belt.
Then again, Rahman's corner has an advantage none of his opponents do -- a father who's already been through it all.
"It's helped me because, if people look back on their life they might say, 'If I would have known this, I would have done it differently,'" he said. "If you're in a calculus class and you're looking back at a geometry class, you think, 'If I would have known what I know now, I would have aced that geometry class.' Well, I have somebody that knows everything that I'm going through right now. And I'm going to try and ace it."
Rahman is also doing his best to learn as much as he can from the small experience he's gathered -- starting with those two losses.
The same confidence that allowed him to even consider going after a heavyweight champion when he was 15 has shown up in the early parts of his amateur career. And at least once, it's cost him. One of Rahman's two losses came last August at the Under-19 Championships in Kansas at the hands of Nicholas Kisner, a more experienced fighter who Rahman took lightly, to the surprise of his own trainers.
"Going into the U-19 competition, he was walking around like he was already a world champion," Sanchez said. "He basically thought he was going to walk into the ring and destroy the guy. He went to that tournament and ended up getting tired and losing the fight. After that, he didn't walk around like that no more."
Take a visit to Barry's some afternoon and you'll see the difference that experience has made. The following day after his win over Torres, Rahman was back in Las Vegas going for runs and shadow boxing at Barry's. Where before he may have needed to be talked into immediately getting back into the gym, now he can't be kept out of it.
"I don't want any time off," he said. "A lot of boxers get into the amateur game and it's like they're bunting in baseball. I'm swinging for the fences. When I go to Nationals I don't want to go to be ranked third or fourth, I'm going to win it all."
That's the way it is for a kid who has never forgotten what it felt like to watch his dad get beat.
There's another part to the Maskaev story that hasn't been mentioned. After being held back, the 15-year-old Rahman walked calmly into the Russian's locker room -- the man who defeated his father -- and congratulated him. Then he made him a promise.
"I told him, 'Congratulations, but you know what? No matter what happened tonight Hasim Rahman will be champion again someday,'" he said. "Whether it's my dad or me, we'll get the belt again. And I still believe that."