Zahir Raheem and the art of staying alive


After a adolescence blighted by means of begging for meals after his oldsters deserted him in favour of crack cocaine, Zahir Raheem took the ones survival instincts into the hoop

ZAHIR “Z-MAN” RAHEEM used to be dressed in a crimson sports activities jacket and a grin as he moved impulsively around the degree to simply accept his Pennsylvania Boxing Corridor of Status plaque. Many in attendance had no longer observed him since he retired in 2014. Long gone used to be the spindly boxer of years previous, changed by means of a have compatibility guy of 45 who has moved on geographically however has no longer forgotten his roots.

There used to be at all times one thing airy about Raheem, a thin boxer with a pencil-thin moustache. Now you spot him, now you don’t, which used to be mirrored in his slippery defensive taste. As a kid he resembled Dickens’ Suave Dodger, running the streets looking for sustenance, however it hadn’t at all times been that means.

“I lived subsequent to a park and my dad would take me down there,” stated Raheem. “We might stroll the canine. I loved existence and at all times had fun. Down the road at 9th and Tioga used to be a horse solid. I’d pass down there, deal with them and experience them.

“It used to be nice, however sooner or later my dad didn’t come house for nearly 3 days. My mom didn’t comprehend it. In the future he got here house after which they each disappeared. They got here again they usually had been on crack cocaine. After that we misplaced the entirety.”

For a spell the 10-year-old Zahir become the only real supplier for his 5 brothers and sisters, in addition to himself. He vividly recalled the instant he realised how vital issues had turn out to be.

“I appeared within the fridge and the one factor in there used to be baking soda. Were given so hungry I went to look if I may make some cash to shop for meals. I went to a grocery retailer and requested a girl if I may lift her groceries for her. She gave me some meals and a few cash, after which stated she would name the law enforcement officials and get me some lend a hand. I ran. Zoom!

“I went to every other retailer and purchased some groceries and went house to my brothers and sisters. I believed wow! I’ve were given to try 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 refuge.”

Simply down the road from the refuge used to be the Athletic Rec Heart that housed North Philly’s ABC Boxing Fitness center, the place trainer and mentor Fred Jenkins presided over a flock of younger males looking for their means.

“When my existence grew to become the wrong way up, Fred used to be the individual I ran to. He used to be within the health club on a daily basis. I might teach all day. Despite the fact that I simply sat there and watched, I sought after to be on the health club. I didn’t need to be house. Rising up on the Rec Heart I noticed Fred save such a lot of lives. He had such a lot recognize in the community it used to be implausible.”


Raheem’s lengthy and busy newbie occupation climaxed in 1996 when he fought his method to a berth on the US’ Olympic boxing staff. He used to be accompanied by means of Philly’s David Reid every other Rec Heart fighter. Reid took light-middleweight (super-welterweight) gold with a come from at the back of knockout, however bantamweight Raheem used to be stopped within the first around of his 2d bout.

“It used to be the load, guy,” stated Zahir. “I used to be killing myself seeking to make weight. It used to be 90 levels in Atlanta and I had a sweatshirt on. I wasn’t consuming not anything. It used to be terrible.”

The Rec Heart submit a big poster alongside one wall, welcoming house the health club’s Olympic heroes. There’s {a photograph} of Raheem and Reid status in entrance of it, palms raised within the acquainted number-one signal. The expressions on their faces, alternatively, couldn’t had been extra dissimilar. David used to be smiling the best way any one would who used to be final in on a multi million-dollar deal. Zahir gave the look of man whose canine had simply died.

His unhappiness used to be comprehensible and he admitted he envied the entire media consideration Reid used to be receiving. Even so, there didn’t appear to be any animosity between the very long time stablemates. It used to be no longer private, it used to be trade, and within the boxing trade a one-punch knockout to win an Olympic gold medal is price significantly greater than getting stopped in the second one bout of the Atlanta Video games.

The distinction used to be glaring from the beginning. Reid signed with The usa Items and grew to become professional on HBO. Raheem’s debut used to be off TV, a fourth-round stoppage of Cliff Watford at Ballys in Atlantic Town, November 16, 1996.

Through then Raheem had a three-year contract with Best Rank. Bob Arum’s matchmakers stored Zahir busy combating on undercards in quite a lot of casinos: Foxwoods and Mohegan Solar in Connecticut, Trump Taj Mahal and Ballys in Atlantic Town, with facet journeys to Biloxi, Grand Rapids and Reno. The opposition, alternatively, by no means appeared to upward push above fair-to-middling.

For far of his occupation Raheem used to be trapped in a sweaty purgatory of meaningless fights, an unproven commodity looking forward to an opportunity to end up him self on the best stage. He escaped in brief and even if he acquitted himself smartly in two of his primary fights, his efficiency within the 3rd used to be nearly unwatchable.

There’s definitely a vital a part of Raheem’s downside used to be his defensive taste. He wasn’t a runner [i]according to se[i], however knew keep watch over distance, make his competitors pass over, duck, spin away and clinch. His jab used to be switchblade fast and didn’t even need to land to throw off his opponent’s timing. Those who did attach chipped away on the different man’s self assurance, putting in place instantly rights and counter hooks that got here in spurts.

Perhaps if the ones offensive surges had come extra incessantly Raheem would had been a larger enchantment, however the survival abilities demonstrated when he used to be the only real toughen of his siblings are no doubt related to his boxing taste. For Zahir it used to be at all times about survival. He realized keep alive as a abandoned kid and took those self same instincts into the hoop with him. It’s who he's.

In spite of everything, after nearly 8 years at the highway, Raheem were given his first damage, a fit with unbeaten Rocky Juarez on HBO, July 17, 2004. The Primary Occasions promotion, held on the Reliant Heart in Juarez’s fatherland of Houston, used to be an IBF featherweight eliminator. Combating the home fighter in his fatherland used to be unhealthy sufficient, but if the Texas boxing fee is concerned the inexplicable is to be anticipated.

“That used to be such a battle I sought after,” Raheem stated. “I informed my promoter, Tony Holden, I might take the battle however lead them to exchange the judges. He stated, ‘Smartly, I don’t suppose we will do this.’ I additionally informed him I couldn’t make featherweight. I used to be 126 kilos when I used to be 15!”

Zahir had no longer fought as featherweight since March 2002, and used to be settling in effectively at light-weight when the Juarez battle introduced itself. He had two alternatives, make 126 kilos or pass house. Someway he made it, however his troubles had been some distance from over.

“What I went thru in that battle used to be despicable,” stated Raheem.

After a precarious get started, Raheem began to come back on. He boxed well, landed cleanly and used to be obviously within the battle when referee Robert Gonzalez penalised the Philadelphian for containing at the back of the pinnacle within the fourth around. Gonzalez, who by no means issued a caution, did the similar within the 6th and tenth rounds.

“That referee made it appear to be Raheem used to be combating two other people,” stated HBO’s Larry Service provider.

When Juarez used to be given a unanimous resolution, Corridor of Status referee Generators Lane used to be 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 used to be warranted, however as standard not anything modified. Formally Juarez will at all times be the winner.

Zahir Raheem lands a left uppercut to the pinnacle of Shawn Powell all over 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 battle Erik Morales on September 10 on the Staples Heart in Los Angeles. This used to be it, a make or damage battle.

“I lived in a area in Las Vegas clear of the casinos,” Raheem stated. “I didn’t do not anything however speedy, teach and pray. I educated for nearly 3 months. I made sacrifices I’d by no means made earlier than in my existence. After I learn that I used to be only a journeyman, I decided to win. They weren’t going to brainwash me. There used to be not anything any one may do about it. I used to be going to win that battle.”

Morales used to be coming off an in depth, exhilarating battle with Manny Pacquiao on March 19, successful a unanimous resolution by means of triple ratings of 115-113. Best Rank had already made up our minds it will advertise a rematch to maximize hobby put Pacquiao and Morales at the identical card in opposition to fighters they figured to overcome.

Pacquiao held up his finish when referee Lew Moret stopped the battle after Manny knocked down Hector Velazquez two times within the 6th around. Raheem used to be 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 battle drew to an in depth.

Raheem gained a unanimous 12-round resolution by means of ratings of 118-110, 116-112 and 115-113. It used to be the best efficiency of his occupation and decided on as The Ring mag’s Dissatisfied of the 12 months.

What must had been a joyous instance briefly changed into a downer. One minute Raheem used to be being carried across the ring dressed in a crown, his proper hand raised in victory, the following he used to be taking a look on the bitter puss of the person who managed his occupation.

“To start with I used to be very excited,” stated Zahir, “however I may inform by means of the glance on Bob Arum’s face that he used to be disillusioned. I used to be considering, [i]Rattling! I gained however they’re mad at me.[i] I didn’t comprehend it.”

Naturally, it used to be about cash. Regardless of Zahir’s victory, Pacquiao and Raheem would no longer be as large of an enchantment as a Morales-Pacquiao rematch. Best Rank made up our minds to forget about Morales’ loss to Raheem and made the second one Pacquiao rematch.

Raheem best shot at a name got here in opposition to Acelino Freitas for the vacant WBO light-weight belt, April 29, 2006, at Foxwoods. It used to be an ugly mess of a boxing fit. Raheem grabbed, clinched and threw Freitas to the canvas thrice. Each boxers gave the impression reluctant to release a sustained assault, and after 12 unsightly rounds two of the 3 judges voted for Freitas.

A couple of wins and a no-contest later Zahir used to be in South Africa, the place Ali Funeka knocked him out within the fourth around on July 8, 2008. It used to be the bottom level of Raheem’s occupation.

“I were given knocked out earlier than I were given into the hoop,” stated Raheem. “I used to be intended to be there 3 weeks earlier than the battle, however it used to be best 8 days. I had jet lag. I used to be slumbering at all times. I simply couldn’t alter in time.”

The losses to Freitas and Funeka satisfied Raheem he had to step clear of boxing, which he did for greater than two years. Wanting cash he struck a handle promoter Brian Halquist and introduced a comeback April 22, 2010.

Raheem gained six in a row, the remaining a 10-round unanimous resolution over Bayan Jargal to win the vacant NABO tremendous light-weight name on January 13, 2014. By the point he beat Jargal, going out with a win and minor belt used to be just right sufficient for Zahir, who exited completely with a document of 35-3, 21 wins throughout the distance.

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


Zahir and his circle of relatives recently reside Snellville, Georgia, a 35-minute pressure east of Atlanta. He makes the shuttle two instances maximum days, running on the health club he co-owns along with his spouse.

“Seven or 8 years in the past it used to be deserted belongings that used to be boarded up,” Raheem stated. “We wiped clean it out [and turned it into a gym]. There's a mixture of shoppers. We now have loads of white and blue-collar shoppers and rather a couple of amateurs. Probably the most amateurs is Chad “Candyman” Pitts. He’s 17 now and I’ve been coaching him since he used to be round 8 years previous.”

Zahir is aware of there have been cases past his keep watch over that hindered his occupation, however 8 years after his ultimate battle he understands he used to be additionally culpable.

“Numerous problems in my occupation had been my fault for no longer figuring out the trade,” stated Raheem. “Additionally my loss of self-discipline. I might birthday party between fights. If I’d been constant and no longer birthday party in any respect, I might had been a a lot better fighter and feature much less weight issues.”

Raheem used to be born in Philadelphia and realized to field in one among town’s mythical gyms. Certain he “took it at the highway” except for for used to be one bout, however he’ll at all times be a Philadelphia fighter. His go back to town for the PABHOF dinner party used to be met with applause and a couple of “who’s that?”

That used to be the “Z-Guy,” the boy who used to hang out the health club and not sought after to move house.