Forgotten Legends: Zahir Raheem

By: Steve Gallegos

Boxing (As many may not refer to) is a team sport. A fighter can have all the talent and abilities in the world, however if that fighter is not handled right by promoters and managers, then that fighter will fall short of greatness. No truer was the case than with former U.S. Olympian and former world title challenger ZahirZ-ManRaheem.

Raheem was a very skillfull boxer/puncher who had very good hand speed and power and was dangerous for everyone he faced in the ring. Raheem was born and raised in the fighting city of Philadelphia, PA and had an outstanding amatuer record of 213-4. He was a member of the last great U.S. Olympic Boxing team that produced future world champions such as Fernando Vargas, David Reid, Eric Morel, Antonio Tarver, David Diaz and the great Floyd Mayweather. The majority of his olympic teammates found success early and often in their professional careers with a few of them winning world titles within 2-3 years of turning pro.

Raheem however didn’t get these same breaks and had to start from the bottom. He turned pro in November of 1996 and would go 24-0 with 14 KO’s over the next 7 1/2 years. It wasn’t an easy road for Raheem to travel as he bounced from one manager and promoter to the next and at times fought at weight classes in which he wasn’t at his natural weight. He would be in line for a title shot in 2004 as he faced Rocky Juarez in a featherweight title eliminator.

They met on 07/17/04 in Juarez’s backyard of Houston, TX. It was an uphill battle for Raheem all night long. He had lost nearly 40 pounds in order to make the featherweight limit. Not only was he fighting an unbeaten fighter in his hometown, he also had to deal with the fact that two of the three judges, as well as the referee were from the state of Texas.

In the fourth round, Raheem took a knee after taking a hard left hook from Juarez. He also had the referee Robert Gonzalez, constantly on his case for holding behind the head in which he was deducted two points. Despite all of this, Raheem boxed smart, using his jab effectively to setup combinations and didn’t let Juarez inside to land his hard shots. The end result would be a unanimous decision loss for Raheem in which many felt was a hometown decision.

Raheem would knockout Jose Quintana in his next fight seven months later and this would set up the biggest fight of his career, a fight with Mexican legend Erik Morales. They met on 09/10/05 in front of a huge pro Morales crowd at Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA. It was the main event on a huge HBO World Championship Boxing doubleheader. Manny Pacquiao had scored a spectacular sixth round TKO in the co-feature and he was anxiously waiting for Morales to score a victory to secure a rematch of their spectacular bout fought earlier in the year.

Morales had elected to move up to the lightweight division for this bout and he appeared to take Raheem lightly, feeling he wasn’t a threat as he looked ahead to a rematch with Pacquiao. Raheem quickly proved that he wasn’t an easy opponent. Raheem boxed smart as he got off first against Morales and he never allowed Morales to get into any type of a rhythm. The end result was a unanimous decision win for Raheem.

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It was the biggest win of his career and in most cases, the victor would get the spoils, however not in this case. Instead of getting the much deserved shot against Pacquiao, Manny instead elected to give an undeserving rematch to Morales which left Raheem out in the cold. Raheem however would finally get his first shot at a world title as he met former champion Acelino “Popo” Freitas of Brazil.

They met on 04/29/06 at the Foxwood’s Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, CT and it was for the vacant WBO Lightweight Championship. This matchup was the classic boxer vs puncher kind of fight, however the puncher would prevail as Freitas would win a split decision. It was pretty much the end of the road for Zahir Raheem near the top.

He would go 8-2 with one No Contest from 2007-2014. His record as a professional stands at 35-3 with 21 KO’s. His journey to the top was a rough, bumpy road that included many bad breaks. What would his career have been like had he been handled better. Could he have gotten bigger fights, paydays and would he have won multiple world titles? It’s unfortunate that the boxing world didn’t get to experience how great Zahir Raheem could have been.

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