Zahir “Z-Man” Raheem Looking Ahead, Not Behind
Ken Hissner (April 21, 2010) Doghouse Boxing  
This Thursday Philadelphia’s Zahir “Z-Man” Raheem will start a comeback coming off a loss the same way he did in the 1996 Olympics. He will take on veteran Mexican Roberto Valenzuela, 51-51-2 (42), at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, in Tulsa. He already has another lined up in Atlanta on June 26th. It’s been almost two years since losing to Ali Funeka, then 29-1-2, in South Africa in an IBF Lightweight Title Eliminator match. The 33 year old Raheem has roots in both Tulsa and Atlanta since leaving Philadelphia where he only had one bout along with six in Atlantic City, all victories.

Coming out of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Philadelphia’s Zahir Raheem didn’t come home with the Gold medal like his teammate David Reid, but had more of an amateur experience to bank on. He was 213-4 which included defeating North Korea’s Jong-Gil Oh and losing to the Cuban Arnaldo Mesa. Raheem was very dejected after this loss. He had arrived in Marquette in 1987. In 1991-2 he won back to back national Junior Olympic titles and in 1995 a National PAL title. He spent from 1992-96 at Northern Michigan University. This was all under the guidance of Philly’s Al Mitchell along with Reid.

Upon turning professional Raheem would breeze through 13 opponents with only a split decision over hometown fighter Jose Covarrubias, 2-2, in Grand Rapids being close. During this period his manager was Cameron Dunkin. Next, in his first 8 round fight and only fight in his hometown of Philadelphia, he defeated Russell Stoner, 16-7, of Ghana, who had gone the distance with Tracey Harris-Patterson, Joel Casamayor and Lamont Pearson. Up to this point most of Raheem’s fights had been on the east coast. “I didn’t want to sign with Peltz (Promotions) so I signed with Cameron Dunkin and with Top Rank for my first 13 fights. Then I switched to Oklahoma’s Tony Holden knowing fighting in the east would change,” said Raheem.
In March of 2002 Raheem would defeat Joe Morales, 17-6, for the NABA featherweight title. Next he would go to 20-0 stopping former WBC featherweight champion Luisito Espinosa, 46-10, in the 8th. In Buffalo, Raheem stopped another boxer from Ghana, Ablorh Sowah, 17-4-1, who had defeated Stoner for the African title. For Raheem, his six previous fights had been in Oklahoma so it was three years before coming back east. A 1st round knockout win over Rodney Jones, 25-5, at the lightweight limit produced an IBF featherweight title eliminator.

Considering staying at lightweight, the temptation was too much so Raheem took the bout with another former Olympian Rocky Juarez, 20-0, in his opponent’s hometown of Houston on HBO. Unfortunately the referee, Robert Gonzalez, played as much part as Juarez. “Gonzales….made it seem like Zahir was fighting two guys,” said Larry Merchant. He was telling Fred Jenkins in the corner making weight hurt him. Jenkins kept him going. Jenkins had been there for him since he was 11 and walked into the ABC Rec Center in Philly. The referee took points away in rounds 4, 6 and 10. Raheem having been knocked down in the 4th, added to the problem of overcoming 3 points in deductions, for holding behind the head. Hell, Ali made a living out of that! The judges had Juarez ahead by 2, 4 and 6 points.

It would be the last time Raheem would fight as a featherweight and the last time he would fight for Tony Holden. He signed with Top Rank in 2005 and went to Puerto Rico to fight Jose Quintana, 11-5-2. What seemed like an easy opponent turned into a nightmare with Quintana would continually fouling Raheem. By the 6th round Raheem was able to get him out of there while being well ahead on points.

Raheem’s big break came when Top Rank decided Erik Morales, 48-2, needed a warm-up fight before giving Manny Pacquiao a rematch, after defeating him six months previously. They brought Raheem, in to give Morales some work and it back fired! Raheem boxed the fight of his life in winning the vacant WBC International lightweight title by 2, 4 and 8 points on the judge’s cards. “I beat a legend tonight. I always believed in myself. I just needed an opportunity like this,” said Raheem. But it wasn’t in the cards that he, the winner, would meet Pacquiao and a big money fight. Instead, the loser, Morales, still got the fight with Pacquiao. Raheem’s “consoliation” prize seven months after their fight would be a shot at Acelino Freitas, 37-1, for the vacant WBO lightweight title. Banner Promotions put the show on at Foxwoods Resort. “I was offered a fight in Puerto Rico with Jose Cotto, or the Freitas fight. I wasn’t going back to Puerto Rico to fight Cotto’s brother. It wasn’t the same Raheem that boxed Morales’s ears off but still managed to only lose by split decision. The fight itself was not very pleasing to the fans. The styles did not mesh. It would be a year before Freitas decided to fight again and it would be with Juan Diaz with two titles on the line. Freitas would lose and retire. Diaz would decide to fight Julio Diaz with three titles on the line leaving Raheem out in the cold.

In January of 2007 Raheem would return to Oklahoma and take a short notice fight at 143 in an 8 round fight and easily defeat Armando Cordoba, 23-32-2. The decision was ruled No Decision and later changed to No Contest. Raheem was taking a cold medicine and it was ruled not acceptable being tested after the fight. In May he would easily defeat Cristobal Cruz, 34-10-1, over 10 rounds. Three fights later, Cruz would win the IBF Featherweight championship in 2008 and still holds that title. Raheem’s third straight fight in Oklahoma was a 1st round knockout over Ricardo Dominguez, 23-2-2, in an 8 round co-feature bout. One left hook and down went Dominguez in a sitting position and took the full count.

It would be six months before Raheem would take an ill advised fight in South Africa against Ali Funeka, 29-1-2, in an IBF Lightweight eliminator. Funeka looked much bigger than Raheem. In the 3rd round a right hand dropped Raheem. He came back nicely but before the round was over another right hand had him fall forward touching his gloves on the canvas for a second knockdown. In the 4th round a left hook followed by a straight right hand had Raheem go face forward onto his right shoulder. He tried to beat the count by getting to his knees, but fell back when the referee stopped the bout as Raheem got to his feet. That was in July of 2008. This brings Raheem’s record to 29-3 (17), and the first time he has been stopped.
In March of 2009 I would meet Raheem and his younger brother Wahid who won a majority decision in Philly’s Arena over another top prospect Gabriel Diaz. They mirrored each other. Here was a boxer who has potential but is 29 and has only fought once a year since 2007.

Raheem was at Vernon Forrest’s funeral in Atlanta after the two division popular champion had been murdered. Forrest, like Raheem had attended Northern Michigan. I was recently talking to Ricky Ray Taylor who also attended NMU with Forrest and was a close friend who also attended the funeral. He said he saw Raheem there and had a little story to tell. Zahir was 11 years old and 85# when he arrived. “I remember a tournament we went to in Grand Forks, ND, and they had this 90# hometown kid who was supposed to be a killer. His coach told Al Mitchell the NMU coach, you might want to reconsider matching them up,” said Taylor. You could see where this story was heading. “Mitchell told him he had a towel and could always throw it in if he can’t hang with him. Raheem clocked this kid in the first round with a straight right that knocked the kid unconscious,” said Taylor.

Raheem recently contacted me from Las Vegas where he attended his brothers wedding. He told me he was preparing a comeback in Tulsa and Atlanta. He stays in touch with his original trainers Fred Jenkins in Philly and Al Mitchell at Northern Michigan. He hopes to get back to the physical and mental condition that helped him defeat Erick Morales in 2005 when Top Rank picked him as a “tune up” fight. The only thing is Raheem didn’t read the script and it was him doing the “tuning up” on Morales. Our best wishes go out to the Z-Man who looks to overcome but another obstacle in his career!

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