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Zahir Raheem-Z Man

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Continuing my "lightweights of the early 21st century" thread with this fine but underapreciated fighter, Zahir Raheem aka "Z Man" of Philadelphia. Raheem was a talented fighter who could box and also hit pretty hard, but he only once fought for a world title, unsuccesfully. He just wasn't favored by the establishment it seems, especially after upsetting the beloved Erik Morales in 2005. After losing controversially to Rocky Juarez for the first time, he fought Acelino Freitas in 2006 for the vacant WBO title and made the fight hard and close, but ultimately lost by a split decision. After that, he lost focus and suffered a bad knockout loss to the much taller Ali Funeka in 2008. He tried to mount a comeback in 2013, but it proved short lived. His two best wins were over Morales and Luisito Espinosa, whom he stopped. Here is the story of "Z Man".


Born 7 November 1976 in Philadelphia, the young Raheem enjoyed a stellar amateur career and earned his spot on the 1996 US Olympic team as a bantam, after winning the qualifiers. In the first round, he beat Jong-Gil Oh of North Korea on points, but then ran into a dangerous Cuban called Arnaldo Mesa, who stopped him by a TKO1. He ended his amateur career with a record of 213-4. He began his pro career in November that same year, winning by a TKO4 against Cliff Watford. He fought as a featherweight first, also having some super feather bouts in between. The 5'6 Raheem has a big reach of 70 inches and was a good boxer and mover who also was pretty aggressive. In March 2002, he won the NABA feather title by beating Joe Morales (no relation to Erik) by UD12. In his very next fight on 11 October that year, he faced the 35-yearold but still game enough Luisito Espinosa, the former two-weight world champion. Espinosa started off well when he dropped Raheem in the second round but Raheem came back and took control of the fight, eventually dropping Espinosa in round 8 before stopping him by a TKO. After going 25-0 with 15 ko's, he was matched against another hot up and coming contender-Rocky Juarez, who was 20-0 with 14 ko's. The fight was in Juarez's hometown of Houston, 17 July 2004. Raheem was down to one knee in round four, after absorbing a big left hook. Otherwise, he did well, but the referee was biased against him and took three points away. In the end, Juarez won by the scores fo 115-109, 114-110 and 113-111. That means, without the knockdown and deductions, it would've been a split draw. Raheem moved on and his ranking wasn't affected by this loss because of the controversy.


He began 2005 by stopping Jose Quintana by a TKO6, before getting the offer to fight Erik Morales. Morales was coming off a great win over Manny Pacquiao and had been the first to beat him for a long time. He was naturally a big favorite to win. The title at stake was the vacant WBC International light one. This was supposed to be a mere tune-up for the rematch with Pacquiao, but ended damaging Morales' career and esteem. They faced off at Staples Center in LA on 10 September and Raheem surprised everyone by outboxing Morales and never letting him settle into his rhythm. He also hurt Morales a couple times and in the end got the unanimous decision, 118-110 on one card. Naturally, it became The Ring Upset of the Year and would remain Z-Man's crowning achievement. This victory opened doors for him to fight for a world title, a real one, and he faced Acelino Freitas, who was on his comeback train following his first loss, for the vacant WBO title. It was 29 April 2006 at Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, which had become like a home for Freitas, who fought there a lot. There was therefore perhaps a slight bias in favor of Freitas, who was also the more popular and accomplished fighter. Freitas started out fast and took the early rounds, before Raheem bounced back and in round 6 had Freitas seriously hurt with a left uppercut and a right cross. As Freitas tried to hold on, Raheem shoved him to the canvas and got a warning from the referee. This gave Freitas some time to recover, otherwise the fight might've ended right there and then. He gradually got back in the fight, but despite scoring with some clean shots, was unable to hurt Raheem, despite being regarded the harder hitter. After 12 rounds were completed, one judge gave the fight to Raheem by 115-113 while the other two gave it to Freitas by 116-112 and 115-113. (I myself gave it to Popo by 115-113). The crucial difference in this fight was the speed of Freitas I guess, he had one of the fastest pairs of feet in the game back then. Still, Raheem was able to hurt him and badly, while he himself got through the fight virtually unhurt and unfazed, showing his toughness and good chin.


Raheem seemed to drift away and lose focus after this vital loss. In his next fight, he weighed at 143, despite fighting a lightweight, so, despite winning on points, the fight was later turned into a no-decision. He then scored his third best victory over future IBF-feather champion Cristobal Cruz, whom he decisioned in 10 rounds on 18 May 2007. He came 3/4 pounds over the limit there. He then scored an impressive first-round ko over Ricardo Dominguez, who later challenged Humberto Soto and Miguel Vazquez in world title fights. He caught Dominguez with a perfect left hook to the chin and Dominguez took the count, refusing to go on. The fight was over after 1 minute 18 seconds. That was on 4 January 2008 and Raheem then got to fight in an IBF-eliminator in on 5 July against Ali Funeka, in Funeka's homeland South Africa, Eastern Cape. Funeka, a freak of nature, towered 7 inches above him at 6'1. Z Man was therefore at a great disadvantage and he was knocked down twice in round 2, once in round 3 and finally in round 4 before it was over. However, the punch with which he was knocked out seemed to come after the bell. He had a 2-year layoff before coming back in 2010 and twice beating journeyman Roberto Valenzuela, first by UD6 and then by KO2. He then retired but came back one more time in 2013, after inking a deal with promoter Brian Halquist of Halquist Productions. He returned to the ring on 23 March at Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, where he would fight for the rest of his comeback. In a fight at welterweight, he easily beat the Kiwi Santos Pakau by a TKO2. He then beat the former super feather and Floyd Mayweather-challenger Justin Juuko of Uganda by a TKO4. Raheem indeed seemed in great shape as he ended the year by also stopping Tim Coleman, former Kendall Holt-opponent, by a TKO2 in a fight at 154 pounds! He came back as a light welter on 10 January next year and beat Bayan Jargal of Mongolia by UD10 to win the vacant WBO NABO title. That turned out to be his last fight, despite expectations that a big fight may be just around the corner for him. Raheem was now 37 and perhaps realised he didn't have it in him anymore, so he settled for winning that last small belt. His record is 35 wins with 21 ko's and 3 losses, 1 by ko.


His current whereabouts are unknown, but on his instagram page 2 days ago, he posted a picture of himself looking rather healthy, in the company of Nipsey Hussle, a well known rapper. Zahir Raheem is just one of those fighters that seemed to come out of nowhere and make a big upset, but it turns out they really had been there for a long time before somebody gave them a shot, a chance to make it big. He had all the tools to become a world champion and carve out his name in the sport, but it just wasn't meant for him. Raheem is a Black Muslim and that may also be a part of why he didn't get more big fights and sooner. Thank you.



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