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Hitting below the Gelt Puny purses force many good fighters to moonlight

It's fight night at the Lake Charles (La.) Civic Center. The
headliner, Hasim (the Rock) Rahman, the IBF's third-ranked
heavyweight, emerges from his dressing room--which hours before
was the weight room for a minor league hockey team--and nearly
trips on an extension cord. He slips past the ring card girls,
who are so busy with their nachos that they don't turn to look
at him, and finally climbs into the ring to fight Steve Pannell,
a foe so esteemed that his name is misspelled on the bout card.
After scoring a second-round knockout, Rahman returns to his
dressing room to find the door locked.

What's a top-tier boxer such as Rahman doing in a place like
this, as far removed from a Vegas title fight as a carousel ride
is from Churchill Downs? "Just getting in some work until Lewis
or Holyfield gives me a shot," he says sheepishly.

The plight of Rahman, now 28-0, is emblematic of the near
extinction of boxing's middle class. While Mike Tyson scratches
his head trying to figure how he squandered $100 million, the
vast majority of his colleagues live glove-to-mouth. "Never in
boxing's history have there been so many terrific fighters who
aren't making any money," says Philadelphia-based promoter
Russell Peltz. "There are so many belts these days that the only
big-money fights are for major titles."

Though pay-per-view bouts continue to thrive, the three major
networks have seen their fight ratings plummet and now televise
boxing fewer than 10 times a year--down from about 25 only a
decade ago. "With fewer and fewer chances to get on television,
the mean income for a Top 20 fighter is $20,000 a year," says
Rahman's co-manager Robert Mittleman. For his laugher against
Pannell, Rahman was paid $25,000. That may sound like
respectable wages for four minutes of work, but boxers face more
hidden costs than do mortgage-loan applicants. Fighters pay for
everything, from medical exams to sparring partners to their
garish robes. On top of such operating expenses, each boxer
traditionally dispenses 2% of a purse to his cutman, another 10%
to his trainer and one third of the gross to his manager. If
Rahman was a smart shopper, he netted perhaps $13,000, before
taxes, from the Pannell fight.It's not peanuts, but it's a
pittance compared with the $1.75 million (minus expenses) that
Shannon Briggs, an inferior fighter, made by getting slapped
around by Lennox Lewis in Lewis's heavyweight title defense in

One consequence of this disparity is that most professional
boxers also hold down nine-to-five jobs. Charles Brewer, a
computer programmer in New Jersey, moonlights as the USBA super
middleweight champion. Tony (the Punching Postman) Thornton was
back delivering mail two days after Roy Jones Jr. knocked him
out to retain his IBF super middleweight belt in 1995. Still,
thousands of fighters keep at it, their fire fueled by the
belief that they are thisclose to "making bank," as Rahman calls
it. Until that day comes, boxing's risk-reward lottery has more
fighters than ever on the ropes.

COLOR PHOTO: MARTY ROSENGARTEN THE GRUEL SCIENCE Top heavyweight contender Rahman finds it more difficult to balance his books than to land punches. [Hasim Rahman and opponent in boxing match]