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Chance meeting on Ruiz's schedule

He'll face Rahman for WBA crown

John Ruiz is coming back with a bang.

The Chelsea-bred former World Boxing Association heavyweight champion has not fought since losing his title to Roy Jones Jr. March 1, but he will get the chance to win it back Dec. 13 in Atlantic City against former World Boxing Council titleholder Hasim Rahman as part of a three-fight championship card promoted by Don King on HBO pay-per-view.

Ruiz, who went through a painful divorce as he was preparing for Jones, has yet to return to the gym but is expected to be at the New York Hilton tomorrow for a press conference announcing the fight with Rahman. The bout will be for the "interim" WBA heavyweight title. That's because Jones will fight light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver next month to try to win back the belts he gave up to challenge Ruiz. If Jones is successful, he will have 120 days to negotiate a heavyweight title defense against the Ruiz-Rahman winner or have the heavyweight title taken from him.

If the latter occurs, the Ruiz-Rahman winner would be allowed one optional title defense before having to face David Tua, who was originally set to fight Rahman in a rematch of their draw but became unavailable after firing his longtime trainer and manager, Kevin Barry, in a hail of accusations about financial improprieties.

Barry and Tua are in a dispute over that contract so the Samoan, who has twice lost title shots, will try to clean up the business end of his sport while Ruiz will try to clean up his business in the ring against Rahman.

"It's a tough fight for us," acknowledged Norman Stone, Ruiz's manager. "Rahman is strong, he can punch, and he has a lot of experience. But we feel Johnny can wear him down with his jab. All John has to do is be right for this fight. He wasn't right for Jones and it showed. This is the most important fight of his life."

That's because it would give Ruiz a chance to return to the top of the heavyweight division if he can knock off Rahman. If he cannot, he will be on more than a two-fight losing streak. He will likely be facing the end of his time as a contender for the heavyweight title.

Ruiz was unhappy to learn that he would be paying a steep price for losing to Jones. After making a total of more than $6 million for his three fights with Evander Holyfield, a title defense against Kirk Johnson, and his loss to Jones, he will earn only $300,000 to face Rahman.

"John wasn't happy about that but I told him, `Look, you lost the fight. What do you want to do?' " Stone said. "I told him he didn't have to take it if he didn't want to but I had my fingers crossed."

Ruiz didn't hesitate to accept the Rahman fight, knowing it is the best option available after his humiliating loss to Jones by a one-sided decision in which most observers felt he won only the first round. Now he is back on HBO's big stage and back fighting for the title he lost, albeit only for as long as Jones chooses not to claim it.

But if Jones does eventually decide to campaign as a heavyweight instead of returning to the 175-pound division, and Ruiz defeats Rahman, the first Latino heavyweight champion in history will have what he wants most -- a second chance at the man who dethroned him. But to get in position for that he first has to beat Rahman, who held the WBC title for five months after knocking Lennox Lewis cold, only to be left unconscious himself in a one-sided rematch Lewis dominated.

Now two men in search of fistic redemption will square off on a card that will also feature undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins defending his titles against former champion William Joppy and WBA and WBC welterweight champion Ricardo Mayorga facing International Boxing Federation titleholder Cory Spinks in a unification fight.

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