6-foot-7 Grant has high aim vs. Lewis

Fighter hopes size wears down champ

April 28, 2000|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- By the time he was 21, Michael Grant had burned baseball hitters with 90-mph fastballs, slam dunked over junior college basketball players, and knocked many a quarterback silly as a football defensive end.

Grant, a native of Chicago's tough South Side, also was 21 the first time he stepped into a boxing ring as an amateur.

And for maybe the first time in his sports life, he was terrified.

"It was nerve-shattering," said Grant, now 27, a late-bloomer in professional prize fighting. "People are there to see you get your brains knocked out. Or there's the concept that you have to go in there and inflict pain on someone."

Five years later, however, Grant (31-0, 22 knockouts) may be on the verge of a breakthrough as he attempts to "inflict pain" on Lennox Lewis (35-1-1, 27 KOs) tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden in his bid to take Lewis' International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Council titles.

Grant, who turned pro in 1994, will earn $3.5 million -- his largest payday -- to Lewis' $10 million in a battle billed as "TWO BIG." The contest pits two fighters whose combined size (13 feet, 497 pounds) is the largest in a heavyweight championship fight.

At 6 feet 7 and 250 pounds, Grant is the first boxer that the 6-5, 247-pound Lewis has faced who is taller and heavier. Grant has had 17 fights since 1996, including eight in '96.

"I could have played football or the other sports the pros wanted me for," Grant said. "I fought to earn this position, and, at this moment, I have something to prove. I have another goal to pursue, and that's the heavyweight championship of the world."

Grant took a risk on Tuesday, sparring two live rounds in a workout here against Corey Sanders. Sparring so close to the night of the fight is almost unheard-of in boxing circles.

That's because Grant said he's no longer afraid.

"I'm an individual who can handle pressure. I don't get over excited. I'm patient. I don't rush," said Grant, who also plays piano and sings in his church choir. "At the same time, I'm imposing my will. It all depends on how the person reacts when he gets hit."

Grant was knocked down twice in the first round of his previous fight, a 10th-round knockout of Andrew Golota on Nov. 20 -- the same Golota whom Lewis annihilated in one round in October 1997.

"Michael walked right into the punch. I don't think he'd been hit that hard before," said Don Turner, 60, who has trained Grant since his fourth amateur fight and been with him for all but one pro bout.

"I always knew he had a lot of intestinal fortitude," Turner said. "But he showed people he had the guts to get up as only the great ones do."

Grant said it took him several rounds to recover.

"I was shaken. I couldn't be "I fought to earn this position, and, at this moment, I have something to prove. I have another goal to pursue, and that's the heavyweight championship of the world."

Michael Grant, challenger

lieve it. Second and third round, I was still numb. I didn't get it back until the fourth or fifth round," Grant said. "What got me back into the fight was my belief that I was going to win the fight. I weathered the storm against Golota, came out on top. That's a tremendous feeling."

Success is nothing new to Grant, who earned MVP honors in football and basketball at Chicago's William Rainy Harper High School.

Drafted by the Kansas City Royals, Grant turned down that offer -- as well as one to join friend and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson at Southwest Junior College -- to play defensive end and tight end at Mount San Antonio Junior College.

Later, while playing basketball at Cal State Fullerton Junior College, Grant watched the Evander Holyfield-Riddick Bowe fight in Las Vegas in 1992.

Convinced he could be a heavyweight champion, Grant left Fullerton, moved to Las Vegas and fought to an 11-1 amateur record that included a 1994 National Golden Gloves title. Grant then turned pro and won his first six bouts by KO and 16 of his first 21 that way.

"Michael was a kid in Vegas when I got him. He was so mannerable, so inclined to do everything I asked him to do," said Turner, who was introduced to Grant by referee Richard Steele. "When I first started to bring him around, people thought I was crazy saying he would be a great champ."

By his 26th fight, a first-round KO over Cuba's Jorge Gonzalez, Grant said he had visions he would earn, and win, a title match with Lewis. As an amateur, Rodriguez had defeated both Lewis, a former Olympic Gold medalist, and Bowe.

"Grant is still inexperienced at fighting someone as tall and talented as Lennox is. At close range, you can find Grant a little clumsy in a way," said Emmanuel Steward, Lewis' trainer, noting that Grant has knocked out three of his past seven opponents in Round 10.

"Grant punches very good at the end of the fight, which I'm impressed with. He is a good, basic fighter, so I'm anxiously waiting to see his talents."

Grant sparred with Ray Mercer to prepare him for his 1996 loss to Lewis, as well as the 6-7 Henry Akinwande, who was disqualified in five rounds for holding Lewis.

His own training for Lewis has consisted of 10 weeks of intensity. "Cardiovascular, boxing, weights, sparring, therapy. We monitored it to build a fighter on April 29," Grant said. "We're all on the same page now. The last two weeks we all have been feeling good about ourselves."

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