Lewis, Rahman begin war of words

Champ predicts KO

Balto. challenger says, `Lennox is just a man'


April 12, 2001|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - Heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis offered Baltimore's Hasim "The Rock" Rahman a compliment of sorts yesterday.

Asked what he thought of his young challenger, Lewis replied: "I fear him."

But that's just the reason Lewis, 35, predicted he will knock out Rahman, 28, when the two step into the ring next week.

"I'm afraid to lose. I think that's one of the things that motivates me," Lewis said during the first face-to-face news conference with the two fighters yesterday at Carnival City Casino outside Johannesburg.

"I'm not one of those boxers who goes out and says, `I'm going to knock you out in this round.' But I definitely feel the fight won't go the distance. I don't think Rahman has ever seen a boxer like me."

Nor has South Africa, which, on Tuesday afternoon, greeted Lewis' arrival with Zulu dancers, a lion cub and a limousine on the tarmac at Johannesburg International Airport.

Rahman landed in South Africa more than two weeks ago - to much less fanfare - but captured the spotlight. His image has appeared in the Johannesburg newspapers nearly every day. He visited an AIDS orphanage, held a public sparring session and posed with Miss South Africa.

As the attention yesterday shifted to Lewis, Rahman reminded the crowded news conference that his bid to be the heavyweight champion should be taken seriously.

"I ain't going to lay down. I ain't going to quit. I'm not following anyone's script. I came here to fight, and that's what I'm coming to do," said Rahman, who boasts a 34-2 record with 28 knockouts.

He added: "Lennox is just a man, regardless of what he has accomplished and who he has knocked out."

Lewis, World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation champion, has been declared the undisputed champ since 1999 when he defeated Evander Holyfield. He has since defended the title three times. Many oddsmakers are predicting another victory for Lewis, who is 35-1 with 27 knockouts.

Lewis has been training in Henderson, Nev., located 20 miles south of Las Vegas. He quickly dismissed any suggestions that he could relax before what is being portrayed as a low-risk fight.

"I take my training very serious. I never want to be caught slipping because it's very hard to be undisputed champion of the world and even harder to keep it. And I realize that each person that comes after me is sacrificing their all just to be there to try to achieve what I've achieved," Lewis said.

The fighters will step into the ring at Carnival City's 7,500-seat arena at the pre-dawn hour of 5 a.m. on April 22 - 11 p.m. EDT, April 21 in the United States - to accommodate the American pay-per-view audience.

Local promoters have dubbed the fight "Thunder in Africa," comparing it to the 1974 fight, "Rumble in the Jungle," when Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman in Zaire.

More demanding than the awkward fight time is Johannesburg's altitude, 5,748 feet, more than one mile above sea level.

"We've trained real hard," said Adrian Davis, Rahman's trainer. "He is in his best condition."

On that point, even Lewis agreed: "I realize he's a formidable opponent and strong and big and is looking to give me a great fight."

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