Rahman is latest local success

Heavyweight champ gives city new hero in run of winners

April 22, 2001|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Baltimore, a city suddenly full of sports success stories, has another one to celebrate this morning in Hasim Rahman.

Rahman's upset of Lennox Lewis for boxing's heavyweight title last night made the 28-year-old the latest in a growing list of local heroes.

In September, sprinter Bernard Williams won an Olympic gold medal in Sydney, Australia, as part of the United States' 4 x 100-meter relay team. In January, the Ravens completed an improbable run to a Super Bowl victory with a record-setting defense.

And last month, the Maryland men's basketball team, with Baltimore's Juan Dixon in a starring role, played in the Final Four, the team's best showing in its history.

Now comes Rahman, a relative unknown in the sport until last night, when he knocked out Lewis in the fifth round in Brakpan, South Africa, to win the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation titles.

Longtime local trainer Mack Lewis didn't see the punch that knocked out Lewis, but he sees what the unlikely triumph of Rahman means to this area.

"A heavyweight champion is considered the best fighter in the world because he's a heavyweight, and it's assumed that no one can beat him," said Lewis, a legendary trainer of former world welterweight champion Vincent Pettway.

"Him winning the world championship, to me, is like the Ravens winning the Super Bowl," Lewis said. "It means a lot to Baltimore because he's a likable person, not a braggart and a family man and a good example to kids. When you see a guy like him win a world title, it's a very humbling thing."

Lewis, 82, who has been a part of boxing since he was 10, and has operated his gym at Broadway and Eager Streets since 1943. Lewis trained Rahman during his 11-fight amateur career.

"I think what won the fight was his dedication. He listens. He listens to Adrian Davis," Lewis said. "What this means is that he's the man. He's the only one."

Lewis did not watch the fight and does not have HBO, the channel that carried the fight. He said he "was on the phone with Tank Hill," his longtime friend, partner a former pupil.

"Hill was telling me that he was ahead in the fight, throwing more punches, trying to take the fight into the later rounds. He said he thought he was setting him up for the right hand, and that's exactly what he knocked him out with," Lewis said.

"I certainly thought he had a shot. He was strong and dedicated, a very intelligent young man," Lewis said. "The difference was his determination. I've been to South Africa. I fought down there with George Chaplin. I knew the climate was different, and I thought that was the major factor."

Kevin Rooney, one of the original trainers for Mike Tyson, had Rahman for two years as an amateur. He called Rahman's victory "a great win for Baltimore, and a great win for the United States since now, we've got the titles back.

"He was a very strong kid. He had never boxed before," Rooney said. "Lewis took him lightly, and Hasim is a good puncher and nailed him with the right hand."

Rooney said it was a boring fight, which was to Rahman's advantage.

"Lewis didn't put any pressure on him, and Rahman took his time and stayed calm," Rooney said.

Hill, a local boxing trainer, promoter and matchmaker, trained Rahman and was in his corner during his 10th-round knockout loss to David Tua. Hill said he felt all along that Rahman had a "great shot" at winning the fight.

"My theory of fighting is that it's always even until the bell rings," said Hill, 62, who saw flaws in both Lewis' defense and offense.

"When it started, I was telling Mr. Lewis that, in the first round, Rahman was beating Lennox Lewis with his jab," Hill said. "I really couldn't see how he was doing it, but he was doing it. It was determination and will."

Rounds 2 and 3, Hill said, were won by Lewis, who was coming in with the right uppercut.

"Rahman was mocking him, holding his hands down, which was very dangerous," Hill said. "He did the same thing in the fourth, but got hit a couple of times and, maybe, butted. I thought the fight was slipping away, and that maybe at that point, it was even."

But then, said Hill, Rahman "went back to the streets and just fought. Wrestled him, and, I think, scared Lewis. When that happened, it was a whole different ballgame."

Hill considers this among the greatest upsets in heavyweight history.

"It reminds me of the Sonny Liston-Muhammad Ali fight, or the James Buster Douglas-Mike Tyson upset. Nobody believed is those fighters. The odds were the same, like, 40-1," Hill said. "In Rahman, this is a kid who knocked out an Olympic gold medalist, and he's only a baby in his first heavyweight fight. Rahman came off the street and has been fighting for only about seven or eight years. He's a kid in the sport."

Danny Kisner, coach of the Brooklyn Boxing Club, had just walked in from his local Golden Gloves show at Du Burns Arena.

"I rushed home because I was taping the fight, thinking he'd get knocked out in the first five rounds, but hoping he'd have a chance to win," said Kisner, 34. "But before I turned on the television, the phone rang and my mother says, `You're not going to believe this: Hasim Rahman knocked out Lennox Lewis in the fifth round.' "

Kisner, 34, a former amateur boxer, started out at the same boxing club, the Mack Lewis gym, where Rahman started.

"This is great for Baltimore," Kisner said. "We've got the Baltimore Ravens, now Hasim Rahman, heavyweight champion of the world."

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