Family, faith No. 1 on Rahman's card

Boxing: The heavyweight champion from Baltimore turns a deaf ear to the noise and fury surrounding the title, staying rooted as a father and a Muslim.

Boxing

November 11, 2001|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

BIG BEAR CITY, Calif. - With eyes narrowed and mind focused, Hasim Rahman was deep into his conditioning routine. His massive fists hammered a tear-shaped bag in rhythm with a rap tune by DMX. His shirt clung to his sweat-soaked upper torso, the nylon fabric glistening in the sunlight from the window of the fitness center.

He had already skipped rope and sparred a few rounds, and the workout had become as intense as the music blaring from the boom box at his feet. Then he was interrupted.

A cameraman seeking the right shot had squeezed between the wall and the boxer, bumping Rahman's left shoulder. The world heavyweight champion froze and glared at the man. And then, in the latest example of a months-long test of public composure, the boxer resumed punching the speed bag.

The man was with Skysports, England's equivalent of ESPN, part of a crew taping Rahman's preparation for his rematch with former title-holder Lennox Lewis on Saturday night in Las Vegas. For the past two months, Rahman also has been followed by ESPN for a documentary to be aired before the fight.

Rahman (pronounced Rock-mon) has gotten used to intrusive cameras and eager autograph-seekers since his upset victory over Lewis in April, tolerating and even, sometimes, relishing the attention. While the Baltimore native welcomes the wealth and the benefits, he has tried not to let fame change him.

"Heavyweight champion is a role," Rahman said at the end of a day of training here. "Hasim Rahman is a person." Keeping that in mind, the champion said he is trying to remain grounded in his Muslim religion and to preserve his family life.

He was reflecting at a lodge while surrounded by several members of Team Rahman, the small group that supports him professionally in ways ranging from prayer leader to cook.

"I'm going to remain me," Rahman said, leaning forward and pounding his chest. " If anybody ... walked in here, they couldn't tell you which one of us was the champion, and that's the way I like it.

"I don't feel like I'm better than you. I feel like I was blessed. I appreciate the blessing, and I feel like I'm going to work hard to retain it."

The group around the fighter, whose nickname is "Rock," has changed little in his championship days, even though he switched promoters. It includes his brothers, Ibn and Yah Yah Cason; his best friend, Melvin "Winky" Walker; his co-managers, Steve Nelson and Stan Hoffman, and his longtime trainer, Adrian Davis. One addition is a trainer's assistant, Duke Buchanan.

Rahman has kept his entourage small. When he and his opponent made appearances in cities from Baltimore to London, he took only three others with him on the promotional tour. "Then you look at Lennox Lewis," Hoffman said, "and he's got like eight, nine, 10 people."

Even the sparring partners Rahman brought to Big Bear - a high-altitude training center in the San Bernardino Mountains near Los Angeles - are the same fighters who prepared him in the past.

"Hasim Rahman is still Hasim Rahman, no matter how many millions he has," Davis said. "He'll go out all by himself, walk right into a store, right into a crowd. Drive himself downtown. And if 50 people ask for autographs, he'll try to sign 50 autographs."

Hoffman said Rahman understands the tradeoffs celebrity brings. "I would like to see him be able to eat in public without people coming up and saying, `Hey champ, would you sign my eyeball?' But those are things that come with the territory," he said. "Frankly, if they weren't doing that, we wouldn't have gained the respect that comes with winning the heavyweight championship."

Rahman, who turned 29 on Wednesday, has pocketed about $6.5 million this year and stands to make more than $10 million for his rematch with Lewis, win or lose. He was criticized for signing with Don King as his promoter, but defends the move as a business decision that guaranteed his family greater financial security.

"Everything is paid for, I have excellent credit and I don't have any bills," Rahman said. "Yes, I can buy three, four, five, six new cars, a home for my mother, but that's because I manage my money well. The material stuff of my generation, the stuff you see with young rappers, baseball players, other celebrities - that's not me."

Power of the purse

Rahman promised his mother, Joyce Rahman, a new home when he became champion. He gave her one as well as a new car.

"When I couldn't get to the gym, she had one car, and I used it," said Rahman, recalling how she "gave me everything" growing up. "To me, nothing makes me feel better than being able to provide for her."

His wife, Crystal, has closed her day-care center on Gwynn Oak Avenue in Baltimore and no longer works outside the home.

Rahman has indulged himself by shopping for cars, but said he was prudent in his purchases. He didn't go for the one with the highest status, a Bentley, instead buying several others for a comparable price tag. He owns at least five cars, including a silver Mercedes Benz that he bought in August.

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