Altitude helps with attitude

Boxing: Training 7,000 feet above sea level has boosted Hasim Rahman's stamina and confidence.

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November 12, 2001|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

BIG BEAR CITY, Calif. - Adjusting to the altitude of 7,000 feet above sea level here can be like getting nailed by the punch that floored Lennox Lewis seven months ago in South Africa.

The man who threw that big right hand, heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman of Baltimore, came to Big Bear to train for his rematch with Lewis.

"This was a great decision to come here, to this setting, this altitude," Rahman said late last month. "I was prepared for Johannesburg, and I'm even better prepared for Lewis now."

It was in Johannesburg that Rahman took the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation crowns from Lewis, shocking the champ and the boxing world.

For their first fight, Rahman arrived in South Africa - which is 6,300 feet above sea level - a full month before the fight. Lewis came nearly three weeks later. This time, Lewis trained in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, at 2,650 feet. Las Vegas is at 2,000 feet.

"First fight, I was sick for four days, I had bruised ribs going into the fight where I couldn't even spar some days," said Rahman, who expects to come in at 235 pounds - 3 fewer than he weighed for the initial fight. "Lennox is training for that guy who showed up in South Africa. I could beat that guy who showed up in South Africa. Let him get ready for that guy in South Africa. He's in for a surprise."

By fight time Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Rahman will have trained 45 days in Big Bear.

"We're 7,000 feet above sea level, and the first couple of days, not being used to it, you get tired just walking up the steps," said trainer Adrian Davis. "But Hasim's adjusted to it.

"He's on the heavy bag, speed bag, shadow-boxing, jumping rope. And we do it all over eight four-minute rounds with 10 seconds' rest," Davis said. "Rock's done 10 rounds already, and he'll do 12-13 before he leaves here. When we go down to Las Vegas, it'll be a breeze."

Big Bear City is a little more than an hour northeast of Los Angeles in the San Bernardino Mountains. Route 330, one road into Big Bear, is a steady, upward climb of about 30 miles, bottom-to-top, during which the temperature may drop 30 degrees.

Boxers make the trip to endure grueling workouts at the prestigious Big Bear Fitness Center, which is little more than an oversized garage at the end of a dirt road that is flanked by a mountain range and a small airfield.

The walls at its entrance are lined with photos of past visitors, such as Oscar De La Hoya and Roy Jones Jr. Its most recent users include Mike Tyson, Shane Mosley and Fernando Vargas.

"The fighters get away from their families, their friends down the street, their girlfriends," said owner Lee Cohen. "There's nothing around to distract you. Fighters feel there is a prestige about this place. They believe they get that little bit extra, and that usually gets them over the edge."

Rahman certainly felt that way, training in the gym by day, and running five miles by night through the neighborhoods or in the mountains. If it rained, he went to the training center and used the treadmill. The routine was sufficiently exhausting to cause Rahman to sleep through an earth tremor that spilled baseball-sized rocks onto the street.

"Winning the world title has done something for Rock's confidence, but we're training for the fight like we're trying to win the title," Davis said. "Hasim Rahman's not your so-called Buster Douglas [who upset Tyson, only to quickly balloon out of shape and out of boxing]. He's really stepped up the pace here. He's going to be a hard guy to beat."

Rahman's sparring partners agree with Davis.

They are the same ones Rahman had heading into South Africa: a mixed bag of tall, boxer-puncher heavyweights who have their own professional careers and who reflect the various aspects of Lewis' style.

Cee Cee Salif, a 6-foot-5, 250-pounder who is 9-3 with nine knockouts, comes at Rahman with power, size and strength. DaVarryl Williams, a 6-4, 220-pounder, is 10-1 with nine straight knockouts.

"I'm taller, bigger than Hasim, but he's responding well," said Salif, who is from New York. "He throws the jab, he's aggressive, up and down. He hits hard. His confidence is there, his power punch is there. He's ahead of schedule compared to the first time."

One day late in October, Rahman and Williams, a slick boxer from Denver who can whack a bit, sparred for eight four-minute rounds. And the action was fairly intense.

The elusive Williams circled Rahman at first, jabbing, with an occasional overhand right before Davis screamed: "Hasim, there's no match for your jab."

Rahman responded, following his own jab with an overhand right that drove Williams to the ropes. Rahman dug to the body, ate a couple of jabs. He then followed Williams to the ropes, where he landed another hard body shot, a right to the head and a left hook to the head.

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