Rahman, Lewis gearing up to take the desert by storm

Title fight in Vegas lays it all on the line

Rahman-lewis Ii


November 17, 2001|By Peter Schmuck and Lem Satterfield | Peter Schmuck and Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS - It has been nearly seven months since unheralded Baltimore heavyweight Hasim Rahman shocked the boxing world and took the heavyweight championship from Lennox Lewis with one dramatic punch in South Africa.

Tonight, he'll finally get the chance to prove his big right hand wasn't just a swing and a myth.

Rahman (35-2, 29 knockouts) can go a long way toward legitimizing his World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation titles by defeating Lewis (38-2-1, 29 KOs) for a second time in the long-awaited rematch at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino, but he will enter the 12-round championship bout as a decided underdog.

"I feel like I'm fighting for the title," Rahman said. "Going in as champion, that's nice, but it doesn't matter who goes in as champion. It's who comes out."

The perception persists that he floored Lewis with a lucky punch and will need to come up with another miracle to overcome the superior strength and boxing skills of the bigger, more-talented former champion. Lewis has worked hard during the pre-fight buildup to promote that concept, but he also faces serious questions about his readiness for what many consider the defining fight of his career.

"We both have a lot on the line," said Rahman. "We both have a lot to prove. He wants to prove that it can't happen again, and I want to prove that it can. That's what makes this fight intriguing."

That and the recent war of words that has created some real animosity between two fighters who once seemed to respect - and maybe even like - each other. Lewis obviously considers Rahman a loud-mouthed pretender to the throne.

"You can't wear a crown and believe that all of a sudden you're the king and you should get so much respect, basically, from one punch," Lewis said.

Of course, how loudly can Lewis complain when that one punch knocked the crown off his head and called into question his status as a truly great heavyweight champion?

The 36-year-old British heavyweight enters the ring tonight as a 3-1 favorite, but even his own trainer can't say exactly what to expect when Lewis climbs through the ropes. He is a quiet, enigmatic fighter who loves to refer to himself as a "pugilist specialist," but some see that as an excuse for a lack of emotion and aggressiveness that has kept him from realizing his full potential.

"Lennox Lewis to me is one of the most talented, gifted, strongest physically heavyweights that I have seen," said his trainer, Emanuel Steward. "But Lennox is so frustrating knowing that I'm working with all this talent. It's the most frustrating, perplexing stage of my life with any fighter. I know what he's capable of doing, but I don't know what he's going to do."

Steward can't help but wonder how many times Lewis will flash back to April 21 and the punch that ended his second reign as champion. It's got to be hard to get completely out of mind, since it is prominent on the promotional video that has been playing continuously on every television monitor in the hotel for the past week.

Lewis branded it "the lottery punch," because it made Rahman an instant millionaire, but the big question entering tonight's fight is whether it will have a lingering effect on the former champion.

"I'm big into his head," Rahman said.

That would be news to Steward, who isn't quite sure what's going on in his fighter's head. He is hoping that he can get through to Lewis in time to get the most out of him tonight.

"The next 24 hours, talking to him, will be crucial," Steward said yesterday. "If I can get him to unleash all of this talent, I'll be locked up behind bars. It would be a one-round fight if Lennox came out and really poured it on. That's how far this man is over Hasim Rahman in terms of skills, physical strength, experience and everything."

But Lewis remains the chess player, both literally and figuratively. He has examined the first fight extensively and insists that he has made the adjustments to avoid a repeat performance.

"What Rahman does is he leans back on his right, and when I throw a jab, he tries to duck under it and throw a jab at the same time," Lewis explained. "So, in the first fight, that was kind of weird to me. So I basically had to adjust. But he believes that he can do the same thing. The name of the game is adjusting, and this is what I do best."

Of course, Rahman disagrees. He insists that whatever adjustments Lewis has made will be rendered irrelevant tonight.

"He's expecting to see the guy he fought in South Africa," Rahman said, "but that guy won't be in the ring on Saturday."

There definitely is a lot at stake for both fighters. Lewis has all but said that he will retire if he loses tonight, though it's generally difficult to gauge the seriousness of the retirement plans of veteran prizefighters. Rahman signed for this fight without a long-term television deal, so a victory could be worth much, much more than the $5 million he has been guaranteed for entering the ring.

Lewis is guaranteed $11 million for tonight's fight, the disparity between the two purses generating a minor controversy on Thursday, but Rahman stands to make up the difference with a percentage of pay-per-view revenues.

The winner would be positioned for a big payday against ex-champion Mike Tyson, who remains one of the heavyweight division's most bankable fighters in spite of his legal problems and inconsistent performance.

Rahman-Lewis II is the feature fight on a lengthy card that also includes a World Boxing Association middleweight championship bout between Washington's William Joppy and undefeated Howard Eastman of England. Promoter Don King also has added a fight between troubled heavyweights Henry Akinwande and Oliver McCall, the only other fighter to defeat Lewis in a professional bout.

Updates on SunSpot

For updates on the Hasim Rahman-Lennox Lewis fight and the undercard bouts, log on to www.sunspot.net/sports

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