Rahman's moving punch

Boxing: Most fighters leave their families to train. Hasim Rahman has moved his to Las Vegas to solidify his shot of regaining the heavyweight title.


December 09, 2003|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS - Propped against the wall of the garage at Hasim Rahman's newly purchased, five-bedroom home in a gated community 10 miles from The Strip is a reminder of why the boxer relocated his family from Maryland.

"Every day I pull into the garage, that's my inspiration," Rahman said, pointing to a photo depicting his 2001 victory over Lennox Lewis, who is shown lying on his back in the ring. The knockout made the Baltimore native the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world for the next seven months, until Lewis reclaimed the title.

"I'm going to get back there," said Rahman, who has changed trainers three times trying to regain his edge. "I guarantee you I'll get there again."

Rahman (35-4-1, 29 knockouts) began training in August for his December fight with John Ruiz (38-5-1, 27 KOs). The bout for the World Boxing Association's interim championship will be fought Saturday in Atlantic City. But Rahman's latest trainer, Roger Mayweather, has his base of operations in Las Vegas.

Rather than distance himself from his wife and three children during training in Nevada, Rahman uprooted the entire family, leaving behind a home in Harford County and postponing his oldest son's enrollment in one of Baltimore's most prestigious private schools.

"I wasn't going to be gone for six weeks - they can deal with that. But to get the serious training I needed, full time, I had to be near [Mayweather]. I had to make a move," said Rahman, 31.

On this day in early September, Rahman is weary from a workout with Mayweather at Top Rank Gym. As he pulls into the garage, his three children rush toward his black Escalade. They have arrived from nearby Omar Haikal Islamic Academy in the red Hummer driven by Rahman's wife, Crystal.

"Daddy," screams Amirah, 5, her dangling, beaded braids swinging wildly as she runs. "Daddy," Sharif, 7, chimes in. The eldest, Hasim Jr., 12, stands in the distance, wearing a backpack stuffed with schoolbooks.

Rahman sweeps the air with a weak wave of his massive right hand - the same one that floored Lewis. He offers a barely audible, "Hey guys," followed by a loud, more forceful warning to Sharif to stay back from his dad's still moving vehicle.

Then it occurs to Rahman, that it may be his turn to help the kids with homework, given that Crystal, manager of the family's Baltimore clothing store, could be occupied from afar by payroll or inventory work.

"Sometimes I'm really spent when I come home from training. I might get to relax, do some reading here or there, get in a game of chess," Rahman said. "But I still wanted to be a part of their everyday life. That's the reason I had to bring my family along this time."

Boxing historian Bert Sugar says Rahman isn't the first fighter to bring his family to camp. Sugar Ray Robinson was noted for it, and there are others.

"Ingemar Johannsson brought his family around and still knocked out Floyd Patterson," said Sugar, going on to say that fighters keeping their families and women out of camp is more myth than reality.

"If having his [Rahman's] family around makes him happy, and he's working and training hard, so be it. It all comes down to the commitment of the fighter himself."

Rahman's decision is a sharp contrast to that of the Spartan circumstances that he and other fighters have chosen in the past.

For his first fight with Lewis, Rahman acclimated himself to the high altitude in South Africa by arriving a month early and beginning training in DuRandt's Gymnasium in downtown Johannesburg before upsetting Lewis in a fifth-round knockout. For their rematch, Rahman trained in Big Bear City, Calif., at a camp in the mountains.

But Rahman always has had issues with leaving his family. Before his knockout loss to Oleg Maskaev in November 1999, Rahman left training camp near Phoenix, Ariz., a few weeks early to be present for Amirah's first birthday in October.

He had never missed any of his children's birthdays until forced to miss Amirah's third while training for the Lewis rematch in November 2001. In a documentary being filmed at the time, the longing could be read in his eyes as the fighter - holding his daughter's drawing of an apple - stared into the cameras and told her, "I love you."

Rahman brags about his children, who were part of the celebrations that marked his bringing the heavyweight crown to Baltimore. Amirah's the cute one and Sharif the one who scored in the top 99 percent for his age group on an aptitude test for math, reading and language arts. Hasim Jr., he says, will earn a football scholarship to play for Florida State, become a doctor or both.

Rahman called the move to Las Vegas "one of the toughest decisions I've ever made."

"We considered all kinds of scenarios: Should we leave [Hasim Jr.] at home with my mother? If so, would it affect him academically, not having his parents there? Would it be fair to his sister and brother to take him away?" Rahman said.

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