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BOXING

Early Wake-Up Call for Lewis

April 21, 2001|STEVE SPRINGER

It's not exactly the Rumble in the Jungle.

The glitter and gambling spots of Carnival City, South Africa, are a long way from the harsh, hostile land of Zaire.

Lennox Lewis is hardly Muhammad Ali.

And Hasim Rahman wouldn't belong in the same ring with George Foreman. Or George Chuvalo. Or perhaps even Gorgeous George.

But this is not 1974, when Ali and Foreman were part of a golden age for heavyweights. It's the dawn of a new century, a tarnished time for boxing's biggest division.

The image of the heavyweights doesn't figure to improve at dawn on Sunday (5 a.m. South African time, 7 tonight PST), when Lewis (38-1-1, 29 knockouts) steps into a Carnival City ring to defend his World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation titles against Rahman (34-2, 28), ranked fourth by the IBF.

As bad as the division has become, Lewis did have alternatives to Rahman.

Mike Tyson, as low as he has sunk in terms of skill and class, would at least offer some unpredictability and anticipation to a heavyweight title match.

Wladimir Klitschko and Lance Whitaker have become bona fide contenders.

Yet, despite the questionable level of Rahman's skills, tonight's fight may actually be competitive. It's not that Rahman figures to rise to a new level. It's more a case of Lewis falling.

The champion is taking this fight so lightly that he was in Las Vegas two weeks ago, going before the cameras for a cameo in the upcoming remake of "Ocean's Eleven." Given a choice between running the roads of South Africa or running into co-star Julia Roberts on the set, Lewis never hesitated.

Meanwhile, Rahman was already in South Africa acclimating himself to a city 5,200 feet above sea level.

Lewis' condition is also being questioned. He unofficially weighed in earlier this week in Carnival City, with his clothes on, at 269 pounds. That's 19 pounds heavier than he has ever been for a fight.

Could this possibly be a repeat of the biggest upset in boxing history when, a decade ago, an overweight, out-of-shape, disinterested Tyson was knocked out by Buster Douglas in Tokyo.

Lewis shrugs off such talk.

"I don't believe," he said, "everything the scientists say about altitude. It will be no problem. [Rahman] shouldn't worry so much about the altitude. He should just worry about me."

Indeed, there is plenty for Rahman to worry about. Although he is 35, Lewis is at the top of his game, his confidence and skill level having elevated in the last two years. The combination of having trainer Emanuel Steward in his corner and a victory over Evander Holyfield (actually two victories but for the inept judging of Eugenia Williams) has finally made Lewis a complete fighter.

In the 28-year-old Rahman, Lewis will be facing a fighter who has lost to his only two credible opponents.

In 1998, Rahman was beaten on a 10th-round technical knockout by David Tua, who was dominated and embarrassed by Lewis last November.

In 1999, Rahman was knocked out in the eighth round by Oleg Maskaev, who himself was knocked out in the second round last month by Whitaker.

Last year, in his most recent fight, it took Rahman seven rounds to TKO Frankie Swindell, who entered the ring with a 19-fight losing streak.

Lewis has been acclimating himself to the unusual starting time by going to bed at 8 p.m., arising at 1 a.m. and finishing training before dawn.

He insists he'll be ready to go at dawn Sunday morning.

"All I will need," he said, "is a couple of minutes to open my eyes."

And to close those of Rahman.

LEWIS-TYSON: WILL IT EVER HAPPEN?

Lewis says he may not even attend Tyson's next fight, against David Izon June 2 in Washington.

"I've stopped going to Mike's fights," Lewis said. "I look at them as traveling circus acts."

But despite that, despite the fact the two cable networks--HBO, which has Lewis, and Showtime, which has Tyson--must work out a deal, despite the fact Lewis knows a win over Tyson would be considered a victory over a has-been, the champion acknowledges he wants the fight.

"It would be important," Lewis said. "This is my era and he has been a champion in this era."

Look for it to finally happen this fall.

PREVIEW OF COMING ATTRACTION?

In the "Ocean's Eleven" script, some of the action centers on a Lewis-Klitschko fight.

That match figures to happen in real life as well as reel life, perhaps by the time the movie is released later this year.

Although Lewis and Klitschko just shadowboxed for the film, Lewis acknowledged he took the opportunity to size up his opponent.

As a matter of fact, boasted Lewis, he'd like to fight Wladimir and his brother, fellow heavyweight Vitali, on the same day.

"I would have one Klitschko for breakfast," Lewis said, "and one for lunch."

QUICK JABS

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