Inside a brightred barn in the mountains of Big Bear Lake, Calif., 7,500 feet above sea level,WBC heavyweight champ Hasim (Rock) Rahman faces perhaps his toughest opponentto date: altitude. "Man, it's hell up here," says Rahman (41-5-2 with33 KOs), who'll defend his title against Oleg Maskaev (32--5 with 25 KOs) onAug. 12 in Las Vegas. "But when I come back down, I feel likeSuperman." For the last five weeks Rahman has made camp in the thin air,training seven days a week, two to three hours a day. "Training at thisaltitude enhances a fighter's performance level," says Rahman's trainerThel Torrance. "You go six rounds here, you can go 10 anywhereelse."
Rahman trainswith rap music blaring and has a considerable staff, including "hypeman" Brandon (Church) Johnson, who comes to sessions in plaid pants and atop hat and shouts things like "King Hasim! King Hasim! The man that don'tplay will leave his opponent DOA!" as Rahman works out.
Rahman also hasfour sparring partners, each an accomplished heavyweight with specificattributes: Rod Willis (size and strength), Chris Arreola (durability), TravisKauffman (quickness and hand speed) and Eric Kirkland (elusiveness). "Iwant him to have to shift his thinking," says Torrance. "Try and mix itup so he doesn't get comfortable."
Here's Rahman'smountainside workout, which he begins by jumping rope for 20 minutes and doing50 push-ups to get into "fight mode."
The 15-minutesession is vital for the 6-foot, 240- pound Rahman. "He's so solid you haveto make sure all his muscles are loose before he puts on gloves," saysstrength and conditioning coach Mario Francis (above). The key, says Francis,is "pressure." To apply it, he pulls on Rahman's legs to stretch hislower back and uses a bar to stretch his arms.
For 10 minuteswithout rest he feigns punches, in front of a mirror, while dodging andfeinting and shuffling his feet. Rahman visualizes his opponent while Torrancecritiques his form. The exercise works the shoulders and helps reinforcefundamental boxing technique. "My least favorite part of training,"says Rahman. "Boring."
In eightthree-minute rounds, he faces a fresh partner every two rounds, forcing him tomaintain his intensity. Even for the nonboxer, sparring is a full-body workoutthat improves reflexes and conditioning. Torrance occasionally makes roundsfour minutes long, to build stamina and confidence. (A mere three-minute roundwill feel easy.)
This is abouthoning hand-eye coordination and timing. Rahman does 10 minutes on the bagwithout rest--he'll hit the bag about 1,000 times in this span--making him keephis hands up, even when he begins to tire. If your gym has a speed bag, startwith three- minute sessions, concentrating on keeping a steady rhythm.
Five days a weekRahman rises at 5 a.m. and jogs four miles on gravel roads. It takes himbetween 45 minutes and an hour. Running in the thin mountain air improves hiswind and building stronger legs both improves his in-ring foot speed and addspower to his punches. At night Rahman does more cardio work, climbing a mile onthe Stairmaster.
Photographs by Todd Bigelow/Aurora
REUTERS/TIM SHAFFER (RAHMAN WITH ARM RAISED)