Inside a bright
red 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 opponent
to date: altitude. "Man, it's hell up here," says Rahman (41-5-2 with
33 KOs), who'll defend his title against Oleg Maskaev (32--5 with 25 KOs) on
Aug. 12 in Las Vegas. "But when I come back down, I feel like
Superman." 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 this
altitude enhances a fighter's performance level," says Rahman's trainer
Thel Torrance. "You go six rounds here, you can go 10 anywhere
with rap music blaring and has a considerable staff, including "hype
man" Brandon (Church) Johnson, who comes to sessions in plaid pants and a
top hat and shouts things like "King Hasim! King Hasim! The man that don't
play will leave his opponent DOA!" as Rahman works out.
Rahman also has
four sparring partners, each an accomplished heavyweight with specific
attributes: Rod Willis (size and strength), Chris Arreola (durability), Travis
Kauffman (quickness and hand speed) and Eric Kirkland (elusiveness). "I
want him to have to shift his thinking," says Torrance. "Try and mix it
up so he doesn't get comfortable."
mountainside workout, which he begins by jumping rope for 20 minutes and doing
50 push-ups to get into "fight mode."
session is vital for the 6-foot, 240- pound Rahman. "He's so solid you have
to make sure all his muscles are loose before he puts on gloves," says
strength and conditioning coach Mario Francis (above). The key, says Francis,
is "pressure." To apply it, he pulls on Rahman's legs to stretch his
lower back and uses a bar to stretch his arms.
For 10 minutes
without rest he feigns punches, in front of a mirror, while dodging and
feinting and shuffling his feet. Rahman visualizes his opponent while Torrance
critiques his form. The exercise works the shoulders and helps reinforce
fundamental boxing technique. "My least favorite part of training,"
says Rahman. "Boring."
three-minute rounds, he faces a fresh partner every two rounds, forcing him to
maintain his intensity. Even for the nonboxer, sparring is a full-body workout
that improves reflexes and conditioning. Torrance occasionally makes rounds
four minutes long, to build stamina and confidence. (A mere three-minute round
will feel easy.)