Nearly 20 years ago Rahman shocked Lewis for title
In the modern era of boxing there certainly have been dramatic, unexpected upsets. The standard is the Buster Douglas victory 30 years ago over Mike Tyson to capture the Undisputed Heavyweight title in Tokyo, Japan.
More recently was Andy Ruiz’s shocking upset of unbeaten English Unified Heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua last June in New York.
And, another victory just as stunning happened nearly 20 years ago in the middle of the night in South Africa, as Hasim Rahman dethroned champion, Lennox Lewis.
The night was April 21st, 2001, as Lewis was making the 11th defense of at least a version or the Unified title. And, Lennox was an overwhelming favorite against the American contender out of Baltimore, who had already lost twice recently (both by KO) to Oleg Maskaev and David Tua.
Lewis was a massive betting favorite at 20-1 and the fight was given little to no notoriety, especially in the United States. This, as HBO Sports chose to show it live in the middle of a Saturday afternoon U.S. time/early Sunday morning in South Africa.
It was apparent from the beginning that Lewis was not his usual active self, especially in terms of punching output, and Rahman was able to land some occasional punches through the first four rounds.
The legendary HBO commentary crew of Jim Lampley, former heavyweight champ George Foreman and Larry Merchant pointed out on more than one occasion that Lewis looked tentative or distracted throughout the beginnings of the bout.
Then in the fifth round a lightning bolt struck.
With his left eye swelling, Rahman was still dangerous and actually landed a solid right, which momentarily shook Lewis, who grabbed onto him. But, Lewis was still on steady enough legs and landed a couple of punches on his own at the round progressed. Then, just like his predecessor Douglas had done in Japan and Ruiz at MSG, Rahman had his “All-time Heavyweight Championship” moment.
With about 30 seconds to go in the round, the challenger feigned a left hand and fired a straight right bomb that caught Lewis flush on the chin. And, the champ splatted hard on his back and the back of his head on the canvas. That double impact was too much for the Brit to recover from and he was counted out for a 5th round KO.
Lampley and Merchant immediately ridiculed Lewis having been distracted in the lead up to the fight, including filming fight scenes the 2001 action comedy “Ocean’s 11” with stars George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon just weeks before the fight.
As we wrote previously, the two would fight again just six months later, but not before Rahman had tried to break the rematch clause in the contract first to fight Tyson. Then, when that fell through, Rahman tried to fight another relatively unknown contender named David Izon.
However, Lewis successfully went to court, got the rematch clause enforced and the second bout was set for Las Vegas in November 2001.
This time, a focused former two-time heavyweight champ needed only four rounds himself and completely reversed the outcome with his own bomb single punch that dropped Rahman for the count to end things, quickly.
Lewis’s next fight would be June of the following year when he knocked out former Undisputed champ, Mike Tyson, in Memphis, Tennessee. He finished 41-2-1 with having regained the title twice (beating Oliver McCall in his other championship rematch) and going down in history books, as one of the most memorable Heavyweights of the final 50 years of the 20th century.
Rahman’s fame was fleeting, as he lost to Evander Holyfield in a bid to try to regain a version of the title, and he later also lost to John Ruiz by decision in another bid.
Still, he had one night, and one punch, that is forever part of Heavyweight Championship history.