THE date was April 22, 2001. The venue: The Carnival City Casino in Brakpan, South Africa and it was fittingly billed “Thunder in Africa.”
At stake were Lennox Lewis’ WBC, IBF and IBO world heavyweight titles.
The challenger was Hasim Rahman of Baltimore who was not given any real chance of upsetting the defending champ and the odds were reflective of this, at 20-1 in favor of Lewis.
UPSET. It would turn out to be one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight boxing history. Prior to this fight. Lewis had had his eye set on fighting Mike Tyson but that fell through after Tyson was given a suspension following the Andrew Golota fight.
There were rumors that Lewis had probably underestimated his challenger or did not take the fight seriously. He also apparently failed to take into consideration the fact that he had to acclimatize to the higher altitude as Brakpan, was 5,200 feet above sea level.
Rahman apparently did, and he arrived about two weeks earlier than the champ, who had trained in Las Vegas because he had filming duties with an upcoming movie, Ocean’s Eleven. And oh, he came in quite heavy too at 254 pounds. Shades of Rocky 3 if you ask me.
The Fight. Lewis boxed cautiously at the start, while Rahman seemed content to cock his jab and wait for the opportunity to pull the trigger. Lewis had been quoted as saying he was looking to knock Rahman out early but by the second round, his mouth was wide open. He did control the first three rounds, with his jab and in the third had nicked Rahman’s left eye.
But by the fourth round, Lewis’ output waned and Rahman began finding a home for his big right hand. Lewis continued to target Rahman’s left eye.
Lewis started out aggressively in the fifth, landing stinging jabs as Rahman appeared bothered by the swelling in his left eye.
As Lewis continued to stalk Rahman, the latter suddenly unleashed a jab-straight combo that landed flush on Lewis, who was caught with his hands down. It would be a portent of things to come.
With about a minute left, Lewis backed up after Rahman attacked him with a couple of jabs. With Lewis close to the ropes, he got complacent, and Rahman landed a monster right hand that dropped Lewis down like he’d been shot.
As he struggled to get up clearly hurt, the referee calls for the denouement of the fight
AFTERMATH. Eager to avenge his loss, Lewis would do Rahman better by knocking him out earlier by one round--the fourth--in their rematch held seven months later after Lewis went to court to enforce the rematch clause. Apparently, he was bent on rectifying his mistakes and knew he could beat Rahman the second time around.
Verbatim. “If we had fought a trilogy, I would have been a complete different fighter.