Even though lightly regarded challenger Hasim Rahman was listed as a 15-1 underdog in his fight against Lennox Lewis, it wasn't as though you couldn't see his upset victory coming down the pike. Lewis seemed to be everywhere except the gym. He was at the Hamed-Barrera fight, and the DelaHoya-Gatti bout before that. He had broken camp for a day to film a few scenes for a major motion picture just two weeks before the fight, instead of heading to Johannesburg. In fact, he didn't arrive in South Africa until nearly a week before the fight, hardly giving himself a chance to adjust to the mile-high altitude. His suspect conditioning was finally revealed at the weigh-in, where he scaled a career-high 253 pounds, and looked anything but trim and fit. It was his highest weight since his loss to Oliver McCall.
In the days before the Lewis-Rahman showdown, an aura of inevitability had set in, and whisperings of another Tyson-Douglas began. As such, it was only mildly shocking when, in the fifth round, Hasim Rahman nailed Lewis with a perfect right hand and became the heavyweight champion of the world 10 seconds later. It was one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight championship history, yet it seemed almost predictable.
To accommodate American television audiences, Lewis and Rahman stepped into the ring just before dawn, South Africa time. For most of the five rounds, both men fought as though they had just been coaxed out of bed. Lewis' jab, which was expected to be more than enough to handle Rahman, lazily pushed out at Hasim's face in the opening round. As such, Rahman was encouraged to throw his own jab, an awkward stick that usually left Rahman leaning over with his face perpendicular to his opponent. Lewis tried to nail the open target, but his overhand rights sailed over Rahman's head. The challenger answered with a clean counter right of his own near the end of the opening round... a sign of things to come.
Lewis eked out a 10-9 on our card, and began the second frame with more intensity. Early in the round, one of Lewis' rare overhand rights caught Rahman on the left ear. Lennox followed up by stepping into his jab and adding two more stiff shots to Rahman's scar-tissue riddled face. Encouraged by his success, Lewis began putting a little more power into his range-finder. Twice more he snapped Rahman's head back with heavy jabs, but the effort looked like it was sapping Lewis of his energy. Before the second round was over, Lewis mouth was already hanging open, and he sucked in an exaggerated gulp of air a few seconds after the bell ended the round.
Even though Lewis looked out of shape (his kidney protector only seemed to push up his love handles and make him appear downright chubby), he also banked the third round with his best shots of the night. Rahman repeatedly stepped into Lewis' jab, but a few times the champion changed it up and let Rahman walk right into his uppercut. Lewis tagged Rahman good with this punch early in the round, and nailed him with an even better left uppercut a few seconds later. But after every single punch was a lazy, awkward clinch. During these clinches, Rahman repeatedly slammed Lewis' side with his fists. He began this tactic a round earlier, but in the third he scored his only significant punches this way. It was a reasonable strategy, but Rahman was falling behind. Lewis' jab had already started a swelling under Rahman's eye, and a big Lewis left hook to the body at the bell punctuated a round in which Lewis was easily in control.
Rahman began turning the tide in the fourth round. After Lennox pushed Rahman back into the ropes with a heavy quadruple jab that momentarily stunned the challenger, Rahman let his hands go. Although he landed no significant blows in his flurry, he was able to back off a passive Lewis with his punches. Lewis finally stopped Rahman's momentary assault with another uppercut... but then his strength seemed to sap away. Rahman countered a lazy Lewis jab with a stinging right counter one minute into the fourth. For the next minute, neither man threw a significant punch. Lewis followed Rahman around the ring, twice trapping him in a corner... but never threw any punches. The minute of stalemate ended with another Rahman right, his best punch so far. Lewis shook off the cracking shot, but was slowing noticeably. The champion continued to breath through an open mouth, and he looked tired and dull. Not that Rahman was offering much in return. In fact, both men looked like they were moving in slow motion. This was not a heavyweight battle for the ages.
But in the fifth round, Lewis looked even slower... and before the round was over he had lost his crown. Rahman spent most of the fifth in retreat. The challenger was constantly backing away from Lewis' left, and the champion gladly gave chase without throwing any punches. Halfway through the round, Rahman stopped his retreat, planted his feet, and swiped Lewis' chin with a firm right cross. Lennox smiled at Rahman, but he did not throw back. Satisfied with his shot, Rahman again went into retreat mode, and again Lewis followed.
But about 20 seconds later, Rahman fired a triple jab and Lewis backed into the ropes to avoid the small flurry. After the third jab, Lewis again smiled, as though he were amused by Rahman's ability to make him flinch with non-lethal punches. As he grinned, Lewis lamely held up both arms in front of him in a lackadaisical defense. Rahman pounced on Lewis' casual stance and slammed him right on the mouth with another right cross.
The punch swiveled Lewis' head and dropped the champion in a flash. Lewis fell straight back and lay flat on the canvas, his arms stretched up over his head. He was hurt. He may have been out. Referee Daniel Van de Wiele stood over Lewis and began a count. At four, a disoriented Lewis tried to lift up his arms and head. At eight he began rolling over to all fours. By ten he had gotten no further, and Hasim Rahman became the new WBC and IBF heavyweight champion of the world. Rahman KO5.
It was a stunning upset, yet the shock was tempered by the story of Lewis' preparation. Still, Lewis offered no excuses post-fight. He claimed that he was in solid shape, that he felt good in the ring, and gave Rahman full credit. For his part the new heavyweight champion was ecstatic. And he should be... he now has his choice of big-money fights.
While Rahman (now 35-2/29) will no doubt earn a sweet paycheck for the contracted rematch with Lewis, he will likely fight at least one optional defense first. Rahman has no shortage of opponents. He could rematch with either of the men who beat him. Oleg Maskaev has been knocked out twice in a row and may be ripe for some Rahman vengeance. David Tua will soon be Rahman's IBF mandatory. And big money also rests with Rahman's new WBC mandatory, Mike Tyson. In fact, Rahman's biggest challenge will be trying to keep both of his belts intact. His team may not have the clout to hold off two sanctioning bodies with different agendas. But it doesn't matter if one or both strip him. For now, he is the linear, and most would say undisputed, heavyweight champion of the world.
For Lewis (who drops to 38-2-1/29), his plans are now up in the air. Of course, he'll seek the rematch with Rahman. Assuming this brutal KO didn't take something out of him, he would probably still be the favorite in a return match. But the luster of a Tyson showdown is gone. Not until Lewis regains his titles (or Tyson beats him to it) will that showdown be worth the $100 million in combined purses that was talked about before this fateful night. And Lewis may, believe it or not, retire. He's banked plenty of cash in his career, and his lack of focus for this bout suggests that boxing may no longer be his biggest priority. Only time will tell.
On a side note, an apology to all who came to Boxing Chronicle last week in search of a Hopkins-Holmes recap. As you know, Bernard Hopkins won every round in a genuine stinker of a fight against overwhelmed Keith Holmes. The only significant development of the night, aside from Hopkins advancing to the finals of the middleweight tournament and adding the WBC belt to his collection, was Bernard's inability to control his low blows. Hopkins uses these tactics because he can get away with them. Neither referee Steve Smoger (who threatened DQ a few times too many) nor Holmes, could stop Hopkins' tactics. We guarantee that if Felix Trinidad meets Hopkins next, the low blows will stop. If Hopkins hits Tito on the hip, Trinidad will nail him right in the jewels. But let's hope that Hopkins, and his eventual opponent, keep it clean. We want a fight that is worthy of our attention... and Hopkins-Holmes was not.
ROUND 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 TOTAL LEWIS 10 10 10 9
RAHMAN 9 9 9 10 KO
© 2001 Chris Bushnell. All rights reserved.