Upsets can happen in the world of boxing, any fighter can land a punch that knocks the other out. That's just the game. But sometimes, there are massive upsets that you never saw coming. Just like when Lennox Lewis was knocked out by Hasim Rahman in South Africa. In our first instalment of 'Boxing's Biggest Upsets', let's take a look at what happened in 2001.
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Remember in 2001 Lennox Lewis was the heavyweight king. He was the WBC, IBF, IBO and Lineal Heavyweight Champion of the World, he looked unstoppable. He had beaten the likes of Oliver McCall, Tommy Morrison, Francois Botha, David Tua and Evander Holyfield. It didn’t look like anyone could match the London-born fighter for punching power and stamina.
He became the undisputed heavyweight champion when he defeated Holyfield in their second encounter. The first one ended in a draw, denying Lewis the chance to hold all the gold. He made no mistake in the second bout at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada as won the contest by unanimous decision with the judges ruling it 115-113, 116-112 and 117-111 in his favour to take add the WBA, IBF and IBO titles to his collection.
After beating Holyfield, he successfully defended his title on three occasions against Michael Grant, Francois Botha and David Tua. He disposed of both Grant and Botha in the second round at Madison Square Garden and London Arena respectively, while he needed a unanimous points decision win over Tua at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
At this stage of his career, Lewis wanted to fight just one man and that man was Mike Tyson. Lewis had hoped to fight ‘Iron Mike’ in the summer of 2001, but Tyson was handed a three-month suspension for failing a drugs test and that fight was off the table.
Instead of facing ‘The Baddest Man On The Planet’, Lewis turned his attention to American Hasim Rahman – who a lot of people had never heard of before. Before this fight, Rahman had fought 36 times with a 34-2 record. He had been fighting professionally since 1994, but he had never fought anyone of note. His biggest named opponent before Lewis was Trevor Berbick.
This fight was scheduled to take place on April 22, 2001 at the Carnival City Casino in Brakpan, South Africa and was billed as the ‘Thunder in Africa’. Rahman was the 20/1 underdog for this contest with everyone expecting Lewis to get rid of him early.
Looking back, it looks like Rahman was more prepared for this fight than Lewis was. He arrived in South Africa on March 27 to give his body time to adjust to the high altitude seeing as Brakpan is 5,200 feet above sea level, while Lewis only arrived in the country on April 10.
The opening four rounds of the bout were nothing special, Lewis looked in full control and was ahead on all three judges score cards heading into the fifth round.
In the fifth, Lewis prowled around the ring just stalking Rahman with everyone expecting the British champion to end the contest sharply. Well, it did come to and but not in the way everyone expected. Rahman soaked up a few punches before using his jab to keep Lewis at bay. The champion then dropped his gloves for a second and Rahman seized his opportunity, he hit Lewis with a strong right hand that sent the champ dropping to the mat. Lewis could not get back to his feet in time and Hasim Rahman was the new heavyweight champion of the world.
This unknown fighter from Baltimore, Maryland had just beaten the great Lennox Lewis. He became a global sensation overnight as he signed a deal with boxing promoter Don King. Lewis wanted his rematch, while Tyson was still in the mix, but Rahman opted to fight Brian Nielsen in his first defence.
That fight eventually fell through, meaning that Lewis was handed his rematch after taking it to court that he should have first crack at Rahman due to a clause in the first contract. The rematch took place in Las Vegas – Lewis didn’t want to fight at altitude again – and he regained his titles with an improved showing.
He looked focused for this fight and again dominated the opening round and he opened up a cut on Rahman’s face in the first round. Lewis ended the rematch in the fourth round when he hit Rahman with a left-right combination that sent him crashing to the canvas. Rahman tried to get back to his fight, but he fell back down to the mat at the count of nine, forcing the referee to call it off and declare Lewis the new heavyweight champion once again.