Updated: Feb 26, 2020
In Brakpan, South Africa on April 22nd 2001, Lennox Lewis and Hasim Rahman met in the ring for the WBC, IBF, IBO & Lineal Heavyweight titles. On the night they were ‘champion’ and ‘challenger’ but in reality, they were two men living in two very different worlds.
Lewis was a bonified worldwide superstar, recognised as the most dominant heavyweight in the world and had already successfully defended his titles three times. He was filming cameo roles in some of the biggest movies in Hollywood, all while negotiating for a fight with Mike Tyson which at the time, was the most anticipated fight on the planet. Hasim Rahman, on the other hand, was a perennial heavyweight contender from the streets of Baltimore who had been stopped twice in thirty-six fights and was entering his first fight for a world title.
What happened next would go down in boxing history…….
After four close rounds, both fighters entered the fifth and it looked like Lewis may be about to close the show as he stalked the cautious Rahman around the ring. But with less than a minute remaining of the round, Hasim Rahman detonated a right hand that rocked Lennox Lewis to his core and sent him sprawling to the canvas – Lennox Lewis was knocked out. That right hand Hasim Rahman threw in round five, changed his life. That right hand changed boxing history. That right hand that set up one of the biggest rematches, of all time.
Following the fight, Hasim Rahman became an overnight superstar. He would eventually sign a $5 million contract with influential (and controversial) promoter Don King amidst rumours that broadcasting giants Showtime had offered the Baltimore native $20 million to sign with them and fight their flag ship star, Mike Tyson. The promises of lucrative fights with other boxers never materialised however, due to the fact that Lennox Lewis had smartly installed a “rematch clause” into the contract of the first fight.
The two men would meet again and the date was set for November 17th 2001 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The build up to the fight caught the imagination of the world and the build-up turned personal. TV appearances, radio interviews and press releases from both men were frequent…and nasty.
Slurs from Rahman about Lewis’ sexuality almost led to a physical fight live on television with both men being separated by the onset security team. Tensions were rising and the world was waiting.
Repeat or Revenge?
The two heavyweights landed on the Las Vegas strip and almost six months to the day of the first fight, Lennox Lewis was out to claim what he believed was rightfully his and Hasim Rahman was ready to take Lennox Lewis out, once and for all.
Despite all the trash talk, the rematch was a fairly one-sided affair. Lennox Lewis looked like the man that people had expected to turn up six months earlier. He was sharp, focused and dominant and from the opening bell he dominated Hasim Rahman with his famous left jab. Lewis won the first three rounds convincingly and during the fourth round he connected with a very crisp combination, that sent Hasim Rahman to the floor.
As Hasim Rahman lay on his back, arms stretched, he gazed vacantly at the ceiling of the Mandalay Bay Casino before bravely trying to get to his feet at the count of seven. He managed to get back to his feet eventually but only temporary and he stumbled to the canvas again and fell to his knees in Lennox Lewis’ corner. Referee Joe Cortez had seen enough and rightly waved the fight off in the fourth round.
The cornermen of Lennox Lewis, which included hall of fame trainer Emmanuel Steward, leapt into the ring and congratulated their man who had reclaimed his titles in spectacular fashion. Lewis looked relieved and paraded his belts around the ring as his foe sat dejected in his corner as he came to the realisation that his short reign as the heavyweight champion of the world, was over.
In the aftermath of the fights between Lennox Lewis and Hasim Rahman, the two took very contrasting paths. After losing to Lewis in 2001, Hasim Rahman did not win another fight until the spring of 2004. Defeats to Evander Holyfield and John Ruiz either side of a draw with David Tua derailed the former champion, before he picked up a win against Alfred Cole.
Rahman briefly enjoyed some success following his win over Cole and held another version of a world title in 2005 before losing it just a year later against Oleg Maskaev. Sadly, Rahman continued to fight until 2014 and at the age of 42 his career came to an end in Auckland, New Zealand when he dropped a decision against little known Anthony Nansen and called time on his career. Rahman reached the top of the mountain, but like many boxers he didn’t know how to leave the sport on his own terms and retired a world away from the level he once reached.
Lewis would go on to fight Mike Tyson in 2002, in what was one of the highest grossing fights of all time, before defeating Vitali Klitschko in 2004. Lewis retired on the back of his fight against Klitschko and bowed out of the game on top. He retired as a champion with a record 41-2-1 (32KO) and went on to be a respected analyst on television. Lewis is still viewed by many, as one of the best heavyweights of all time.
Lennox Lewis and Hasim Rahman were two very different men. Different styles, different personalities, different values, but they were bound together by the power of boxing and this sport will always love an underdog and in the same breath, it will always love a champion who redeems himself. Lewis and Rahman gave us both of them things and the two nights in Brakpan and Las Vegas will always have a place in boxing history.