Lennox Lewis is considered by many to be one of the greatest heavyweight boxers in history. But even the greatest fighters can get caught on any given night. Just ask Mike Tyson about Buster Douglas. And speaking of Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis might have been thinking too much about a dream fight with Iron Mike when he stepped into the ring with Hasim Rahman in April 2001. And he certainly paid for it as Rahman pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the history of the heavyweight division that night in South Africa by knocking out Lewis to become the heavyweight champion of the world.
The build to Hasim Rahman vs. Lennox Lewis I
With the heavyweight division being absolutely stacked in the 1990s and early 2000s, Hasim Rahman was one of those guys that was often overlooked. He was seen as a good fighter but was really never put into that “great” category. Rahman had won some lower-level heavyweight titles in the 1990s but really hadn’t fought many big names until he met up with David Tua for the first time in 1998, a bout he lost via 10th-round TKO, which was the first loss of his career.
He took another loss less than a year later to Oleg Maskaev, a brutal knockout defeat that took him out of the top 10 in the heavyweight rankings. But he then reeled off three straight wins over the next nine months and received a shot at WBC, IBF, and IBO heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis.
Coming into the fight with Hasim Rahman, Lewis hadn’t lost a fight in more than six years, the only non-victory in that time being a draw with Evander Holyfield in the first of their two amazing battles. He’d defeated Michael Grant, Francois Botha, and David Tua in 2000 and seemed to be on a collision course with Mike Tyson. But he first signed to fight Rahman in April 2001, which most just saw as a tuneup fight before his dream date with Iron Mike. But things certainly didn’t go the way anyone thought they would.
Hasim Rahman shocked the world to become heavyweight champion
Hasim Rahman came into the fight with Lennox Lewis as a 20-1 underdog but surprised everyone by winning the first round of the fight. Lewis came back strong in the second and third rounds, winning both, but Rahman came out very aggressive in the fourth round, throwing 60 punches to Lewis’ 33, although Lewis still won the round as both connected on 20.
Lennox Lewis began the fifth round essentially stalking Hasim Rahman and it appeared as if he was trying to set up a big knockout of the challenger. But Rahman avoided the big shots from Lewis and turned the tables on the bigger champion. With about 45 seconds remaining in the round, Rahman threw five straight left jabs to send Lewis into the ropes and then connected with a monstrous right hand that sent the champion to the canvas. 10 seconds later, Hasim Rahman was the heavyweight champion of the world.
Lennox Lewis won the rematch seven months later with a knockout of his own
Following the upset, Hasim Rahman signed a big-money deal with Don King and actually tried to avoid a rematch with Lennox Lewis, who’d invoked his rematch clause. The matter went to court, which sided with Lewis, and the two met again on November 17, 2001, in Las Vegas.
Lewis looked much better in the second fight and dominated the bout. He opened up a cut under Rahman’s eye in the first round and cruised from there. Lewis easily won the first three rounds and then landed a vicious left-right combo in the fourth to send Rahman to the mat. The champ got to his feet for a brief moment but then collapsed back to the canvas, giving Lennox Lewis his revenge win.
Lewis finally got his match with Mike Tyson the following summer while Rahman next fought Evander Holyfield. Rahman regained the WBC title in 2005.