20 Years Ago Today: Rahman-Lewis – When A Champ Went Down Smiling

Has any other world heavyweight king lost his crown with a smile on his face? It was 20 years ago today when 20/1 underdog Hasim Rahman wiped the smile off defending heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis’s face. “Rock” Rahman, given no chance by almost all the experts and given almost no respect from Lewis – who famously arrived in South Africa just 12 days ahead of the fight, spending his time filming his short scenes in the movie ‘Ocean’s 11,’ when he should have been acclimatizing to the altitude in South Africa – shocked the world.

In fact, it could be argued that aside from the jaw-dropper Buster Douglas unleashed on the world in Tokyo, Japan, in 1990, Rahman gave us the biggest heavyweight upset of recent decades. Lewis was on top of the world, almost running out of worthy challengers. Rahman was a hungry guy with a lot to prove.

Rahman came in as ready as he’d ever been, if not more so – his body in the best possible shape. Lewis came in at a then career-heaviest weight. By round-three, Lewis was open-mouthed and seemingly out of ideas. Still, Rahman had never hurt the champ; he was behind on the cards, and Lewis would surely go on to get the win. Surely.

But in the fifth, his gas tank empty, his hands hopelessly and invitingly low, Lewis was bombed out by a stunning right cross. Lewis, backed into a corner, smiled as the shot was unleashed. The defending heavyweight champion had no response other than his dazed, dopey smile, and the crushing blow landed flush on his jaw. Lewis went down like a felled horse, his legs, his equilibrium, his title gone.

Rahman was now the man smiling; only his smile was genuine.

As things turned out, Lewis proved to be the man who had the last laugh; Lennox savagely avenging his KO loss with a shotgun KO of his own in the immediate rematch in Las Vegas. But for now, Hasim “Rock” Rahman was the main man at heavyweight. Rahman may have got lucky, Lewis may have trained dumb, but once again, we were all shown, in graphic detail, how no man can ever be overlooked if he’s a heavyweight puncher.

Lennox Lewis lost just two fights in his entire pro career. It could be argued how he could’ve/would’ve/should’ve avoided both losses if only he’d done his work like a champ before entering the ring.