“I’ll wear a helmet next time,” Hasim Rahman, hideously disfigured after his controversial loss to Evander Holyfield.
18 years ago today, two former heavyweight champions were fighting each other in an elimination bout that would, on paper, see the winner fight the winner of the upcoming Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson fight. Evander Holyfield, coming off a loss and a draw to John Ruiz, met Hasim Rahman, who was coming off a win and a loss to Lewis. What fans got on the night of June 1, 2002, proved to be quite the X-rated affair.
Holyfield, already hearing calls for his retirement – “The Real Deal” having looked pretty bad in his trilogy with Ruiz – had been through it all. Too many wars to keep track of, a heart attack in mid-ring, a hugely controversial draw, “The Bite Fight,” the “Fan Man” episode. You name it, Holyfield had fought though it. But there was more controversy, more wholly unexpected drama to come.
Rahman, who shocked the world with his win over Lewis but was then poleaxed in the return, was younger, fresher and in some eyes the favorite to beat Holyfield (who was 39 to his 29). But things did not go to plan. At all.
Holyfield, looking good in the early rounds, firing out quality shots and outworking Rahman, was perhaps on his way to upsetting the odds one more time. It was a close fight, no doubt, but the older man was just about in charge. Then, in round number-seven, Holyfield’s shaven dome collided with Rahman’s skull and a massive – as in really massive – hematoma developed on Rahman’s forehead. It was a sight to behold, the sickening injury something you could neither look at nor divert your eyes from. It was like something out of a horror film.
In previous fights, there had been complaints (most famously and aggressively from Mike Tyson) that insisted Holyfield’s head was in fact a “third glove,” a weapon, one he intentionally used if things were not going his way in a fight. Holyfield remains adamant that the Rahman butt, and any other that occurred during his career, was totally unintentional.
Rahman tried to fight on, yet cutting an Elephant Man image as he was, it was no use. The fight was stopped mid-way through the eighth. Holyfield was ahead on two of the three cards and got the TD victory. The image of Rahman’s “extra head” was everywhere.
There was no rematch. Holyfield had beaten Rahman, in so doing scoring a win over a top contender. Yet Rahman was far from alone when he said Holyfield had in no way won a fair fight. Holyfield had certainly used used his head to get the win!
Even now, all these years later, plenty of people are unable to shake that gruesome image of Rahman from their minds.