James J. Braddock W15 Max Baer
Cassius Clay WRTD7 Sonny Liston
Leon Spinks W15 Muhammad Ali
James Douglas KO10 Mike Tyson
Hasim Rahman KO5 Lennox Lewis
Listed above are arguably the five biggest upsets in world heavyweight title fight history. The Tokyo stunner pulled off by Douglas in 1990 is the biggest of the big five, no doubt, yet what 20-1 underdog Hasim Raham did on this day 19 years ago dropped many jaws.
Defending heavyweight king Lennox Lewis was making the tenth defence of his WBC title (he was also the IBF boss) and he was widely expected to have too much in every department for Rahman. “The Rock” was 34-2 and he had been stopped by David Tua (who Lewis had recently decisioned handily) and Oleg Maskaev. Lewis had lost one time, to another big underdog in Oliver McCall back in 1994, yet that loss was widely considered to have been a mere fluke.
Now having worked with the great Emanuel Steward for years, Lewis was pretty much at his peak. However, his preparations ahead of the Rahman fight left much to be desired. A superstar, Lewis wanted to try his hand at acting. So, instead of arriving in South Africa in time to sufficiently acclimate to the altitude, the 35 year old stayed in Las Vegas so he could appear in the movie ‘Ocean’s 11.’ Big mistake, The hungry and determined Rahman, aged 28, arrived in South Africa on March 27th, Lewis didn’t show up until April 10th.
Billed “Thunder In Africa,” the Rahman-Lewis fight was to be watched by Nelson Mandela, Lewis set to meet the great man after the fight he was sure he would win.
Lewis wanted a quick win and he looked to throw his big right hand, neglecting his fine left jab. Rahman lost the early rounds but he was closing in on Lewis as the champ grew tired. His mouth soon dropping open and his arms dropping down, Lewis was clearly feeling the heat, the pace and he was feeling the effects of the altitude; Brakpan in South Africa being 5,200 feet above sea level.
And in the fifth round it happened. Lewis, retreating to a corner, his hands down, an odd grin on his face, was cracked by a sweet right cross to the jaw and down he went like a felled horse. Lewis tried to get up but he was gone. Rahman was already celebrating. It was stunning. Lewis literally did not seem to know what had hit him. “I can’t believe that,” he said, still dazed. “I was winning comfortably.”
He wasn’t. And Rahman capitalized on a great champion’s poor conditioning (Lewis was a hefty 253 pounds for the fight, at this time his career heaviest). There was a rematch clause in the contract and, after a memorable brawl in a TV studio, the two met again that November. The rest is history.
But for one shining night in April of 2001, Hasim “Rock” Rahman was the king of the heavyweight division. Even now, as per a recent interview Rahman gave with The Independent, the former champ who ruled for just seven months has a special feeling inside when he thinks back to that night when he was able to say he was “The Baddest Man On The Planet.”