Hasim Rahman flattened Lennox Lewis with a stunning right hand near the end of the fifth round to capture the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation heavyweight titles today in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history.
The 28-year-old fighter from Baltimore chased the champion across the ring and, with Lewis smiling at him, unleashed a right cross that caught Lewis flush on the jaw and sent him sprawling to the canvas.
Rahman was dancing around the ring before Belgian referee Daniel van der Wiele went halfway through the count.
Lewis was unable to get up and, at 2:32 of the fifth round, the world of boxing had a new, totally unexpected heavyweight champion.
The signs that an upset was in the cards came early, when Rah- man (35-2) clipped Lewis on the chin in the second round.
Lewis seemed intent on ignoring his left jab, and instead concentrated on throwing big right hands.
In the third round, Lewis landed a left followed by a left-right combination, but Rahman responded with a big right hand of his own.
“I kept my prayers going and did all my training. And I came up with one punch. One punch,” Rahman said. “I told you all I was confident. Not one time since the fight was made was I nervous. He came out and tried to dictate the pace but I wouldn’t let him.”
Lewis (38-2-1) had Rahman in trouble early in the fourth but was rocked by a left hook and hundreds among the 5,500 in the crowd at Carnival City Casino began chanting “Hasim! Hasim!”
Lewis’ stamina was questioned because he arrived in Johannesburg only two weeks before the fight, with little time to get used to the 5,200-foot altitude. That showed in the fifth round as he clearly began breathing heavily and the end came quickly.
Rahman, throwing punches on the run, had Lewis backpedaling and, although the champion grinned defiantly, the challenger ended the fight with a spectacular knockout punch.
“I can’t believe that, I just can’t believe it,” Lewis said. “I felt fine in there. I was going about my work nice and comfortably and there was no way Hasim Rahman could beat me.
“This is just what happens in heavyweight boxing. He hit me with a good shot. That’s the situation when you get two big guys in there with right hands. He just threw a big right hand and caught me right on the chin.”
The 35-year-old champion was taking part in his 15th world title fight and had been unbeaten for more than 6 1/2 years since being knocked out in two rounds by Oliver McCall in London on Sept. 24, 1994, when a right hand also floored Lewis.
He fought Evander Holyfield twice, scoring a draw and a decision victory, and had been hoping for a $100-million showdown with Mike Tyson.
That fight had been put on hold because of a clash of TV contracts--Lewis is with HBO, Tyson with Showtime--and now may never happen after Lewis’ stunning upset loss.
“No Lewis-Tyson! No Lewis-Tyson!” Rahman yelled in the ring after the fight.
Not long after the fight started at about 5:30 a.m.--the predawn local time put the fight on U.S. TV Saturday night--there were signs that an upset was in the cards, with Rahman (35-2) clipping Lewis on the chin in the second round.
While Rahman had been in South Africa for about a month to prepare for his title shot, Lewis was there only half as long after taking time off to film the remake of “Ocean’s Eleven” in Las Vegas with Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
Lewis has a rematch clause in his contract.
“I definitely want the rematch,” he said. “Hasim Rahman is the champ today. The second time around Hasim Rahman is going to go.”