7. Hasim Rahman KO 5 Lennox Lewis I – April 22, 2001, Carnival City, Johannesburg, South Africa
Rahman-Lewis I was one for the geography books as well as for the history books. The lead-up to the first heavyweight title fight staged in Africa since Ali versus Foreman had some wondering if shades of Tokyo – a reference to another huge upset in Douglas-Tyson – were unfolding. Like Tyson, Lewis was enjoying the trappings of being champion; in fact, on April 5 and 6 Lewis filmed a scene for “Oceans 11” with potential opponent Wladimir Klitschko before flying to Johannesburg. Lewis then shocked observers by stepping on a scale fully clothed and weighing a whopping 268. The prohibitive odds in Lewis’ favor briefly slipped to 7-to-1, but climbed back to 15-to-1 once he scaled a more reasonable 253 1/2 at the official weigh-in.
Meanwhile, like Ali in Zaire, Rahman made wise use of his time and like Douglas in Tokyo he was supremely focused on his task. He arrived on-site several weeks early to acclimate himself to the 5,700-foot altitude and spent some of his spare time connecting with the local populace. By fight night Rahman’s charm offensive paid off as many in the crowd were vocally in his corner.
Rahman won the first round by jabbing with the jabber, a viable plan given that Rahman’s 82-inch reach was just two inches shorter than Lewis’. But the champion rebounded well in rounds two, three and four by finding the range with his jab, connecting with several strong crosses and thumping the body with both hands, a relatively new wrinkle for Lewis.
However, there were signs that Lewis wasn’t entirely on his game. By round two his mouth was hanging open and his guard slowly but steadily descended below chest level. Still, Lennox was ahead 39-37 on all three scorecards after four rounds and Rahman was having difficulty seeing out of his left eye, which was cut in round four due to an accidental butt.
Halfway through the fifth Rahman reared back and landed a solid right that caused Lewis to blink. That reaction planted a seed in Rahman’s mind and with 47 seconds remaining the challenger acted on it. A series of light jabs forced Lewis to retreat toward the ropes. Once there, Lewis stepped forward, then decided to remain near the strands. Once Lewis pivoted left he started to shift right, but he did so directly in the path of a thunderbolt right that cracked off his chin.
Lewis’ body crashed to the floor with a sonorous thud and as referee Daniel Van de Wiele tolled the count his buzzing brain desperately tried to command his stricken body. Unfortunately for Lewis, Rahman’s right had jammed all the signals and he couldn’t rise by Van de Wiele’s count of 10.
With startling suddenness and dramatic flair, a massive underdog became the lineal heavyweight champion of the world. As far as Lewis’ fate, HBO’s Larry Merchant put it best when he declared the fight “The Crumble in the Jungle” in which Lewis had “just drowned in Oceans 11.”