Favorite does NOT mean easy win
Lennox Lewis dominated the heavyweight division around this time. He held the WBC and IBF Heavyweight belts. Lewis’ last loss came in 1994 by way of an Oliver McCall knockout. He wanted to stretch his winning streak to seven years against 28-year-old Hasim Rahman. Lewis was favored 20-1 and stayed in Vegas to train as he filmed cameo appearances in Ocean’s 11. The title fight, billed as “Thunder in Africa”, took place in Carnival City, South Africa. Rahman arrived March 10th as Lewis arrived two weeks before the fight, weighing the heaviest in his career. However, the altitude in South Africa (over 5,200 feet above sea level) played an integral role in the fight.
The first round started cagey with Rahman pumping out jabs to the body. Lewis didn’t use his jab as much as usual but did enough to compete in the round. The action picked up more as the fight progressed. Lewis started to catch Rahman with uppercuts under Rahman’s jab. By the third round, however, Lewis showed how the altitude adversely affected his stamina. He took heavy breaths with a wide open mouth. Rahman kept getting caught but ate punches that did not carry much zip to them. The fifth round began just like the other four, stiff jabs landing for both guys. Lewis’ fatigue became apparent but carried on arrogantly as he smiled at Rahman landing a jab. Rahman caught Lewis flush with a perfect right cross to put him down for the count. Lewis’ hands were dropping as the fight wore on, setting up a perfect target for Rahman. Lewis could not beat the count. Rahman left south Africa with the WBC and IBF Heavyweight belts.
Ring Magazine named Rahman’s victory as Knockout of the Year and Upset of the Year. After turning down multiple deals with Showtime and HBO, Rahman took the rematch with Lewis seven months after the fight. Lewis took Rahman to court to enforce his contractual rematch clause. Both guys brawled on ESPN before the fight over Rahman’s comments about Lewis taking him to court. Rahman’s championship reign didn’t last long as Lewis knocked him out in the fourth round.