HASIM RAH­MAN

Hasim Rah­man once knocked out Len­nox Lewis in one of the big­gest up­sets in box­ing his­tory. Rah­man al­ways knew it was com­ing, as Chris Walker dis­cov­ers

Boxing News - - CONTENTS -

We catch up with the man who scored one of the big­gest up­sets in his­tory

WHEN YOU SAY ALI, FORE­MAN AND TYSON YOU HAVE TO SAY MY NAME. I’M PART OF THAT LIN­EAGE”

TO­DAY, Hasim Rah­man is clos­ing in on his 45th birth­day in Los An­ge­les. He’s work­ing with the Back­street Boys. What that work in­volves ex­actly, he doesn’t want to say. Per­haps the eter­nal fighter, like the ev­er­green boy band, is seek­ing fame again. Ex­actly 17 years ago, while at the peak of his box­ing ca­reer, Rah­man was en­joy­ing su­per­sonic fame. World heavy­weight cham­pion fame. He was pre­par­ing to take on Len­nox Lewis in a re­match. In their first fight, Rah­man’s first real shot at star­dom, Lewis was knocked out in a stun­ning up­set in South Africa. Life was never quite the same for “The Rock” af­ter that.

Be­fore his African odyssey, Rah­man – de­spite what he now tells Box­ing News – was not ex­pected to win sport’s big­gest in­di­vid­ual prize. Rah­man teetered in the back­ground, mak­ing just enough noise to be taken se­ri­ously. Out­side of his small cir­cle, not many ob­servers be­lieved in him.

Rah­man was a late starter with min­i­mal am­a­teur ex­pe­ri­ence, but a fear­some street rep­u­ta­tion had in­stilled a con­fi­dence that re­mains no­tice­able to­day. A sur­vivor of mul­ti­ple shoot­ings, Rah­man felt in­vin­ci­ble when turn­ing pro­fes­sional in 1994 on a show head­lined by Rid­dick Bowe, a fig­ure he be­lieved he could em­u­late. Bowe, by then in de­cline, out­pointed Larry Don­ald sev­eral hours af­ter Rah­man opened the show by wip­ing out Gre­gory Har­ring­ton in 95 sec­onds. The fight­ing smarts that had been as­cribed to Rah­man in Mary­land ghet­tos were the tools he took into the ring with him.

“I had no Olympic medals to take to pro­mot­ers. All I had was me, but I be­lieved that was enough to take me far enough,” re­flects Rah­man. Armed with re­spectable power and a wealth of en­thu­si­asm, Rah­man’s as­cent through the heavy­weight rank­ings was steady rather than stun­ning. Although he elicited nods of ap­proval at the dis­tance he had trav­elled in such a short time, sea­soned pun­dits were not en­cour­aged to la­bel Hasim Rah­man a fu­ture king.

Ross Pur­rity and the shad­ows of Trevor Ber­bick took him 10 rounds to pro­vide valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence. In No­vem­ber 1997, fringe con­tender Obed Sul­li­van lasted 12 to fur­ther fat­ten Rah­man’s ledger. A year later, how­ever, the danger­ous New Zealan­der, David Tua pro­vided a cruel awak­en­ing in an IBF elim­i­na­tor. Rah­man per­formed ad­mirably for large por­tions of the con­test be­fore Tua rat­tled Rah­man with a trade­mark left hook that ap­peared to land af­ter the bell sounded to end the ninth. The full minute’s rest was not enough, and he was stopped on his feet sec­onds into the next ses­sion.

“To me, that fight is not even a loss,” in­sists Rah­man. “You saw what hap­pened. That punch landed af­ter the bell and the ref­eree would not dis­qual­ify him. Watch me in that fight and you see what I’m all about. My jab, my tim­ing, the way I was mak­ing him miss. The only way David Tua could land on me that night was by be­ing dirty and throw­ing a punch af­ter the bell had gone to end the round. What chance did I have when I had taken a clean punch off a puncher like Tua? That fight means noth­ing to me. It may say I lost and that Tua won, but all it did was de­lay my chance to be­come heavy­weight cham­pion of the world. I should’ve got that belt a few years sooner.”

This Rah­man ex­cuse can be af­forded a level of tol­er­ance and un­der­stand­ing, but bit­ter­ness be­comes a con­tin­u­ous theme as we dis­cuss his jour­ney from way­ward teenager to heavy­weight cham­pion.

PEO­PLE FEEL THE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THE REA­SONS WHY LEWIS LOST RATHER THAN WHY I WON”

Eleven months af­ter the Tua con­tro­versy, Rah­man tasted de­feat again, this time against Rus­sia’s Oleg Maskaev on a heavy­weight ex­trav­a­ganza show that served as a show­case for a clus­ter of big men such as Mau­rice Har­ris, Der­rick Jef­fer­son and Eric Kirk­land. A right hand from Maskaev forced the ex­hausted Rah­man to fall be­tween the ropes and for HBO com­men­ta­tor Jim Lam­p­ley to fran­ti­cally yelp, “He’s on the floor next to me!” Rah­man’s quest for redemp­tion hit a road­block as his once-ris­ing stock fell to an all-time low.

“That’s an­other fight I don’t re­ally ac­cept as a loss,” echoes Rah­man. “I’d taken a look at his record in the build-up and thought noth­ing much of it. He was an or­di­nary fighter who had lost to an old man in Oliver Mccall, so there’s no way he was go­ing to beat Hasim Rah­man. No real train­ing took place for that fight be­cause I was just go­ing to get in there and do what I wanted to him, but it was an­other les­son learnt for me and af­ter that I tried not to make those same mis­takes.”

Rah­man re­built again, show­ing off his new­found ed­u­ca­tion against the un­der­rated Cor­rie San­ders in 2000. The pair traded knock­downs dur­ing a seven-round clas­sic and the re­silience of Rah­man – an at­tribute miss­ing against Maskaev – was abun­dantly clear as he traded with the South African. Ref­eree Ed­die Cot­ton res­cued San­ders in the sev­enth. Rah­man’s im­proved form at­tracted the at­ten­tion of then-heavy­weight ruler, Len­nox Lewis. The English­man’s long path to supremacy fi­nally con­cluded in 1999 when de­feat­ing Evan­der Holy­field in their re­match, and his po­si­tion was ce­mented fur­ther with vic­to­ries over Michael Grant, Frans Botha and Tua. Lewis was chas­ing a legacy-en­hanc­ing tus­sle against Mike Tyson but, with Mike Tyson-style chaos pre­vent­ing that bout from oc­cur­ring, Len­nox made do with Rah­man. The cham­pion’s team ac­cepted Nel­son Man­dela’s in­vi­ta­tion to stage the fight in Brak­pan, just out­side Jo­han­nes­burg. It was an un­likely op­por­tu­nity that Rah­man grabbed with a mon­strous right hand which re­moved Lewis’ senses and his heavy­weight ti­tle. “The Rock”, com­plete with scars that pro­vided sou­venirs of a trou­bled past, had over­come ev­ery set­back. He was cham­pion of the world. But, as with al­most ev­ery huge up­set, ex­cuses from the loser fol­lowed. With­out ques­tion, Lewis had not taken the fight se­ri­ously. On route to South Africa, Lewis stopped off in Las Ve­gas to shoot scenes for the re­make of Ocean’s 11. But while Rah­man is quick to of­fer ex­cuses for his own losses, he dis­misses those that may have played a part in his big­gest vic­tory.

“It was a shock to ev­ery­one, but I don’t want to hear that,” de­clares Rah­man. “He had all these ex­cuses about alti­tude [the fight was 5,200ft above sea level] and Ocean’s 11 but that was as good as Len­nox Lewis has ever been. Peo­ple feel the need to play down the rea­sons why he lost rather than why I won. I would’ve beaten Lewis straight af­ter the first Tua fight if Tua wouldn’t have sucker-punched me, and I’d have won the world ti­tle then, but I was pre­pared to wait.”

Rah­man be­came an overnight sen­sa­tion and the sub­ject of fe­ro­cious bid­ding wars be­tween HBO and Show­time. The pres­ence of Don King, the enig­matic show­man and a per­ma­nent fix­ture on the heavy­weight land­scape at that time, frus­trated the new cham­pion. But it was Lewis who held the most con­trol due to a re­match clause that had been in­serted into the con­tract for their first meet­ing. A se­ries of fights to in­flate Rah­man’s fi­nances were put on hold as he re­newed hos­til­i­ties with Lewis in No­vem­ber 2001. Re­venge was em­phat­i­cally served.

“I was over­con­fi­dent. It was a mis­take look­ing back,” ad­mits Rah­man when re­call­ing his fourth-round KO loss to Lewis. Ar­guably the most po­tent one-two in heavy­weight his­tory was all it took for Lewis to re­claim his crown. Rah­man lay mo­tion­less, his de­feat in­dis­putable. “The fight in Africa, the way we wres­tled in the [TV] stu­dio [two months] be­fore the re­match, I didn’t think he had the power or strength to do what he did to me. The plan for that fight was to al­ways come from be­hind. I be­lieved that Len­nox could have 11 rounds in the bank and all I had to do is walk out for the 12th and land one right hand. That was pretty much my strat­egy.”

One senses Rah­man would re­turn if given the chance. He pa­pers over the cracks of his ca­reer in a man­ner that sug­gests he would do any­thing to turn back the clock. But what he man­aged to do to Len­nox Lewis is a boast not many can share. Rah­man strug­gled for form af­ter los­ing to Lewis, as losses to Evan­der Holy­field and John Ruiz sand­wiched a draw with Tua in an­other re­match. But he would once again cap­ture a ti­tle in 2005 when his in­terim WBC belt (cap­tured when beat­ing Monte Bar­rett) was up­graded due to Vi­tali Kl­itschko’s first re­tire­ment. An en­ter­tain­ing draw with James Toney en­sured he re­tained the strap, but Maskaev stopped him once again when they re­newed hos­til­i­ties in 2006. Rah­man would con­tinue fight­ing for an­other eight years, but his ca­reer – like so many – went full cir­cle as he faded to such an ex­tent he could per­form in name only against Wladimir Kl­itschko (2008) and Alexan­der Povetkin (2012). A loss to An­thony Nansen, a five-fight novice, was the end for Rah­man as his gi­ant right hand waved good­bye. His record read 50-9-2 (41). “Ev­ery­thing I wanted out of box­ing, I got, so I guess my ca­reer is as suc­cess­ful as any­one else’s,” he rea­sons. “I was cham­pion of the world, made good money, and I trav­elled to a lot of places I had no idea I was go­ing to see. I’m part of that all-time lin­eage now with Muham­mad Ali, Ge­orge Fore­man, Joe Louis, and Mike Tyson. When you say their name then you got to say mine be­cause I’m the man who beat the man who beat the man. That win against Lewis gave me so much and it’s still cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for me to­day and that’s why I’m out here with the Back­street Boys to­day about to do some s**t. It’s given me op­por­tu­ni­ties since I re­tired from the sport and it’ll con­tinue to give me op­por­tu­ni­ties to­mor­row as well.”

KING OF THE WORLD: Rah­man cel­e­brates [above] af­ter land­ing the punch of a life­time to de­throne Lewis in South Africa [be­low]

Pho­tos: AC­TION IM­AGES

OUT COLD: Rah­man’s brief reign ends when Lewis ԵDWWHQV KLPin four rounds

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