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December 06, 2001

Division rocked by Rahman
By Dan Patrick

When you have a weekend with NHL playoffs, NBA playoffs, NFL draft and Red Sox-Yankees, the Lennox Lewis-Hasim Rahman heavyweight fight kind of slipped under the radar. Lewis woke on Sunday morning, just like the rest of us did, wondering who the new heavyweight champ of the world was. There are two ways to look at this: First, how could Lewis lose? And second, who exactly beat him?

Hasim Rahman
Hasim Rahman threw the heavyweight division into turmoil by knocking out Lennox Lewis in South Africa.

First of all, Lewis was recently in Las Vegas working on his cameo role in the Steven Soderbergh-directed remake of the Rat Pack classic "Oceans 11," starring Julia Roberts and Matt Damon. So he got to South Africa only 11 days before the fight. He said he wasn't going to be affected by the elevation -- which was 5,200 feet. Well, he weighed in at his heaviest fight weight yet, 253 pounds. Turns out the elevation to be worried about was on the scale.

But even at age 35, Lewis thought he could put away a 28-year-old journeyman out of Baltimore. Rahman, who hadn't fought since last August, came in as a 15-1 underdog against an experienced Lewis -- unbeaten in 6 years. And this would be his 15th title fight. A piece of cake, even for the notoriously light-training Lewis.

None of the networks had reporters on site. The only people covering this were either local or happened to be travelling through Johannesburg.

Now, you can make a mistake against a featherweight or a flyweight because the worst you'll probably get is knocked down or a bloody nose. But with a heavyweight, if you make a mistake you can end up on all fours. That's exactly what happened to Lewis with the fifth-round KO.

There is a rematch clause, but Rahman can fight somebody before he has to fight Lewis, and according to his post-fight comments he wants a piece of Mike Tyson. That's the big payday.

So Lewis' decision to turn down a fight with Tyson in June to fight Rahman probably cost him $40 to $50 million.

People might think this is up there with the Buster Douglas/Mike Tyson fight in 1990 when Douglas was a 42-1 underdog. But at least that fight featured Tyson when he was 23 or 24 years old, undoubtedly his prime. Tyson went into that fight the same way Lewis went into this fight -- not in shape and taking it for granted. We know now that Tyson was going through personal problems. Last weekend, Lewis was just going through the motions.

Maybe Lewis and Tyson will never fight, but they do have a couple of things in common. Both were heavyweight champs who lost their titles to journeymen in foreign countries -- Tyson losing in Japan and Lewis losing in South Africa.

Maybe this is a lesson to all of us about the way boxing is now. There is never a sure thing.

This still goes back to what I said a year and a half ago with Al Bernstein. Mike Tyson is going to fight for the heavyweight title again. I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up the heavyweight champ again. Follow the money. Even with his deteriorating skills and mental makeup, Tyson is the only payday in the division and maybe the only big payday in all of boxing. Lewis passed up his chance.

Holyfield is too old to be a payday and there is no one on the horizon -- Michael Grant? -- who is capable of turning the sports world on its ear, saying,"you have to watch this." Tyson will probably get his shot. We could have a situation in which Tyson could face and beat Rahman and then say to Lewis, "Now you come to me. Here's your payday, but I control the strings now."

This was a very costly oversight by Lennox Lewis.

Now, this fight was not Ali-Foreman in Zaire, although nobody gave Ali a chance against Foreman. The parallel with Buster Douglas works because we really didn't know either guy. Foreman was a gold medalist and, certainly, Ali was the greatest of all time. So we were surprised at that outcome, not shocked. We were shocked at this outcome.

Back in 1990, at the last minute ESPN sent Eric Clements to Japan, more to get Mike Tyson's reaction to another victory than to what happens if Douglas beats him. Maybe this is a lesson to all of us about the way boxing is now. There is never a sure thing. But there sure is a chance for a mistake, a colossal blunder, in boxing. This is just the latest example.

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