`Perfect punch' lands Rahman spot in fight game lore

Baltimorean's power draws rave reviews from ring observers

April 23, 2001|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Hasim Rahman's professional and amateur boxing career spans about eight years. In that time, he has been knocked out twice, relegated to club fighter status and nearly banished from Home Box Office.

But yesterday morning in Brakpan, South Africa, the 6-foot-2, 237-pound Baltimore native reached the sport's summit. Although a 20-1 underdog, Rahman knocked out Lennox Lewis, the undisputed heavyweight champion, with a picture-perfect right cross.

Noted boxing historians Ferdie Pacheco, 73, and Bert Sugar, 65, rank Rahman's effort among their five greatest upsets in heavyweight history.

"History's upsets are greatest when you think that the person has little or no chance," said Sugar, former editor of Ring magazine and Boxing Illustrated. "And the fact that you're calling me from Baltimore means that you didn't go. I don't know of any [American] boxing reporters who went. Most people didn't think it was going to be an upset."

To Sugar, Rahman's effort appears to be a combination of Buster Douglas' upset 10th-round knockout of Mike Tyson in 1990 in Tokyo and Oliver McCall's second-round knockout of Lewis in 1994.

Entering the fight with Lewis, Rahman's career, Sugar said, "had been defined by the two knockout losses" - to David Tua (December 1998) and Oleg Maskaev (November 1999) - both of which were fights Rahman had dominated before being knocked out in the 10th and eighth rounds, respectively.

Rahman's stamina, resilience and even his heart were suspect against Lewis, as were Douglas' entering his bout with Tyson. Douglas hadn't been necessarily knocked out by David Bey, Mike White and Tony Tucker in previous bouts as much as "he quit three times," Sugar said.

"But against Tyson, Douglas fought the perfect fight. Every time Tyson set his feet, Douglas jabbed him and moved back and then crossed him with a right so that Tyson was left frozen," Sugar said. "Granted, the stories of Tyson were that he was not training, not taking Douglas seriously. But even all those things put together don't make it any less of an upset at 42-1.

"Douglas fought a complete fight against a man everyone thought was invincible - the baddest man on the planet. No one's saying Rahman put on a great fight, but he had one thing: a puncher's chance. And what acquitted itself was that dynamite right hand. So he was also perfect in his fight: It was the perfect right hand, and perfect punches change history in boxing."

Lewis had been on a roll, going 4-0 since a controversial draw with Evander Holyfield most ringsiders thought the Briton had won. Lewis avenged that draw with a unanimous, 12-round decision in the return bout, bullied and flattened Michael Grant and Frans Botha in consecutive second-round knockouts and dominated Tua before facing Rahman.

"We already had an indication that Lewis could be hit from the McCall fight, which he lost as an unbeaten fighter against a guy coming out of a rehab center who literally threw a punch with his eyes closed and ends the fight," Sugar said. "With Rahman, it wasn't a surprise surprise that Lewis was hit, as much as a surprise at who it took to hit him that way."

Rahman, who was competing in his first title fight, to Lewis' 15th, was coming off his longest layoff - 259 days - and a lackluster eighth-round knockout of journeyman Frankie Swindell.

But Rahman was a mixture of power and concentration against Lewis, two things he was thought to lack, according to Pacheco, who ranks Rahman's win behind Cassius Clay's Feb. 25, 1964, KO of Sonny Liston and Douglas' upset.

Rahman outhustled Lewis for most of the fight. Then, after five straight jabs backed Lewis into the ropes in the fifth round, Rahman got full extension on the right hand.

"To me, it was a substantial win. It was obtained in such a clear-cut way and in an astounding way," said Pacheco, a former Showtime commentator and trainer of Muhammad Ali.

The win brings the heavyweight title back to America, after Lewis took it to Britain with his win over Holyfield in November 1999. Before that, one would have to go back to 1960 to find the last non-American heavyweight champion.

"To many Americans, the title belongs in the country all of the time, and Rahman's brought it back where it belongs," Pacheco said. "Baltimore kids who box, they should be extracting from this that you, too, can be a champion if you have the heart. I think it's a lovely day for Baltimore, and it shows why, through the ages, boxing has always been a sport of undiminished hope."

Heavy upsets

Boxing experts Ferdie Pacheco and Bert Sugar rank their five greatest heavyweight upsets in history:

Pacheco

1. Cassius Clay over Sonny Liston, Feb. 25, 1964

2. Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson, Feb. 11, 1990

3. Hasim Rahman over Lennox Lewis, April 21

4. Muhammad Ali over Sonny Liston, May 25, 1965

5. Muhammad Ali over George Foreman, Oct. 30, 1975

Sugar

1. Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson, Feb. 11, 1990

2. James Braddock over Max Baer, June 13, 1935

3. Max Schmeling over Joe Louis, June 19, 1936

4. Oliver McCall over Lennox Lewis, Sept. 24, 1994

5. Hasim Rahman over Lennox Lewis, April 21

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