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After upset, Rahman likely to face Tyson

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 23, 2001

BRAKPAN, South Africa -- Lennox Lewis thought he could jet to Africa, make some history and leave with both his heavyweight titles and a future megafight with Mike Tyson intact.

He lost it all on a stunning right hand by Hasim Rahman that turned the heavyweight division upside down and put an abrupt end to growing talk that Lewis might rank among the greatest heavyweight champions ever.

In an eerie predawn fight in the Carnival City Casino, Rahman exploited the effects of Lewis' lackluster training camp and a champion who seemed to be more interested in looking ahead to Tyson than in the business at hand.

He did it with a huge right cross that sent Lewis to the canvas, where he tried unsuccessfully to get up and beat the count. When he couldn't, Rahman leaped in joy and soon had the WBC and IBF heavyweight belts over his shoulders.

"I came up with one punch. One punch," a jubilant Rahman said.

Up next for Rahman, a Baltimore native, could be Tyson. He is the No. 1 challenger in the WBC rankings, and Tyson promoter Shelly Finkel said Sunday that Rahman must make a mandatory defense against the top-ranked contender.

For Lewis, the fight that began as an opportunity to pay respect to Nelson Mandela ended in a nightmare reminiscent of the only other blemish on his record, a knockout loss in 1994 to Oliver McCall that cost him the WBC title at the time.

Lewis spent more than six years trying to overcome that fight and had seemingly established himself as a proven champion who at age 35 was at the top of his game. But he spent 14 days in South Africa, and there was talk that he didn't train properly for the 5,200-foot altitude or the fight.

Though Rahman used an effective jab to make the fight fairly even, his left eye was closing from an accidental head butt and it appeared it would only be a matter of time before Lewis was able to put him away.

"There was blood dripping in my eye and it was blinding my left eye and I really couldn't see some of Lennox's punches," Rahman said. "But I'm a fighter with even one eye. I felt I was handicapped and I just had to fight."

He did, and midway through the fifth round, a right from Rahman seemed to stun Lewis, though he smiled at the challenger as he moved away. Rahman followed and launched a series of left jabs that landed.

Lewis had retreated toward the ropes, still with his hands down, when he began to come forward slightly with his left hand outside of Rahman's right. The right came through and crashed against the chin of Lewis 28 seconds before the round ended, sending the 6-foot-5, 253-pound champion to the canvas with a huge thud.

Rahman, 28, made $1.5-million to fight Lewis, the biggest payday of his career. But he has bigger paydays ahead, including Tyson and a rematch with Lewis.

Lewis had a rematch clause in his contract with Rahman, and said he wanted to use it as soon as possible, although it is believed the contract allows for Rahman to have an interim fight.

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