Lennox Lewis vs. Hasim Rahman Date/ Venue: April 22, 2001/ Carnival City, Brakpan, South Africa Titles: IBF and WBC heavyweight. BY ANSON WAINWRIGHT
“When the prospect of having a fight of that magnitude was mooted for South Africa, there were insurmountable obstacles, not least of which was our weak currency. The timing of the fight and the uncertainty of South Africans paying what we would have to charge, and the attendance at 4:00 a.m. in the morning in the winter.
“Our prices were previously unheralded in South Africa, R5,000 (nearly $750) for a ringside seat. Our necks were on the line if the public wouldn’t pay these prices or attend an event at 4 o’clock in the morning.
“The only reason, in reality, that South Africa finished up with this mega fight is because overseas the fight was perceived as a non-event. I don’t think anybody in their wildest dreams ever gave Hasim Rahman a snowball’s chance of beating Lewis.
“My relationship with the late [Nelson] ‘Madiba’ Mandela, resulting from boxing, is one of the greatest events of my life. John Berks was a leading radio jock in South Africa who often made prank calls, so on the Saturday afternoon of the fight – and I knew that Mandela was in Maputo – my son Tony called me to the phone. ‘Dad, President Mandela is on the phone, he wants to talk to you.’ I knew it could only be John Berks, so I said, ‘Just tell him I’m busy, I’ll call him back another time.’ He said, ‘Dad, I’m begging you, this is President Mandela.’ I said, ‘Tony, it’s John Berks.’ he said, ‘Dad he’s hanging on the phone, take the bloody phone.’ Anyway, I took the phone and was ready for this prank. As it happens, it was President Mandela [laughs.] He had phoned me from Maputo and we talked for an hour or so. The gist of the conversation was just for him to tell me how proud he was of the event we were able to put together and perceive South Africa in such a positive light. In my boxing career, that is probably one of the highlights that stands out.
“Lewis arrived 12 days before the fight. I had a bad relationship with him while he was in South Africa. He was busy doing Ocean’s Eleven, and he was treating the Rahman fight as if it were a forgone conclusion. I went on record as saying, ‘If Lewis carries on like that, he’s going to lose the fight.’ He took offense to it. I think the altitude [5,200 feet above sea level] got to him, and the lack of training.” Rodney Berman. Golden Gloves
Result: Rahman KO 5