Hasim Rahman's American Dream Tour came to a crashing end last Saturday when Lennox Lewis, claiming the heavyweight title for the third time, brought the one-hit wonder to his knees. It was, considering the fighters' pedigrees, absolutely the logical conclusion. Lewis is much the better boxer, and except for one "lottery punch"—as Lewis called the Rahman right hand that knocked him out in the fifth round in South Africa last April—he might have fulfilled by now his promise as this generation's best heavyweight. However, as much as this rematch restored order, it was devastating to the principles of fantasy life, in which you can be making $13,000 a bout one day, and on the next a man shows up in your hotel suite with bags of cash, a rather tangible down payment on a $5 million signing bonus.
Lewis's victory doesn't mean that miracles can't happen, though, because Rahman, 29, the street thug made good, will have earned at least $15 million (including the $200,000 in cash promoter Don King brought him last May) on the basis of his upset of Lewis last spring. That's kind of a miracle, isn't it? Saturday's outcome only means that such wonders don't happen over and over. Neither preparation, nor self-confidence, nor even America's constitutional right to the jackpot can defend against Lewis's wicked right hand-not twice in a row, anyway.
Rahman's run was a good one, though, and an inspiration to nobodies everywhere. In the seven months since clocking Lewis, the journeyman boxer has enjoyed more fame and fortune than most champions earn in a lifetime. He became the subject of two documentaries and of a bidding war between King and HBO, was the principal in numerous lawsuits, made the late-night talk-show scene and bought five cars. All this because he gave himself a chance in that fight in April, when nobody else would (he was a 20-1 underdog), and he out-trained a complacent and arrogant Lewis. It could happen to you!
But so could this: A superior athlete bides his time waiting for the rematch and, getting the fight, outjabs you for three rounds, notices you tend to flail your arms with every left hand you throw and then, midway through the fourth round, unleashes a combination so swift that it barely registers. There is the clip-clop sound of two sudden punches, the second landing right on the point of your jaw, and down you go, rolling to one knee, capsized in a sea of reality.
Now Lewis's run resumes, though it might have been fatally interrupted by that loss in April. He has suffered too many shocking knockouts (two, the other in September 1994 by Oliver McCall) to qualify for true greatness. At least he's shed the shame of the Rahman defeat and can return to the dignified reign he prefers. Lewis, 39-2-1, has had to endure a lot since then, including abuse from the cheerfully cocky Rahman (who said Lewis was "acting gay" in suing for a rematch) and skepticism within his own camp. He is not a man who seems inclined to realize his immense potential, but past disappointments—his often overly cautious style in victories has been even more damning than his knockout defeats—will dim in the reflection of this powerful win.
At 36, having held titles off and on since 1993, Lewis does not have much more time to consolidate his legacy. A judge mandated the rematch on that basis: Lewis was too old to wait around for the usual boxing shenanigans. Now, with Rahman having been disposed of, there is really only one way for Lewis to cap his career, and to cap it soon. "Where is Mike Tyson?" he said almost immediately after the fight. "Where is he?"
Nobody knows for sure what Tyson's intentions are. After a recent bout in Copenhagen, against rather unimpressive competition, Tyson said he might need two more fights before he contends for the title. At least Rahman had confidence. Tyson seems so reluctant that not even a $20 million payday in a fight that has been brewing for five years is a certainty. "Well," said Lewis, "there are other guys who deserve a chance."
Lewis, who made $11 million to Rahman's $10 million, needs to beware of "other guys," because they give him the most trouble. He has a tendency to overlook them, as he did Rahman the first time around, refusing to cut short the filming of a movie cameo to acclimate himself properly to the altitude of Johannesburg. ( Rahman showed up a month before the bout, Lewis 12 days.) Anyway, no matter what dignity Lewis brings to the championship (he holds the WBC and IBF titles again), he is not a ratings winner. Not since his fights with Evander Holyfield, the last of which was two years ago, has he been much of a draw for HBO pay-per-view. Saturday's bout, despite the intrigue of the rematch, was expected to be another ratings disappointment.
Lewis is too unpredictable. Even his trainer, Emanuel Steward, despairs of ever seeing his talent in full flower. The week of this fight, in Las Vegas's Mandalay Bay, Steward was wallowing in worry. "If I could get him to unleash all his talent," he said, "I'd be locked behind bars." Instead, said Steward, he had no idea what to expect. "I know what he's capable of doing, but I don't know what he's going to do."
Had Lewis been this explosive in his first meeting with Rahman, his reputation might have been secure, because everybody prefers a champion who conducts his career with Lewis's composure. True, Rahman got under his skin enough to cause a scuffle at an ESPN taping, but Lewis, ever the British gentleman, has been mainly aloof from the normal burlesque of boxing. When King tried to heighten anxiety (read: sell tickets) for the Rahman rematch by constructing plexiglass barriers between the fighters at the press conference (the situation was that volatile!), Lewis refused to play, leaving early and with his usual disdain.