Remember the Thunder in Africa?

BY Deon Potgieter ON January 16, 2006
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Upsets and fighters winning against the odds are great for boxing and let’s hope the Baldomir and Bell victories are just the beginning for 2006. Whenever an underdog wins it serves as inspiration for others: “If he can do it, maybe I can too” – not only in the field of boxing, but in all walks of life and with the confidence of hope that comes opportunities taken.

Remember, our current WBC heavyweight champion of the world was himself born out of an upset. Prior to his against the odds-busting win over Lennox Lewis in South Africa, Hasim Rahman was not taken all that seriously, even though he’d been involved in a number of exciting clashes, not the least his slugfest with Corrie Sanders.

A full house of around 5000 packed the Carnival City Big Top in Brakpan even though that heavyweight title fight started at the ludicrous time of 2 am in the morning to accommodate US television. The day before the bout the odds at the venue were 20-1 against Rahman defeating Lewis. On fight morning, however, they’d changed to 10-1. (Incidentally, that fight was the last boxing match those bookies ever covered.) By that time Rahman had endeared himself to the South African public and many had bet on him scoring the upset. The smiles on people’s faces filled the arena following that fight, and in all honesty the only people who looked upset were Lewis’s camp.

Reflecting on what makes an upset, one finds that the ingredients are usually the same. Herewith an extract of an article I wrote – which was featured in the Mail & Guardian newspaper April 26 2001 – following the “Thunder in Africa” bill. While it’s about Lewis-Rahman it could just as well have been about Baldomir-Judah or Tyson-Douglas or your favorite upset. If only fighters learned from history … but then again, upsets would be fewer and far between.

“ … Lennox Lewis’s dramatic dethroning as the universal heavyweight champion by Hassim Rahman in the early hours of Sunday morning was on the cards, despite the general belief that the man was invincible. All the cards appeared to have been stacked in the favor of the former champion; he was bigger, stronger, more experienced, has more natural talent – but that’s not enough. When it comes to world title boxing, the man who wants it the most wins.”

Boxing is not merely athletic sport; the fight is usually won before the combatants enter the ring. If you wanted to know who was going to win this one all you needed to do was look in the faces of the men two days before the fight. I asked Lewis before the bout, “With the whole world saying you are in a league of your own and that Rahman shouldn’t even be in the ring with you, how do you motivate yourself to fight a man like him?”

He replied: “It doesn’t matter who I fight. I’m a professional sportsman and a true competitor. I will compete against whoever wants to compete with me.” With those words he said it all – he wasn’t preparing himself to fight Rahman, he was just getting ready to take another easy payday.

It was clear at the start of the fight that Lewis had no real strategy to beat Rahman. He figured he could play around with the lesser athlete for a few rounds and then knock him out. He carried his hands low, his mouth was hanging open and he wasn’t throwing as many bombs as he should have been; he was all but asking to be stopped.

In his defense, when he did land, he clearly hurt Rahman. He also missed with three big shots that would have heralded the end of the bout had they landed. Rahman was in fact in trouble when he landed that tremendous right cross that would have floored any heavyweight who has ever graced the ring. He had a cut above his right eye with blood seeping into it. Rahman admitted after the fight that he was battling to see his opponent clearly. He had shortly before that been rocked into the ropes by a blow by Lewis.

Had Lewis followed it up he could have still won the fight. However his heart was not in it. He was just going through the motions against a man who had been dreaming of winning the heavyweight world title for eight years. This was going to be the greatest moment of Rahman’s life and he would not be denied by a man who did not respect his fistic abilities. The better man that night won the fight and fully deserved to do so ...”

Keeping the above in mind, both Rahman and James Toney are saying that they are the only two heavyweights out there at present. Does that mean that after their fight the winner is going to adopt the attitude Lewis did when he faced the current champion the first time? If so, we could be seeing the title changing hands quicker than what these two would have us believe. There is always somebody else out there and sometimes it’s the guy you least expect to rattle your cage, just ask Zab Judah.

In other heavyweight news, Frans “The White Buffalo” Botha, 44-4-2 (28) who’s been fighting on the K1 circuit in recent years, informed me on Thursday that he would be returning to boxing this year. He’ll be keeping the K1 door open as well, but says he has received a few offers and will definitely be back in 2006. Botha briefly held the IBF heavyweight world title, which he won on points against Germany’s Axel Schultz in 1995, but was stripped after testing positive for a banned substance. He challenged Michael Moorer for the same title later the same year, but was stopped in the 12th round of a close contest.

In January 1999 he put up an exciting fight against Mike Tyson and was leading on the scorecards when “the baddest man on the planet” stopped him in the fifth round. He had a good showing against Shannon Briggs the same year, but was blown away in two by Lennox Lewis in 2000. Known for his heart and showmanship more than his than his punching power, Botha did manage to go eight rounds with Wladimir Klitschko for the latter’s WBO crown in 2002. His last boxing match was July 27, 2002 when he scored a controversial draw against Clifford “The Black Rhino” Etienne. Etienne was down in the 5th and 6th rounds. One judge gave the fight to Botha and the other two scored it a draw.

Saying Botha hasn’t excelled in K1 would be an understatement, but he has proven to be a popular draw and has received respectable purses for his efforts. He had eight fights in his first two years in the sport and one last year. It will be interesting to see how (if at all) his K1 experiences affects his boxing form. Asked about a possible match against fellow countryman Corrie Sanders, Botha did not look too keen, but he does still clearly believe he’s world title contender material.

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