“A lot of energy in Holyfield! We’re in the eighth of a scheduled 12 and the 39-year-old is trying to take the 29-year-old to the woodshed!”
The 39-year-old was former four-time Heavyweight champion and warrior Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield (37-5-2, 25 KOs). His opponent on this night was the tough, battle tested and former Heavyweight champion Hasim “The Rock” Rahman (35-3, 29 KOs).
The night was June 1, 2002.
Jim Lampley, calling the bout live on HBO, was ecstatic as his voice rose over the roar of the crowd inside Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. George Foreman was equally jubilant as the two fighters pounded away, “Rahman’s holding on for dear life!”
For seven plus rounds, two Heavyweights with something to fight for hammered at one another. With Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis just days away from facing off for Heavyweight supremacy, Holyfield and Rahman were jockeying for position to meet the winner.
The early action was sizzling with Holyfield, wearing red trunks and red gloves, showing flashes of the Holyfield of yesteryear. He bounced on his toes and popped his left jab while unloading three and four punch combinations.
Rahman, outfitted in blue trunks with silver trim, wore black gloves that were intent at blasting away at the Holyfield body.
Both men looked in great condition with Holyfield at 216 pounds and Rahman at 224. Each had their left jabs working overtime with Rahman firing right crosses that were reciprocated by Holyfield left hooks.
As the fight progressed, Holyfield began landing clean right hand counterpunches while a determined Rahman began dialing up big right hands of his own. After six rounds, HBO’s unofficial judge Harold Lederman had the bout scored even, 57-57.
Now in Round 7, the bout escalated into an all-out war. After being pushed to the canvas, Holyfield rose to open a full frontal assault on Rahman.
Lampley desperately tried to keep up with the blistering pace, “There’s a big left hook by Holyfield! Stops Rahman in his tracks! Left to the body! Left hook upstairs! Rahman comes back!”
Rahman began rubbing his left forehead as a heavy swelling began as Round 7 came to a close. In an exciting back-and-forth affair, things quickly took a turn in an unusual direction.
Halfway through Round 8, referee Tony Orlando called time and sent Holyfield to a neutral corner. Taking Rahman, by the glove, he walked to a ringside physician.
“That knot is amazing. That is one of the most grotesque things I’ve ever seen on a prizefighter,” said Lampley. He was referring to a massive amount of swelling that had blown up high on the left side of Rahman’s forehead.
The enormous knot quickly swelled to the size of a softball. Ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. hustled into the ring as the bout, scheduled for 12 rounds, was halted and the judges’ scorecards were to be tallied to determine the winner.
Boxing fans had not seen anything like this. As the crowd inside Boardwalk Hall stood, the ring filled with each fighter’s corner. The Rahman camp applied ice to the incredible swelling over his left eye.
Larry Merchant explained the events as they unfolded. “The doctor said to Rahman, the bump isn’t dangerous but if you can’t see the fight should stop. And Rahman said something to the effect that it was effecting his eyesight and that’s why they stopped the fight.”
Slow-motion replays would reveal that with Rahman pinned against the ropes by Holyfield, a clash of heads occurred while Rahman covered up and Holyfield whaled away. The swelling had begun almost immediately.
The ringside bell echoed throughout Boardwalk Hall and a hush fell over the crowd. Lennon then read the scorecards. Two judges scored the bout 69-64 for Holyfield, one judge scored it 67-66 for Rahman. Holyfield had secured a technical-decision victory.
Final punch stats had the number of punches thrown and landed almost identical. It was an entertaining, competitive affair.
The following Saturday night, Lewis would knock Tyson out. Holyfield and Rahman would not face each other again, nor would Holyfield get another crack at Lewis.
Its hard to believe that this bout will be 14 years old next week. As for the knot that formed on Rahman’s forehead, that image remains indelible in the minds of boxing fans everywhere. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before, during, or since.
Only in boxing.