Evander Holyfield vs. Lennox Lewis
|Date||March 13, 1999|
|Venue||Madison Square Garden in New York, New York|
|Title(s) on the line||WBA/WBC/IBF/Lineal Heavyweight Championships|
|Tale of the tape|
After Riddick Bowe defeated Evander Holyfield to become the undisputed heavyweight champion, the WBC ordered Bowe to face its top contender, the undefeated Lennox Lewis. Bowe, however, refused to meet Lewis' financial demands and vacated the title. The WBC therefore named Lewis its heavyweight champion. Holyfield regained the WBA, IBF and lineal heavyweight titles in a rematch with Bowe, but then lost the titles in his first defense against southpaw Michael Moorer. Shortly after, Lewis lost his WBC heavyweight title to Oliver McCall, putting a Holyfield–Lewis unification bout on hold for several years. By 1996, the four heavyweight titles were separated, partly due to the IBF and WBA stripping George Foreman of their heavyweight titles, though he continued to be recognized as the lineal heavyweight champion. Meanwhile, Bruce Seldon defeated Tony Tucker to win the vacant WBA title, while Moorer regained the vacant IBF Heavyweight title he had lost to Foreman by defeating Axel Schulz. Mike Tyson then defeated Frank Bruno to capture the WBC heavyweight title. Tyson then challenged and defeated Seldon to win the WBA heavyweight title (the WBC title was not at stake in that fight), setting the stages for a Tyson–Holyfield match in which Holyfield won the WBA title. Next for Holyfield was a victory against Moorer in a rematch unified the WBA and IBF heavyweight titles. Tyson chose to vacate the WBC heavyweight title rather than face Lewis, preferring to face Holyfield as it was a more lucrative fight. Lewis recaptured the vacant WBC title by defeating McCall and Shannon Briggs for the lineal heavyweight championship. After Holyfield and Lewis made their mandatory defenses against Vaughn Bean and Željko Mavrović respectively, the two men met for the undisputed heavyweight championship. Prior to the fight Lewis hired Holyfield's former trainer Emanuel Steward. Meanwhile, the normally mild-mannered Holyfield uncharacteristically predicted that he would dominate the first two rounds before knocking out Lewis in the third.
Despite Holyfield's claims, it was Lewis who dominated the early portion of the fight, easily winning the first two rounds on the judges' scorecards. In the second round, Lewis landed 42 of his 87 punches, while Holyfield only landed eight of his 24 punches. Despite Lewis' early dominance, an unfazed Holyfield told his corner that "this is the round he go (sic) out", referring to his third round knockout prediction. Holyfield began round three aggressively, hitting Lewis with several combinations in the first two minutes. With 1:23 left in the round, Holyfield threw a powerful haymaker that Lewis dodged. Though Holyfield won round three, he fell short of his knockout prediction. Lewis came back to win round four, giving him a 3-rounds-to-1 lead. Lewis expanded his lead by dominating round five, landing 75 per cent of his 57 punches while limiting Holyfield to just 11 landed punches. Lewis got into trouble in round six after he dropped his hands to his side, allowing Holyfield to connect with a right–left combination. Two of the judges scored the round in favor of Holyfield. Lewis won round seven, stunning Holyfield with a left jab in the first minute and later having Holyfield against the ropes. In the second minute of the round, Lewis hit Holyfield with right uppercut–left hand–right hand combination. Holyfield only landed eight punches to Lewis' 33 in the round. Holyfield fought back by winning rounds 8 through 11 on 11 of the 12 judges' scorecards, with judge Larry O'Connell scoring round 10 a draw. Lewis finished the fight strongly, winning round 12 on all three of the judges' scorecards. With the decision now up to the judges, television commentators expected Lewis to become the first undisputed heavyweight champion since 1992. However, in one of the most controversial decisions in boxing history, the fight was called a draw. Judge Stanley Christodoulou named Lewis the winner by the score of 116–113, Eugenia Williams scored the fight in favor of Holyfield 115–113 and Larry O'Connell called the fight a draw at 115–115.
|Stanley Christodoulou||Eugenia Williams||Larry O'Connell|
The decision was met with loud boos from the crowd, while Lewis and his corner were left standing in disbelief. Immediately after the decision was announced, HBO announcers Jim Lampley and George Foreman called the decision "a travesty" and "a shame". Showtime analyst Steve Farhood stated "I've been covering boxing twenty years. I would put this in the top five for the worst decisions I've seen." Even New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani weighed in, also calling the decision "a travesty".
Most of the blame was heaped upon Eugenia Williams, who had declared Evander Holyfield the winner. Though she initially denied any wrongdoing, after reviewing a replay of the fight, she stated she would have called the fight a draw. British judge Larry O'Connell, who scored the fight a draw, also received a fair amount of criticism. He said he had made a mistake, stating "I feel sorry for myself. I've taken so much stick. But I feel even more sorry for Lennox"
Almost immediately after the fight, the sanctioning bodies ordered a rematch. The rematch took place eight months later on November 13, 1999 in Las Vegas, this time with the lightly regarded IBO Heavyweight title (which was awarded to Lewis prior to the bout) also on the line. The fight again went the full 12 rounds, this time with Lewis being awarded the victory via unanimous decision, becoming the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Riddick Bowe in 1992.
Lewis was not the undisputed champion for long. The WBA ordered Lewis to face their number one contender John Ruiz. Lewis instead wanted to face Michael Grant in his first defense. The WBA agreed to allow Lewis to face Grant if he would fight Ruiz after, to which Lewis agreed. Ruiz's promoter Don King challenged this decision in court where it was found that a clause in the Lewis-Holyfield rematch contract that said the winner of that bout would next face the WBA's number one contender. Because of this, Lewis was stripped of the WBA title. Soon afterwards the WBA created its "Super World Champion" title, in which a unified champion who also holds a WBA belt is given more time in between mandatory title defenses. Lewis successfully defended his remaining titles against Grant, knocking him out in the second round.
Holyfield then challenged Ruiz for the vacant WBA title. Holyfield defeated Ruiz by unanimous decision to become the first four-time heavyweight champion. The two had a rematch seven months later with Ruiz this time winning via unanimous decision and becoming the first Hispanic heavyweight champion. With each man holding a victory over the other, a third fight was held on December 15, 2001. This time Ruiz and Holyfield fought to draw, allowing Ruiz to keep his WBA title.
- , Las Vegas Sun article, 1999-02-25, Retrieved on 2013-04-22.
- , Lubbock Avalanche-Journal article, 1999-03-16, Retrieved on 2013-04-22.
- , Sports Illustrated article, 1999-03-16, Retrieved on 2013-04-23.
- Berkow, Ira (1999-03-15). "A Rematch For Holyfield And Lewis Is Ordered". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2009-05-22.