MIKE TYSON and I had history. We were supposed to fight in the World Junior championships in the Dominican Republic but they didn’t take the flight. It was his trainer Cus D’Amato who didn’t like to take planes.
There was a buzz about him. There was talk that he was the best guy on the American team so me and my trainer, Arnie Boehm, took a car up to the Catskills to go and spar him. Sparring got better and better. On the fifth day he dropped his hands and invited me to hit him so I did. Then D’Amato yelled, ‘Mike, don’t do that. You’re going to be fighting him one day!’ So I always wondered if it would happen.
With Tyson, if you’re scared, you’ve lost. But I’d been in there with him and I knew what to expect. I always told people, ‘Mike Tyson is a one-dimensional fighter, Lennox Lewis is a five-dimensional fighter.’ But I was impressed with what he had gone on to achieve [after the sparring sessions]. All of a sudden he turned into King Kong. Where did that guy come from? All of a sudden he was knocking out all these guys and I was still an amateur. I knew that was the level I had to get to, and that was the guy I had to beat.
He bit me at the press conference and I said to myself, ‘I’m not fighting this guy. He’s mad. We don’t fight like that, we’re supposed to be gladiators.’ My trainer [Emanuel Steward] told me he did that because he was trying to get out of the fight. If I had not gone through with it, he would always have had that bite, and I would never have had the chance to get him back. So I went through with it, and I didn’t complain about the bite because people would have accused me of not wanting to fight him.
Everyone makes the argument that I didn’t beat a young Mike Tyson. That argument is wrong because he wasn’t fighting a young Lennox Lewis either. Tyson’s fighting style hadn’t changed. I felt his power in the beginning of the fight. Early on, I wanted to control the ring but so did he and I realised I was fighting his fight. He threw a couple of nice shots that clipped me and my trainer Emanuel said, ‘Why are you fighting like that? You’re giving him a chance.’
Even though I was in control I was always careful. I couldn’t presume he had given up because even a cat that is backed up against the wall will attack, they have that last attempt to survive. I couldn’t presume the fight was won before it was. If I had lost concentration, I would have become just a statistic. The only time I saw the fight go out of him was when he attempted to get back up [in round eight] and the referee waved it off.