MIKE TYSON lay flat on his back. The one-time “Baddest Man on the Planet” had been reduced to a crumpled, bloody heap after eight one-sided rounds.
Sure, he was past his best but, as Lennox Lewis said, he was “the last heavyweight misfit left” for the Briton to defeat on his way to complete domination of the heavyweights.
Lennox had single-handedly taken over the heavyweight division and walked off into the sunset having comprehensively beaten those thought to be the best of the new breed (Michael Grant and David Tua) and having defeated the best of his era in Tyson and Evander Holyfield.
The man he missed
The one man Lennox did not fight as a pro was his old Olympic rival Riddick Bowe. Lennox wanted the fight but Bowe opted to toss his WBC title into a trash can rather than give the Briton a fight.
His last fight, a controversial cuts win over Vitali Klitschko which he was losing at the time of the stoppage, was a violent swansong and while the Ukrainian, a late notice substitute for Canadian Kirk Johnson, craved a rematch, Lewis leisurely strolled into the sunset and never looked back.
There was nothing left to prove.
Although he won the 1988 super-heavyweight Olympic gold medal for Canada as an amateur he turned pro and represented Britain, where his parents lived and where he was born, and became the United Kingdom’s best heavyweight and an all-time great.
His launch-pad as a professional came in 1992 when he flattened Donovan “Razor” Ruddock in two brutal rounds. Lewis was suddenly a major player in a scene that for the best part of the next decade included Holyfield, Riddick Bowe (whom he stopped on his way to Olympic glory) and Tyson.
He systematically tore through America’s best heavyweights as he battered the likes of Tommy Morrison and Shannon Briggs – while obliterating the likes of Andrew Golota and Frans Botha – but it was only a tough 10-rounder with the heavyweight champion from the 1988 Olympics that validated him as a serious operator in the USA. Ray Mercer, as hard as nails and owner of a granite jaw and iron will, traded bombs with the Brit and neither gave an inch in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Mercer felt he had won but Lewis nicked it (majority decision) and America finally began to accept Lewis.
Even after devastating, heavy knockout upset losses to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman Lewis managed to remain high profile and avenged both losses.
Lewis lost twice as a professional, taking his eye off the ball and getting knocked out by Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman. McCall caught him with a shot he did not see and, under-prepared having been filming the Oceans 11 remake in Las Vegas. He arrived in South Africa some way short of top shape and was upset in one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight history.
The McCall rematch was memorable for the wrong reasons. The American broke down in the ring, sobbing as Lewis considered trying to apply the finish or standing back and letting McCall or the official sort out what was happening. Oliver’s public breakdown, thought to be the result of a cocaine addiction he was trying to kick, made for horrific viewing while the Rahman revenge was simply emphatic as he looped over a right hand that shelled the American and left him flat on his back in the fifth round.
With his long, rangy and deceptively stiff jab, Lewis could throw devastating left hooks but his straight right, like the one then sent Botha sprawling between the ropes in London in 2000 and the one that flattened Rahman in their rematch were of the highlight-reel variety.
Lewis forged strong partnership with legendary trainer Emanuel Steward and they based themselves for many training camps in a tranquil resort in Pennsylvania’s Pocono mountains.
The best decision he made
Lewis was a different fighter when he joined Hall of Fame trainer and manager Emanuel Steward. They had complete faith in each other’s ability and, on the eve of the Tyson demolition, Steward said: “When I first got involved with Lewis in 1994, I made a prediction he had the ability and potential to be the greatest heavyweight since Muhammad Ali. We are only three days away from the legacy being fulfilled. Lewis always wanted to fight the best. I have seldom been with a fighter that has not dodged anyone. Lewis has fought more undefeated heavyweight challengers than anyone in the division.”
The icing on the cake came when Lewis emphatically destroyed Tyson in a huge event in Memphis.
And they had history. They had sparred as teenagers in the Catskills of New York with Lewis winding up with a fat lip and Tyson a bloody mouth.
Watching on, Tyson’s legendary manager Cus D’Amato told Lewis that, one day, the two fighters would meet in the ring.
He was right, but before then they had to go through a wild press conference during which the fighters swung at one another before Tyson bit a lump out of Lewis’ leg.
They had to be kept apart until the first bell and some predicted even the faded version of Tyson could knock Lewis cold. He was competitive for a round before Lennox took over, flooring him twice, finishing it with one almighty right hand.
A quiet chess player outside the ring, sometimes Lewis was criticised for being too cautious but he was affective. In fact, he was far better than that. He was brilliant and on his day, with his ability, dimensions and mental dexterity, he would have been a handful for any heavyweight in history.