The Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield rematch would take place exactly eight months after the first tussle, on November 13, 1999 in Las Vegas at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Regardless of the way the first meeting played out with Lewis easily handling Holyfield only to have to settle for a draw, he could not overlook Evander. This was a new fight and history had shown that Holyfield was always more dangerous in rematches, being a fighter who made adjustments. Rematches with the likes of Qawi, Bowe, Tyson and Moorer revealed a more dangerous and adaptive Real Deal.
When the bell sounded to begin the festivities, Holyfield charged out of his corner aggressively and looked to set a fast pace. He was more energetic than in the first fight, on his toes bouncing in and out of range behind a busy single and double jab in classic Holyfield form. Round two and three saw Holyfield investing to the body of a Lennox Lewis who was looking lethargic and doing far too much waiting.
In round four Lewis began to awaken, placing some well-timed uppercuts on Holyfield’s chin behind a long jab. Round five would see Lewis beginning to box more and keep Holyfield at long range as the Real Deal struggled to get past the Lewis jab. Anytime Holyfield got close, Lewis would wrap him up until the referee called break, then rise and repeat as Lewis began finding a rhythm. Holyfield was no longer able to sustain the pressure he was putting forth in the early rounds and was often swinging wildly while abandoning his jab. Round six Holyfield resumed his earlier aggression behind a busy jab and once again Lewis was doing more waiting than punching while allowing Evander to press him. At the midway point of the fight both men were fighting on even terms and the scores would most likely reflect an even spit after six.
Round seven would begin with Lewis retrieving the role of aggressor over the first minute of the stanza and this time it was Holyfield doing the waiting as Lewis landed both straight right hands and uppercuts. At the two minute mark Holyfield landed a short left hook which hurt Lewis, buckling his knees. Holyfield tried to follow up with an assault of power punches, most of which were smothered by Lennox in between clinches as the WBC champ cleared his head. With a minute left in the round Evander would again reach his target, landing several clean shots on Lewis as the momentum clearly swayed in his favor. Lewis would mount a small comeback of his own with twenty seconds left in the round but this was a round that belonged to The Real Deal. If Lewis was going to win this bout he would have to do some adapting in round eight as the WBC champ was looking depleted and tired at this stage against a fighter who just had his best round in the two fights. Lennox would dig deep over the next two rounds, putting combinations together, potshotting and working to Holyfield’s body, especially when they were on the inside. Rather than look to grab and hold in close Lewis was now imposing his size and strength advantage, making things more physical while landing hard shots downstairs. The fight was up for grabs as both fighters entered the championship rounds. It looked like whoever closed the show better in rounds ten, eleven and twelve would be the man to walk away the undisputed champion.
Round ten was a quieter round with both men trading jabs throughout but the advantage would favor Lewis as he would also sneak in some good body shots and a couple of uppercuts. Lennox would put another round in the bag in round 11 behind a busy jab with more bounce in his step. Holyfield would need a big round twelve to have any chance on the scorecards. In true Real Deal fashion with both men clearly tired as they crawled to the finish line Holyfield would take the final three minutes of a very entertaining championship fight.
This fight lived up to the lofty expectations that were originally set for their first encounter. When the scores were read, Lennox Lewis would finally have what should have been his eight months earlier, a victory and the undisputed Heavyweight championship of the world. After 9 1/2 years and 37 professional fights, Lennox Lewis was finally the king of the mountain.
The 34 year old Lewis would enter the new millennium with a fight at Madison Square Garden against a boxer highly touted by HBO and the media alike as the next big thing. Michael Grant was a 26 year old, 31-0, 250 pound heavyweight whose body looked like it was chiseled from stone. At 6’7 and with an 86 inch reach this would be one of the rare occasions where the 6′ 5 Lewis would be giving up physical dimensions to his opponent. As is too often the case and certainly was many times in Lewis’s career, politics would rear its ugly head. For all the efforts, trials and tribulations that Lewis overcame to become the undisputed champion the WBA was now looking to force the champion’s hand, ordering a fight with John Ruiz, the number one contender for their belt. If Lewis did not comply and went ahead with the Grant fight he would be stripped of the title with #1 Ruiz and #2 Holyfield fighting for the vacant strap. Further complicating matters from the political side of the business was that Lewis was signed to an exclusive contract with HBO, as was Michael Grant, where Ruiz was fighting for rival Showtime and the two networks rarely worked with each other. In the end, Lennox decided to move forward with the Grant fight and vacate his WBA title saying, “I don’t care what they say,” Lewis said. “I’m still undisputed.”
When the bell went off to begin round one Grant came out aggressive and was immediately met with the same from the champion as the two big heavyweights let power punches fly. Only 90 seconds into the fight Lewis landed a huge uppercut sending Grant flat on his back to the canvas. Grant would get to his feet on unsteady legs as Lewis jumped right on his wounded opponent. Lennox would avoid the desperate, telegraphed punches from Grant and score a second knockdown moments later.
With 43 seconds remaining in the round Lewis looked to close the show as Grant wobbled, held and tried to avoid the incoming by any means necessary. With 13 seconds remaining in the round Lewis threw a wide left hook to set up a devastating right hand behind it, landing high on the temple, collapsing Grant’s legs and driving him to the mat a third time. Referee Arthur Mercante chose not to wave the fight off as Grant somehow got to his feet just as the bell rang ending the first round. Welcome to the big leagues.
An over-anxious Lewis immediately threw nothing but power shots looking to get rid of Grant with one shot in round two. Grant for his part showed tremendous heart, remaining on his feet and trying to fight back as his equilibrium was clearly compromised from the first round battering. It was only a matter of time and with twenty seconds remaining in the round Lewis landed another huge uppercut sending Grant down hard to the canvas. He remained motionless until the count of five and then tried to get to his feet yet again almost accomplishing it as Mercante reached the count of ten.
Less than three months later Lewis was back in the ring, this time in London, making quick work of Frans Botha with a destructive second round knockout.
Lewis would cap off 2000 facing another young and dangerous heavyweight, David Tua in Las Vegas.
Unlike Grant, Tua was a battle-tested contender with a 37-1 record against some very formidable opposition. He was matched tough coming up as a prospect and had knocked out three fighters in John Ruiz, Oleg Maskaev and Hasim Rahman who would themselves later become heavyweight champions. In those 37 victories only 5 opponents would make it the distance, usually the product of Tua’s tremendous left hook.
Short and compact at 5’10 and usually around 245 pounds Tua was drawing comparisons to a young Mike Tyson. Tua had a very similar build as well as fighting style, ever the aggressor behind good head movement looking to fight at close range and inflict damage. Tua was viewed as a very serious threat and Lewis would have to be at the top of his game to turn back the challenger.
In what can only be interpreted as a boxing clinic, Lennox Lewis tamed Tua early with a hard jab keeping his shorter opponent at long range where he could seldom throw an effective punch, much less land one on the 6’5 champion.
Lennox fought cautiously, in cerebral fashion, hypnotising Tua with the jab, then jolting him with a hard straight right hand time and time again. This theme played repeatedly on a Tua whose offense was all but non-existent as he constantly had to concern himself with the incoming. At various times throughout the bout Tua would try to leap in with his signature left hook but Lewis would use his legs to step out of range with relative ease. Tua was domesticated early and often by the Lewis jab behind a huge reach advantage and would go on to lose a lopsided unanimous decision as Lennox gained his third victory of 2000.
By this stage of Lewis’s career he had accomplished just about all there was to accomplish in the pro ranks. He had won the world title twice, having not only avenged his only loss to Oliver McCall but avenged the dubious draw with Holyfield to unify the heavyweight titles and go on to defend them several times.
He was now 35 years of age and had been a professional for 12 years with 40 fights under his belt. Long retired from the sport was Riddick Bowe and the only other miss opponent-wise was a Mike Tyson who was still winning fights over mid level competition but having more troubles outside of the ring than in it. Lewis had hoped to finally get Tyson in the ring during the summer of 2001 but Tyson failed a post fight drug test in his fight with Andrew Golota and was placed on suspension. It seemed that matchup had long passed its expiration date and that Mike still wasn’t much interested with a Lennox Lewis showdown so Lewis would defend against another younger contender seven years his junior, in Hasim Rahman.
The 28 year old Rahman came into the bout with a 34-2 record with 28 knockouts. Rahman was a big puncher whose two defeats at the hands of David Tua and Oleg Maskaev came late in fights in which he was winning handily on the scorecards. If nothing else, Rahman would be dangerous early. The fight would take place on April 22 and Lewis came into this one heavier than he had ever been, at a career high 253 1/2 pounds.
Rumors swirled before the fight of an overconfident and underprepared Lewis as the fight was taking place in Brakpan, Gauteng, Africa, which is 5200 feet above sea level. Lewis did not arrive in Africa until April 10th electing to stay in Las Vegas to train while filming scenes for the movie Ocean’s 11. Rahman, on the other hand, arrived March 27th so he could get acclimated to the high elevation.
Lewis would have a good first round behind a busy jab which was scoring. Rahman was economical in his punch output early and met with a check left hook from Lennox every time he got within punching range. Lewis would have a good round two as he began to introduce the right hand on Rahman, who was still tentative, fighting off the back foot. One couldn’t help but notice that Lewis was fighting with his mouth open in the second half of the round as it appeared the attitude was affecting him. Rahman would have a better round three, matching Lewis jab for jab while beginning to let his hands go some as he backed Lewis up for the first time in the fight, forcing him to the ropes. Lennox would regain the center of the ring in the fourth and although it would seem he was in control of the fight he also appeared to be tiring and throwing less meaningful punches. Rahman for his part was starting to take more chances, landing a big right hand, which Lewis took well at the end of the round.
In round five, Lewis would completely abandon the jab, instead throwing a steady diet of power punches. From a sheer body language perspective it was clear that Lewis was looking to end the fight.
The mistake that Lewis was making was walking straight to Rahman with his hands at his waist rather than behind the long jab that had brought him so much career success. It was painfully obvious that Lewis did not respect his opponent.
A big right hand by Rahman at the 1:30 mark on a defensively irresponsible Lewis who was walking right to his man should have served as a warning.
The challenger was still dangerous. Rahman was looking to lure the overconfident champion into a big shot.
For the next 45 seconds Lewis would go back to his jab and put some well placed body shots behind it before getting a little too cute for his own good.
With 50 seconds remaining in the round the arrogance of Lewis would resurface as he dropped his hands in retreat avoiding Rahman’s jabs and right hooks.
Rahman would then unleash a huge right hand as Lewis bounced off the ropes, connecting flush on Lennox’s chin and sending him crashing to the canvas flat on his back.
Badly hurt, Lewis finally began to roll over in an attempt to get up as the referee was reaching the count of seven but was clearly in no shape to continue as the fight was waved off.
And boxing had a new heavyweight champion.
Rahman was now the heavyweight champion of the world as well as a free agent, which is a lofty position to be in. He would end up signing a five million dollar deal with promoter Don King less than a month after his victory. Both HBO and Showtime entered into negotiations with Rahman looking to sign the new champion to an exclusive contract. HBO wanted to offer Rahman a handsome sum to sign with the network and return for a rematch with Lewis where Showtime was dangling the Mike Tyson carrot as a part of their offer. Rahman turned both offers down. Instead he would choose to make a defense against David Izon and sell his services to the highest bidder.
Lewis had a rematch clause in his contract, which he chose to immediately exercise and would once again find himself in a courtroom fighting for the right to challenge for the championship. Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum would rule in Lewis’s favor, giving him legal right to the Rahman rematch. Rahman would have to fight Lewis again in his next fight or he would have to remain inactive for 18 money-less months. Both sides would now negotiate and a deal was reached.
The rematch would take place on HBO Pay Per View on November 17 in Las Vegas.
This time around a far more focused Lewis would come in at a trimmer 246 1/2 pounds. Rahman for his part would come in two pounds lighter than the previous fight himself at 236.
As soon as the action began it was evident that this would be a different Lennox Lewis. Unlike in Africa, his hands would be held high and he would come out snapping a purposeful jab. That jab that would win him round one as Rahman tried to match sticks with the former champion only to walk back to his corner with a small cut above his left eye. Round two would repeat itself, with the Lewis jab acting as a magnet to Rahman’s face as Lennox used his legs to move around the ring on an advancing champion who could not find his rhythm.
Round three would see more of the same as a waiting Rahman continued to eat the jab, only now Lewis was following it up with a right cross and left hook. The confidence of the former champion was on display as he moved around the ring on an opponent who seemed lost and looking for one big shot. That big shot he was looking for would be the same right hand that felled Lewis in Africa. In round three Rahman never was able to throw it, instead having to resort to the jab and occasional hook as Lewis circled and took Rahman’s most dangerous weapon away. After three completed rounds it was all Lennox Lewis. Early in round four Lewis would find a weakness in Rahman. No different than in baseball when a pitcher throws away a pitch to set up the next one, a boxer will waste a punch to set up his next shot. Lewis threw a wide left hook and the overhand right behind it, which landed. The reaction he got from Rahman as the hook sailed past him allowed the overhand to land flush on its target.
Rather than attempt to roll, block or step out of range from the hook, Rahman’s response was to immediately stick his arms out (see below) as the right hand followed up and found its home.
Lewis now knew the hole to Rahman’s game that he was searching for.
Rather than immediately attempt the same sequence again, Lewis instead would go back to his jab and give Hasim something else to think about.
Once the champion was distracted trying to match jabs, Lewis would again go to the throw away hook and Rahman would react in the same exact fashion, sticking his arms out straight. What would accompany the sweeping left hook would be a monster of an overhand right which Lewis put everything on.
As the punch whipped into Rahman’s jaw with a huge thud the champion fell straight on his back with blood trickling from his mouth. Referee Joe Cortez reached the count of nine and Rahman just got to his feet, only to fall again, collapsing into his Lewis’s corner as the fight was waved off. Lennox Lewis had his redemption and had done so in dramatic fashion, scoring one of the most devastating one punch knockouts in heavyweight championship history.
Sometimes in boxing and in life you get what you want but it comes way too late, at which point you wish you hadn’t ended up getting it at all. The longtime fantasy conjured up in everyone’s mind becomes a letdown after father time had his say in the matter. Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson would finally meet in 2002. This fight should have happened in 1996. Both fighters had contracts with different networks but once the combatants were both on board this was a fight too big from a financial aspect not to happen. In one of the very few times that both cable providers joined together Lewis-Tyson would take place on June 8, 2002 in Memphis, Tennessee at the Pyramid.
Each fighter would make $17.5 million dollars and a percentage of the HBO-Showtime distributed Pay Per View. Tyson was a few weeks shy of his 36th birthday and Lewis a few months shy of his 37th. Although Iron Mike was younger, many years of hard living and spouts of inactivity from the ring combined to make him a watered down version of the fighter he once was. Tyson had fought just six times since his rematch loss to Holyfield while in the same time span Lewis had fought 11 times and against far more credible opposition.
This was the fight that Lennox Lewis always wanted. Tyson on the other hand was having financial issues and was in trouble with the IRS. One was fighting for legacy and the other was fighting for money, fighting because he had to. I’m not sure post-prison Tyson ever really wanted to fight Lewis. Stylistically Lewis was all wrong for Iron Mike. Big, strong, talented and fearless.
When the bell sounded for the long awaited fight, Tyson in customary fashion would come out aggressive, looking to inflict damage on his bigger opponent from the start. Tyson was always known as a fast starter and even at an older age that approach remained the same. He would land a few good body shots on the champion in round one as Lewis tied Mike up on the inside. A Tyson left hook to the head would find its mark towards the end of the round. In round two Tyson got his first real taste of Lewis’s power as the champion caught the challenger with hard uppercuts as he charged in trying to close the distance.
Round three would see Lewis landing a heavy jab on a Tyson who seemed to be slowing down some. There was less head movement and Tyson’s perpetual motion was wavering as he became a more stationary target. By the end of the third stanza Tyson was bleeding from a cut over his right eye and the champion was gaining control of the bout. By the end of round four the fight was getting one sided as Tyson’s face began to show the effects of the punches in the form of some swelling over both eyes to go along the cut from the previous round. Lewis was putting combinations together and his right hand was landing at will. With ten seconds left in the round Lewis threw a big right which only partially landed, then Lewis leaned on Mike, sending the challenger to the canvas. Referee Eddie Cotton ruled “no knockdown” and instead deducted a point from Lewis for pushing Tyson to the floor.
During round five Cotton would again warn Lewis for pushing, which seemed to be a part of the champion’s strategy as he wanted to impose his strength on Tyson while continuing to show that he was the boss in the ring. Tyson was throwing less and less and becoming more predictable to Lewis, who easily avoided the single shot bombs when thrown while continuing to wear Mike down with activity.
By round six the effects of the fight were showing on Tyson’s face in the form of cuts over both eyes and blood now coming from his nose. Tyson was looking depleted and Lewis was in complete control, continuously connecting with his jab and slamming home the occasional overhand right.
At this stage it seemed like Lewis could possibly end matters if he started opening up with some power shots and that’s just what he started to do in round seven. Tyson’s output was dropping with each passing round and now Lewis was using his left hook more frequently anytime Tyson attempted to charge forward and get some offence going. The challenger was visibly aware of Lewis’s power as his aggression continued to wane. After seven rounds it looked like the once great former champion was all but ready to go. Lewis started to put his right hand behind the jab, landing several hard shots throughout the round. By this stage Lewis couldn’t miss with his jab as he made a mess of the once great fighters’ face. When the bell tolled to end the round it did so after the most one-sided one of the fight. Tyson was ripe for the picking. By now Iron Mike was moving in slow motion as round eight began with target practice in the form of the can’t miss jab from the champion. Midway through the round a huge Lewis uppercut would land flush on Tyson’s eye, rattling the challenger down to his foundation. Referee Eddie Cotton called knockdown, although no part of Tyson’s body ever touched the canvas and administered a standing 8 count. Lewis immediately began to unload with uppercuts and right hands on his exhausted prey. With 50 seconds remaining in the round the champion landed a huge right cross on a Tyson, who was ducking in the same direction, sending him down to the canvas.
Flat on his back with blood streaming from both eyes, Tyson was counted out.
The one night marriage between HBO and Showtime was a successful one, it produced 1.97 million Pay Per Views, which was a record at that time.This was a brutal one sided affair that came too late in both men’s careers, a fight that Lennox always wanted, his ticket to credibility, fame and fortune. It happened but it came late in his career. Any which way it arrived, Lewis now had the victory that he always wanted while Tyson wished it was still 1996 and he could change some of the choices that he made.
An entire year would pass before Lewis would step in the ring again, on June 21, 2003. Lewis was initially scheduled to fight Kirk Johnson, who pulled out just two weeks beforehand with an injury. The WBC No. 1 heavyweight contender Vitali Klitschko was originally the co-feature to Lewis- Johnson and Vitali would instead step in and challenge for the championship against Lennox.
Lewis and Klitschko were scheduled to fight later in the year and this double header card on HBO was meant to promote a future matchup should both be victorious. The future would come sooner rather than later once Johnson left Lewis with no opponent. Vitali along with younger brother Wladimir were the next generation of heavyweight. Big, strong, intelligent, athletic heavyweights expected to rule the division as a nearly 38 year old Lewis couldn’t go on forever.
Vitali stood at 6 foot 7 inches and possessed a very unorthodox and busy style for a heavyweight. He was a fighter who held his hands low, often out of his opponents’ peripheral vision and threw punches from every conceivable angle. He also did so with power, as 31 of his 32 victories came inside the distance. The lone loss on his resume came at the hands of Chris Byrd, who would capture the vacant IBF title that Lewis vacated following his win over Tyson. Byrd captured Vitali’s lesser regarded WBO title when the two met three years earlier in a fight that Vitali was easily winning and well ahead on the scorecards cards. Battling through a shoulder injury which happened earlier in the bout, Klitschko would retire on his stool at the completion of the 9th round of a 12 round fight the result of a torn rotator cuff.
Vitali had rebounded from the Byrd defeat with five straight victories and jumped on the opportunity to step in and face Lewis for the title. What would transpire that night at The Staples Center in Los Angeles California would be one of the best heavyweight championship fights of the last 3 decades.
Lewis entered the ring at a new career high 256 1/2 pounds, which raised eyebrows. His previous career high of 253 1/2 pounds produced disastrous results in Africa two years earlier.
Vitali, who was two inches taller than Lewis, came in at 248. The two heavyweights would get acquainted quickly and without much of a feeling out process. An eager Klitschko came out employing his busy and unorthodox style aggressively on the attack from the start. The two big men would fight at close quarters from the onset with Lewis being forced to fight at a faster, less measured pace than he was unaccustomed to because of Vitali’s constant volume punching. Both men would land several hard jabs on one another throughout the course of a round one which would belong to the challenger as Vitali was able to land a couple of effective right hands as well.
The action continued at a frantic pace in round two as Lewis looked uncomfortable with the tempo that Klitschko was forcing the champion to fight at. A huge right hand by Klitschko would land clean across the champion’s jaw halfway through the round. Vitali would immediately continue attacking on a stunned Lewis as the challenger’s confidence began to grow. Lennox would battle back with power shots of his own but all too often it was one and done while Klitschko would promptly respond with 4 and 5 punch combinations. Lennox was now trying to walk his man down, putting both physical and mental pressure on Vitali but he wasn’t punching enough in the process.
With 50 seconds remaining in the round and fighting while backing up Vitali went on a tear, bouncing one power shot after another off the champion’s head. When the bell sounded Lewis went back to his corner sporting a welt under his left eye as Emanuel Steward bluntly told him that he had lost the first two rounds and needed to start taking the fight to the challenger.
Lewis followed his trainer’s instructions and straight away brought the action to Klitschko as soon as the bell for round three sounded, calling on the same combination used to knock Rahman out in the form of a throw-away left hook followed by the overhand right which crashed home.Vitali now had a cut over his left eye, a product of the overhand right that had just landed. Lewis, like the true champion he has always been, needed a big moment and delivered almost instantly. The blood that streamed down Vitali’s cheek seemed to only inspire him further as he landed one jab after another, three in total, flush on the champion. Less than a minute into only the third round it was evident that this was turning into a battle of will over skill. Klitschko would land a hard, clean jab snapping Lewis’s head back and Lewis would return fire immediately with a pristine right hand clipping the challenger right on the chin. The same right hand that put so many rivals on the canvas was barely getting a reaction from Klitschko. At the midway point of the round Lewis was able to touch down a left hook on the already bleeding eye of Vitali, which ripped the cut open further. The challengers’ eye was now badly damaged as blood streamed down his left cheek.
He continued to battle Lewis exactly as he had prior to being cut and continued slamming hard right crosses and stiff jabs off the champ’s head. Lennox was predominantly sticking with the jab and left hook which continued to find a home and as the round ended the challenger walked back to his corner, his face a mask of blood. Steward had demanded his fighter bring the fight to Vitali and Lewis delivered in a big way in round three, as Klitschko sat on his stool for his minute rest in between frames the ring doctor would step in the ring and take a close look at Klitschko’s eye. The doctor saw a massive cut and in a bad place right on the eyelid. Vitali’s cutman Joe Souza, who had saved many a night for Arturo Gatti, worked feverishly to stop the bleeding. The ring doctor informed the ref that he was going to keep watching the cut and allowed the fight to continue. A fight already soaked in action was now dripping with drama as well.
Again at the sound of the bell Lewis came out attacking Klitschko with power shots at the start of round four. The champion would continue to play the role of bull to the challenger’s matador as he applied constant come forward pressure behind a telephone pole jab. The jab was worsening the already damaged eye of his opponent. Both fighters were now showing fatigue in round four and rightfully so but Lewis’ come-forward pressure tactic was allowing him to fight a little more relaxed than his opponent, who was forced to throw twice as many blows as the champ trying to fend him off. After four rounds it was anybody’s fight.
Round five would start as the previous ones with Lewis commanding the role of aggressor immediately with a lunging left hook/right cross combination. Lennox began landing the left hook from medium range now and when the two got together at close quarters the champion now started using a powerful right uppercut to snap Klitschko’s’ head back inside. When the fighters fought at long range it would then revert back to advantage challenger as Klitschko fully extended on hard jabs and right crosses. Both men were showing titanic chins to match their indomitable will. Vitali’s eye seemed to worsen as Lewis targeted the cut with jabs and left hooks as the challenger’s face was covered in blood once again. As soon as Lewis seemed to be in command of the round Vitali would spring to life almost inspired by his own gore as he began pushing Lewis’s back to the ropes with a barrage of punches. The final minute of the frame saw several momentum changes in a round that could have gone either way. Klitschko walked back to his corner following round five bleeding now from two different cuts as Lewis opened a gash below his opponent’s left eye to complement the one above it. By the start of round the wound over Vitali’s left eye had clearly grown worse. Nevertheless, Klitschko would land a couple of hard right hands in the first 20 seconds of the round.
Lewis’s conditioning was now coming into question as he looked exhausted as the challenger peppered him with left, right and right-left combos. At the 2:09 mark of the round Lewis landed a punch which may have very well saved the title and the fight for him. Both fighters fell into a clinch and Lewis let loose a massive right uppercut on the inside, violently snapping Klitschko’s head back. Somehow he took the punch but moments later the eye would begin to bleed freely. It had now reached the point where the fighters’ safety and future vision were paramount over a victory or championship. The two punched on, between grappling, clinching and wrestling on the inside as both boxers were clearly exhausted. Right at the bell to end the round Lewis landed another big right uppercut and short left hook and collapsed right on a waiting stool in his corner. As Vitali walked back to his corner the doctor was waiting for him and waved the fight off.
The damage to the challenger’s eye was too great to risk the fight going on any longer.
Lennox Lewis was the victor via TKO in round number six. Klitschko vigorously protested the stoppage but to no avail.
Incredibly this fight was put together on just two weeks notice and ended up delivering an instant classic that stamped the legacies of both warriors forever.
Public demand for a rematch started immediately and a tentative date of December 6th was set aside while Klitschko’s eye healed.
Ultimately Lewis would make the decision that too few fighters make on their own. He decided he would retire from the sport of boxing and leave on top. He was about to turn 38 years old, was financially well off, had all of his faculties and a legacy well secured. Very few athletes and even fewer fighters are able to walk away from the sport at the top or close to the top of their game. Aside from stepping away from the limelight there is the issue of leaving so much money and opportunity on the table. The temptations to continue to live the life the fighter has always known, as demanding as that life can be, is often less frightening than the unknown. Lennox Lewis never returned to the ring and his instant classic with Klitschko would be his final fight.
The footprint that Lewis left on the heavyweight division is a substantial one.
Aside from being a three time world champion, Lewis is one of only four fighters ever to retire as heavyweight champion, along with Gene Tunney, Rocky Marciano and Vitali Klitschko. The Klitschko that he defeated in the final fight of his career as Lennox was on his way out the door would never lose another fight again.
Lewis also holds the the distinction alongside Marciano of having beaten every opponent he ever shared a ring with, avenging his losses to McCall and Rahman as well as his draw with Holyfield. Lennox defeated all 14 past, present or future heavyweight champions that he fought. He was a diverse boxer who could beat his man with an array of options. Tactically outboxing, outthinking and out maneuvering the likes of Tua and Holyfield. He could get rid of his man in a hurry if he chose to as demonstrated in destructive defenses over Golota, Grant and Botha. He could go to war with the most dangerous of punchers as illustrated in his wars with Bruno, Mercer, Briggs and Klitschko and he could overcome adversity proven on many an occasion but never more apparent than in his revenge victories over McCall and Rahman.
Lennox Lewis was a fighter that could do it all but what he always did best was find a way to win. He was never as celebrated as Tyson or as beloved as Holyfield, however he stands above both on any credible all time list of great heavyweights.
His resume and accomplishments rival any big man in the sports rich history yet somehow all these years later he remains under appreciated and underrated. The London-born, Canadian raised champion conquered America as well as every man he ever fought and that legacy will live on forever.