Lewis Vs Bowe: The Fight That Never Was
Updated: Aug 6, 2019
The last time these two fought was in the 1988 Olympic Super-heavyweight final, where Lewis; who was representing Canada took gold with a 2nd round stoppage of the American Bowe.
Both men turned professional, with Lewis taking his original British roots under the promoter Frank Maloney. Even though Lennox was born in London and didn't up sticks until he was twelve years old, the public took time to warm to this man claiming to be British with a Canadian accent.
Lewis turned pro on the 27th June 1989 against Al Malcolm, who he stopped in the second round. Bowe turned professional with Rock Newman's promotional outfit, under the tutelage of the great trainer Eddie Futch. On 06th March 1989 he defeated future danger-man Lionel Butler (who had a record of 0-1-0) in two rounds of his professional bow.
Both Lewis and Bowe stayed unbeaten in their first twelve months of the paid ranks. You could say arguably Bowe was the more impressive of the two as Lewis struggled to win over the British public and was involved in some lacklustre performances, but he did seem to be taking on a slightly higher calibre of opponent. In his twelfth contest he was put in with former WBA cruiserweight champion Ossie Ocasio, who took him the full eight rounds.
By October 1990 Lewis, contesting in his 14th bout, picked up the European championship by stopping Jean Chanet, the French gypsy with a sixth round stoppage. This set up a domestic dust up with the British champion and world rated Gary Mason, who boasted a record of 35-0.
This was Lewis' first major test. Mason was ranked no. 5 in the world, opposed to Lennox's eleven. Mason had knocked out thirty-two opponents of his 35 wins and was a slight favourite to add the EBU crown to his British title; even though he suffered a detached retina in his points win over Everett 'Big Foot' Martin in his last but one contest.
Lewis made no secret of going for Mason's damaged eye and used a good left jab to do such a thing. Mason wasn't there to roll over, he came out hooking to try and answer some questions about the EBU champion's untested chin. Lewis let Mason in and unload on him, with Lennox shaking his head in a you haven't hurt me notion. As the fight wore on Mason's right eye was beginning to swell.
By the 7th round the eye had completely shut. Lewis fired a left hook then a straight right that caught Mason's eye. His face contorted with agony as he backed to the corner post. Lewis unleashed a series of shots that left referee Larry O'Connell with no option but to save Mason from serious damage.
In his next fight Lewis travelled to Las Vegas where he took on thirty-nine year old ex heavyweight champion Mike Weaver. What was looking like the battle of the jabs and another lacklustre performance; Lewis stunned the crowd when he followed up a slow jab with a crushing right hand. Weaver was out, with Lewis showing some signs of grazing around the eyes.
Lewis then when back to London's Royal Albert Hall to defend his British and European titles against former IBF cruiserweight champion Glenn McCrory. Lewis proved too strong for his opponent and stopped him with a powerful performance in the second round. McCrory was at a catch twenty-two; he was too big for the cruiser's, but not big enough for the heavyweights.
Riddick Bowe was taken the four round distance in his third bout against Garing Lane, winning an unanimous decision. He didn't really fight anyone of note until his nineteenth paid contest when he took on former WBC champion Pinklon Thomas. At thirty-two years old Thomas was ten years Bowes's senior. On 31st August 1984 he beat Tim Witherspoon on a majority decision to take the title, defending it against Mike Weaver via a eighth round TKO victory.
The following March he lost the belt on points to Canada's Trevor Berbick. Three stoppage victories later he challenged Mike Tyson for the WBC and WBA belts on 30th May 1987, losing by a sixth round TKO. He was also Evander Holyfield's second heavyweight opponent and retired after seven rounds. A victory and a loss later Thomas took on Bowe and retired after eight rounds of boxing.
Bowe then beat former cruiserweight Bert Cooper with a second round TKO, then KO'd Tony Morrison in the first, before taking on 1984 Olympic Gold super-heavyweight medalist Tyrell Biggs. Biggs challenged Mike Tyson for the undisputed heavyweight championship on 16th October 1987. Tyson gave him a systematic beating over seven rounds. Biggs' career went spiralling down when he lost his next bout by a fifth round TKO to Francesco Damiani (who he beat for the 1984 gold medal), then lost by a seventh round knockout to Britain's Gary Mason.
He won four on the bounce before losing to Bowe via an eighth round TKO. In his next contest Biggs fought Lennox Lewis on the Evander Holyfield vs Bert Cooper undercard. Lewis looked superb as he blasted Biggs out in three rounds.
Bowe then boxed another former WBA champion Tony Tubbs and took a ten round unanimous decision, this was only the third time he had gone the distance. Lewis stayed in America and was involved in a lacklustre display against Levi Billups. Though he won a ten round unanimous decision, Lewis did look easy to hit, especially by the right uppercut.
On the 30th April 1992 Lewis put his British and European titles on the line against Commonwealth champion Derek Williams. Lewis had a new trainer in Pepe Correa, who trained fighters such as 'Sugar' Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Simon Brown and Maurice Blocker. Williams also had a legendary trainer in his corner, the great Angelo Dundee, who trained Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali.
Lewis didn't put in a great performance, but the finishing combination in the third round of right uppercut, followed by a left uppercut and a straight right hand was enough to stop Williams for the first time in his career. The victory made Lennox Lewis the first holder of the British, European and Commonwealth titles since Joe Bugner stopped Richard Dunn on 12th October 1976. Though he did win, the crowd couldn't help but chant the name 'Bruno, Bruno," who won his second comeback fight against Jose Ribalta eight days before.
After beating Tubbs, Riddick Bowe scored two KO victories before going against fellow prospect Bruce Seldon. Seldon was making his first appearance since losing in the ninth round to Oliver McCall. Bowe wasted little time and despatched Seldon after just 1.48 of the contest.
Bowe then had back to back wins over Elijah Tillery for the WBC Continental Americas title, the first fight ending in a disqualification; the rematch ending in the fourth. He then stopped Conroy Nelson and TKO'd the normally durable Everett Martin, before going in with the South African Pierre Coetzer to become the official number one WBA heavyweight contender. Bowe won by TKO with one second remaining of the seventh round.
After stopping Derek Williams, Lewis went to America again and stopped Mike Dixon in the fourth round in what was a warm up fight for his most dangerous assignment to date - Donovan 'Razor' Ruddock.
Ruddock from Canada was the leading WBC heavyweight contender, with Lewis ranked at number two. Ruddock was considered a real threat, not only the fact he had a deadly left hook, he also went nineteen rounds with Mike Tyson. The first fight ended in a controversial seventh round stoppage, before losing on points in the rematch. Stoppage wins over ex champ Greg Page and the unbeaten Phil Jackson put him back to the top of the pile.
The fight took place on Halloween 1992 at Earls Court Exhibition Hall in London. This was the fight that would answer many questions about Lewis, especially his untested chin. Ruddock came into the ring full of confidence as he spoke to his man during the referees instructions. Ruddock came out stalking at the bell, as Lewis boxed behind his jab, circling away from the dangerous left. Lewis unusually also had the crowd on his side.
Towards the end of the first round Ruddock aimed a lazy jab to Lewis' midriff; Lewis saw his chance and exploded a right to his opponent's unprotected head. Ruddock's legs seemed to be cut away from him as he crashed to the canvas. He got up, with the bell saving him.
The second round was seconds old before Lewis tagged him again with a left right, that staggered Ruddock to the neutral corner. He got up too quickly and took the eight count. He desperately began swinging to try and turn the disastrous start into his favour, but Lewis wouldn't be denied as he floored the Canadian again. Ruddock was lying on his front as referee Joe Cortez took out his gum shield without bothering to count after just 46 seconds of the round.
The victory meant that Lewis was next in line to face the winner of Holyfield Vs Bowe, which was scheduled for 13th November.
Undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield took the belts off Mike Tyson conquerer James 'Buster' Douglas on 25th October 1990. Douglas was out of shape and surrendered his title when he was caught with a right hand in the third round. The following April Holyfield went the full twelve rounds with 'Big' George Foreman, the first heavyweight to take him the distance since he moved up from the cruiserweight division.
The victory set a path for a mega showdown with Mike Tyson scheduled for 05th November 1991. Tyson injured his rib during a training session and pulled out of the fight. A January date was drawn up, but the Tyson camp declined as it was too close for his pending court case for the rape of beauty pageant Desiree Washington. (Tyson was sentenced to six years imprisonment.)
On the 23rd November that year Holyfield took on second substitute Bert Cooper (Italian Francesco Damiani also pulled out with an injury). Cooper, also a former cruiserweight wasn't given much of a chance against the champion, and things looked bad for the challenger as a left to the body floored him in the opening round.
Cooper survived and was having some success with his right hand. Then the unthinkable happened; Cooper caught Holyfield with one of his rights and dropped him into the ropes. Referee Mills Lane issued Holyfield the first count of his professional career. Holyfield struggled on and eventually a rally in the seventh round helped him make his second successful defence in front of his home fans in Atlanta.
With Tyson now incarcerated, Holyfield won a lacklustre unanimous points decision over another forty-something former world champion Larry Holmes. Despite this the bookies had Holyfield a 7-5 favourite for the Bowe fight.
The contest took place in front of 9,000 fans at the Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas. The champion was guaranteed $5,000,000, with Bowe guaranteed $3,000,000 (with their percentage of revenues Holyfield got around $17,000,000, the challenger $5,500,000.)
Many questions still hung over the unbeaten challenger, especially whether he had the heart to dig deep enough in a tough battle. The experts expected the smaller Holyfield to use his speed and box on the outside, the way he did against George Foreman to negate the twelve rounder.
Holyfield, weighing in at 205lbs, elected to stand with Bowe and trade with him, which the 235lbs challenger obliged in kind. Over nine rounds the contest was competitive, but not exceptionally close, as Bowe used his extra size and leverage to gain the upper hand. The champion's right eye was almost swollen shut and he was cut over the left, his titles and unbeaten record looked like coming to an end.
In the tenth round Bowe snapped Holyfield's head back with a huge right uppercut and sent him staggering backwards across the ring. The challenger sensed blood and went in for the finish, a left hook sending the champion drunkenly into a corner. Holyfield covered up as Bowe battered him around the ring.
Then in mid ring Holyfield began to fire back with meaty left hooks and big right hands. Bowe was now looking on the verge of going as the bell ended one of the greatest rounds in heavyweight history.
Holyfield was finally clubbed to the canvas in the eleventh but he showed the heart of a champion and continued slugging until the final bell. The verdict was unanimous from the judges. Chuck Giampa scored it 115-112, Jerry Roth and Dalby Shirley both saw it 117-110 in favour of the new champion Riddick Bowe.
Lennox Lewis was at ringside as a commentator and the obvious question was asked about Bowe meeting his obligations to his mandatory challenger. "Are we going to have to call you 'Chicken Bowe'?" Lewis asked.
Before he challenged Evander Holyfield, Bowe signed an agreement with the WBC that should he become champion then his first defence would be against their mandatory contender.
The World Boxing Council gave the new champion and Lewis until the 13th December 1992 to reach an agreement, or the fight would go to purse bids. If Bowe chose not to face Lewis then the WBC belt would be awarded to the Brit.
Bowes's manager, Rock Newman made two offers to the Lewis camp. The first offer was a guaranteed $3,000,000 for Lewis with a 90%-10% split. The other was for Lewis to refuse the WBC belt and take on an interim opponent in the states for $2,500,000, then take on the champion for $9,000,000 or a negotiated percentage.
Lennox Lewis' manager Frank Maloney refused both offers and countered with a 75%-25% purse split. Newman turned it down. Maloney then had a change of heart and agreed to Newman's first offer. Newman told Maloney that he was too late and Riddick Bowe's first defence against an opponent other than Lennox Lewis was imminent.
On the 14th December Bowe held a press conference in London where he announced he was vacating the WBC title and threw it in a dustbin. "If Lewis wants the belt, he has to get it out of the garbage," he said.
In January 1993 the World Boxing Council then awarded its belt to Lewis, making him the first British born boxer to hold the heavyweight championship since Bob Fitzsimmons in 1896. The WBC ordered that he must face their top contender Tony Tucker.
On 06th February 1993 Bowe kicked off his title reign against thirty-four year old Michael Dokes, the former WBA champion. The fight took place at Madison Square Garden. He won his homecoming fight two minutes 19 seconds of the first round by TKO. Bowe then made another easy defence over Ray Mercer conquerer Jesse Ferguson, 36. This time the bout happened in Washington DC. 'The Boogie Man' did slightly better than Dokes, lasting seventeen seconds of the 2nd round on 22nd May 1993.
Sandwiched in-between Bowe's farcical defences, Lewis met former IBF champion Tony 'TNT' Tucker on 08th May, in Las Vegas. Tucker had a 48-1 (39 KO's) record, losing only on a points decision to Mike Tyson back in 1987, where he lost his belt, making Tyson the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Leon Spinks beat Muhammad Ali.
Lewis knocked Tucker down twice en-route to a 117-111, 116-112 and 118-111 unanimous decision. Though he won comfortably, he was accused of looking too amateurish and wouldn't pose Bowe too many problems.
History was made on 01st October 1993 on a wet Cardiff night, when two British heavyweights fought each other for the world title. Frank Bruno, Britain's best loved heavyweight since Henry Cooper made his third attempt at becoming world champion.
His first shot came in 1986 when he challenged Tim Witherspoon for the WBA strap. He was holding his own until he got tagged by a right hand and took the champion's over-hand rights as he slumped against the ropes. Three years later he faced off against undisputed champion Mike Tyson. After getting floored in the opening seconds, he got up to rock the invincible one with a left hook. Unable to capitalise on his first round success, Bruno succumbed to Tyson's power as he was stopped on his feet in the fifth.
The Battle of Britain's build-up got a bit nasty. Lewis saw Bruno as a sell-out to his West Indian roots to become part of the British fabric and called him an 'Uncle Tom.' Bruno was proud of his heritage and took exception to being labelled as a 'stooge', the white business man's play thing. The Bruno camp issued Lewis with a legal writ. Even though it was never served, the build up to the contest was going to be a bitter one.
The Cardiff crowd gave Bruno a heroes welcome as he made his ring walk, as Lewis came into a less enthusiastic reception. The usually cool champion looked a bit edgy during the ring announcements. The mechanical challenger got into his stride quickly, even shaking Lewis in the second round. By the fourth the challenger was on top and leading on the scorecards.
In the seventh Bruno had Lewis backing off. Sensing victory he went for broke and momentarily forgot his defences. Lewis threw a wild left swing, which caught Bruno on the jaw and turned the fortunes of the fight.
Bruno was hurt and Lewis knew it. He backed his man to the ropes and unloaded many unanswered shots. The referee stopped the action to give Lewis a ticking off for holding Bruno's head and hitting him, but the challenger was a spent force and ate up some more unnecessary punches before being saved by Mickey Vann 1.12 of the round.
The following month 'Big Daddy' Bowe took on Evander Holyfield in a rematch billed as Repeat or Revenge, in the outdoors of Ceasar's Palace, Las Vegas. Holyfield only had one contest since his first defeat, winning a forgettable rematch on points to Alex Stewart. Bowe at 26 was a 5-1 favourite, but his odds dropped to 2.5-1 come fight night, probably because the champion looked fleshy around the mid-section as he tipped the scales eleven pounds heavier at 246lbs form their previous meeting.
Holyfield, who had Emanuel Steward in his corner, looked in tremendous shape as he always did, but on this occasion he had put on 12lbs of muscle as he came in at 217lbs. The challenger decked in the Kronk gym colours of yellow and gold looked energised and ready for action with his new team around him, which included the rapper MC Hammer.
The champion with all the questions about his added wight looked serious as he stood with his long time trainer Eddie Futch. Bowe came right out after Holyfield, looking for an early finish, but the challenger was made of sterner stuff than the champion's last two fights, who was well prepared to trade punches with his bigger foe.
The rounds were close, but as the fourth drew to a close, they didn't hear the bell and continued to pound away at each other. As referee Mills Lane jumped in between them Bowe was cut between his eyes, high on the bridge of his nose. The fifth didn't go his way either as he finished the stanza looking tired, his extra poundage taking a negative effect on him.
Then came the seventh round, when one of the most bizarre things ever to happen in a boxing ring occured. The two gladiators stood mid-ring facing each other, when, with just over 60 seconds gone, a massive thud of a paraglider - yes a paraglider! got his parachute entangled in the overhead ring lights.
The pilot's legs momentarily got locked in the ropes, before being forced back into the crowd. Pandemonium broke out. James Miller was the pilot, better known as Fan Man, was yanked from the ropes as a member of Bowe's security team knocked the 'idiot' out with a mobile phone.
Ring announcer Michael Buffer gave updates to calm the crowd down as security untangled the mess, so the fight could resume. Both men were covered up in robes and towels to keep them warm during the twenty-one minute recess in the cold Las Vegas night.
Unbeknown to the champion, Bowe's pregnant wife was taken to hospital as a precaution. In hindsight Rock Newman missed a golden opportunity to call the fight a no contest, but the bout continued, with Bowe hurting his man in the ninth, but Holyfield wasn't to be denied and continued to slug it out with his big nemesis down the stretch.
The bell sounded with both men still going at it after the bell. Mills Lane tried to separate the combatants, with the help of Steward, who grabbed Holyfield as they both stumbled to the canvas. The stats claim that Bowe out-threw and out-landed the challenger, but the judges awarded the verdict to Holyfield on a majority decision, meaning he regained the WBA and IBF belts. Judges Jerry Roth and Patricia Morse Jarman both went for Holyfield 115-113 & 115-114 respectively, while Chuck Giampa had it dead level at 114.
On the 06th May 1994 Lewis made the third defence of the WBC belt against Phil Jackson. The challenger had a respectable record of 30-1 (27 KO's), only losing to 'Razor' Ruddock by a fourth round knockout in June 1992. Lewis didn't lose a round as he stopped the American in the eighth by TKO.
Mike Tyson's sparring partner Oliver McCall was next up and held the World Boxing Council number one spot. Though he had lost five, McCall was never stopped and a dangerous opponent. Pepe Correa came to the final press conference and threw a suspender belt at the challenger, claiming that was the only belt he would win.
The fight was held at Wembley Arena on the 24th September 1994. Lewis took the opening round, but the muscular challenger's tactics were clear from the start. The second round saw the champion come out fast using his jab. As they came to the ring's centre, Lewis threw a jab which McCall evaded. The champion went to follow up with a right, but the challenger got in with his right hand first and floored Lewis for the first time in his career.
He got up on very unsteady legs as referee Jose Guadalupe Garcia from Mexico stopped the fight after 31 seconds, amidst protests from the now ex-champion.
Not only did McCall end Lewis' championship reign and unbeaten career, his right hand deprived Lewis and the boxing world of a multi-million showdown against Riddick Bowe. A deal had finally been made between the two camps for the fight to happen if Lewis beat McCall.
Had this contest taken place I believe that Lewis' better boxing skills would have seen him stop Bowe before the tenth round. Big Daddy would have had his moments, but the British man's class would have been too much for his war-torn foe.
Bowe went on to win the WBO heavyweight crown against Herbie Hide, his size being a major factor against the former cruiserweight. He also had a third meeting with Holyfield and after getting up from a heavy knockdown - the first of his career - went on to stop 'The Real Deal' in the eighth. In 1996 he had two disqualification wins over Poland's Andrew Golota. Bowe looked a shadow of his former self and retired, only to come back again in 2004 and 2005. He had his final fight in Germany on 13th December 2008 against Gene Puckall winning an eight round unanimous decision. He retired with a record of 43-1 (33 KO's)
Where Bowe's career didn't really take off after the first Holyfield contest, Lewis had better nights to come. He finally got his shot at regaining the WBC belt after nearly three years of being frozen out when he won a bizarre encounter in a rematch with McCall. The Atomic Bull appeared to have a nervous breakdown in the ring and refused to defend himself, leaving the referee no option but to declare Lewis the winner.
He took just 95 seconds to beat Andrew Golota and on 13th March 1999 finally got the defining fight he was craving when he fought WBA & IBF champion Holyfield for the undisputed title at Madison Square Garden in New York. The fight ended in a draw and the two did it again exactly nine months later. After twelve rounds Lewis was awarded the contest with an unanimous decision and became the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Bowe beat Holyfield the first time around.
After a few defences later Lewis went to South Africa and got knocked out on 22nd April 2001 by Hasim Rahman in the fifth round. In Las Vegas on 17th November Lewis avenged that loss with a fourth round knockout, joining Muhammad Ali and Evander Holyfield as a three-time heavyweight champion.
On 08th June 2002 Lennox Lewis finally got in the ring with Mike Tyson. Though Tyson's skills had diminished somewhat, his box office appeal was still high. Lewis ended the youngest heavyweight champion's challenge with an eighth round KO. Lewis had his final fight on 21st June 2003 against Vitali Klitschko. Lewis was behind on points on all three judges cards, but was beginning to stamp his authority on the contest, opening up some nasty lacerations on the Ukrainian's face. At the end of the sixth round the ringside doctor stopped the fight, meaning Lewis kept his crown.
In February 2004 Lennox Lewis announced his retirement. His ring record stands at 41-2-1 (32 KO's).
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