The Iron Years Part Six: Decline
Updated: Aug 6, 2019
Two weeks after the Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson rematch, Lennox Lewis made the first defence of his second tenure of the WBC heavyweight crown. He took on his number one contender Henry Akinwande. Akinwande was a former WBO champion, who vacated the belt to get a shot at Lewis. Two-thousand fans watched a disappointing encounter which saw Akinwande get disqualified in the fifth round for excessive holding.
Lewis was back in the ring on 04th October the same year, this time taking on Andrew Golota from Poland. Golota's previous two meetings were with Riddick Bowe. He lost them both by disqualification due to low blows, but he had the former two-time heavyweight champion in all sorts of trouble before the fouls. Lewis only needed 95 seconds to dispose of his challenger.
On 08th November 1997 WBA heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield stepped into the ring with IBF counterpart Michael Moorer. Even though Moorer outpointed Holyfield in April 1994, the WBA champion was installed as a 12-5 favourite to unify the championships.
Holyfield was cut in the third, but continued to knock down Moorer in the fifth, before putting him down twice in the eighth round. With Moorer sitting on his stool the doctor advised referee Mitch Halpern to stop the contest, meaning Holyfield had his hands on two of the three main belts.
Three weeks later at the Taj Majal Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, George Foreman put his lineal heavyweight crown on the line against Shannon Briggs. The crowd of 5,200 watched Briggs defeat the ageing Foreman by a majority decision 117-113, 116-112 and 114 each. Foreman never boxed again and Briggs was now the man who beat the man, who beat the man.
Lennox Lewis and Shannon Briggs got in the ring on 28th March 1998. Briggs' lineal status got him his first shot at a heavyweight title. Lewis started aggressively, but was made to retreat and take a more cautious stance after tasting the power of his opponent.
Briggs had Lewis in trouble again in the second, but by the third Lewis got his jab working and managed to draw blood from Briggs' mouth. Lewis put his man down in the fourth and Briggs went down twice in the fifth. The second knockdown signalled the end of his challenge and his lineal status went to the WBC champion.
Holyfield next fought on 19th September and faced former title challenger Vaughan Bean in his home town of Atlanta, Georgia. 41,357 packed into the Georgia Dome to watch their man retain the WBA and IBF belts with an unanimous decision 117-110 (twice) and 116-111.
Seven days later Lennox Lewis took on the unbeaten mandatory contender Zeljko Mavrovic. Lewis landed 216 of 507 punches as he kept his title with scores of 119-109, 117-111 and 117-112. The challenger never boxed again due to health issues, but the victory for Lewis meant he could face Holyfield for the undisputed heavyweight crown in the new year.
Mike Tyson's boxing license was reinstated in October 1998, but he didn't box again until 16th January 1999. His opponent was Frans Botha who carried the number two ranking by the IBF. The fight took place at the MGM Grand, the same venue where the infamous ear biting incident took place.
Botha boxed well behind his jab and landed right hands, as Tyson missed with some wild lefts and rights. Towards the end of the round Tyson grabbed Botha's arm, with the South African trying to punch himself free. The bell sounded and both corner's tried to separate the two. Tyson later admitted that he was trying to break his opponent's arm. Referee Richard Steele deducted a point from Tyson for the foul. Before round two started Richard Steele said to Tyson, "You can't win with a foul. You've been here before." He then went over to Botha. "You can't win with a foul."
Round two was littered with fouls, but Botha was working well behind his jab and right hand. Tyson was deducted a point for twisting his opponent's arm again. Rounds three and four went to Botha, again for landing the cleaner shots. Midway through the fourth the South African dropped his hands and toyed with Tyson. The former undisputed champion seemed lost and looked to the referee for help.
The fifth round was going the same way and Tyson didn't look like he could put two punches together, unlike in his heyday when he just ripped through opponents. Then, with 12 seconds remaining of the round Tyson connected with a hard, short, chopping right to Botha's jaw. The South African hit the canvas. He tried to get up twice, but failed as the referee reached ten.
Botha was ahead on all three judges cards 40-36 (twice) and 39-36. Tyson also admitted that he felt rusty after his year and a half layoff.
On 31st August 1998 Tyson was involved in a traffic accident and allegedly assaulted two motorists. In February 1999 he was sentenced to twelve months in prison, fined $5,000, ordered to serve two years probation and undergo 200 hours of community service. He served nine months of his sentence.
As Tyson served his prison sentence Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis would meet each other to decide who was going to be the next undisputed heavyweight champion. The fight took place at the Mecca of boxing; Madison Square Garden on 13th March 1999. However, after twelve rounds both men left the ring with their titles as the bout was scored as a draw.
Once released from prison, Tyson began his assault on the heavyweight division once more and took on former WBA cruiserweight champion Orlin Norris, elder brother to light-middleweight champion Terry, on 23 October 1999.
Both men were the same height, which was unusual for Tyson, as he was used to punching up at his opponents. Norris boxed well and wasn't intimidated, as Tyson also looked to work behind a jab. As the round ended Tyson threw a left hook that floored his opponent. Norris got up and Richard Steele deducted two points for the foul.
The bell sounded for the second round, but Norris was still on his stool, claiming he injured his knee as he fell. Jimmy Lennon Jnr gave the official announcement. "This bout has been stopped after round number one due to an accidental foul which occurred after the bell rang. This bout is officially ruled at this time a No Contest."
Tyson accused Norris of faking his injury as he believed he would've caught up with his opponent in the next round. He publicly promised a return match in the December of that year. Norris maintained his innocence saying he just went down the wrong way as he fell. The rematch never materialised and Tyson next fought in Britain the following January.
The 13th November saw a rematch between Holyfield and Lewis. This time after another twelve rounder Lewis added Holyfield's WBA and IBF straps to his collection, making him the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Riddick Bowe in 1992.
In the new century Tyson made his European debut. On 29th January he took on the British and Commonwealth champion Julius Francis at the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester. The capacity crowd witnessed the power of the former undisputed champion as he nailed Francis with a right uppercut which put him down for a count of nine. He got up, but a couple seconds before the bell a stiff left jab
Tyson piled on the pressure in the next round and got his man on the ropes where a series of punches put him down once more. Francis got up and took the eight count. A body attack put the Brit down again. He bravely got up and continued, but after a few more punches the British champion was down for the final time. Tyson was a class above Francis and there was no controversy surrounding this contest.
Lennox Lewis defended the WBC and IBF belts against Michael Grant. The WBA title was declared vacant as the Lewis camp saw little gain in having a rematch with Henry Akinwande, the governing body's top contender.
Lewis and Grant fought on the 29th April at Madison Square Garden. Grant was seen as the heir apparent, but Lewis took him out in devastating fashion, knocking the challenger down twice in the first round and once in the second, after two minutes and 53 seconds of the round.
Tyson was six days shy of his 34th birthday when he took on Lou Savarese at Glasgow's Hampden Park. The man who lost a twelve round split decision to George Foreman in April 1997 and last time out lost an unanimous decision to Michael Grant only lasted 38 seconds.
Tyson seemed to hurt his opponent with every shot he landed and was on the canvas after just 15 seconds. More controversy mired Tyson at the 26 second mark as referee John Coyle tried to stop the contest, but Tyson was still swinging, pulling the referee to the ground with one of his left hooks. Savarese fired out blows in an attempt to stop the advancing Tyson. When Coyle finally separated them he declared Tyson the winner by knockout. Tyson eventually apologised to the referee, but that was after he stated about eating Lennox Lewis' children.
Lennox Lewis took on Frans Botha in London for his two belts on 15th July 2000. Again Lewis made short work of his opponent as he stopped the South African in two minutes and 39 seconds of round two.
On 12th August Evander Holyfield took on John Ruiz for the vacant WBA belt. Henry Akinwande was meant to be Holyfield's opponent, but he had to pull out due to having hepatitis. The Real Deal became a four time heavyweight champion as he outpointed Ruiz on a close unanimous decision 114-113 (twice) and 116-112.
Controversy followed Tyson again as he took on Andrew Golota on 20th October. Tyson started fast, landing bombs from his crouch style. He was bobbing and weaving under Golota's punches and coming up with his own shots. It looked like the Tyson of old had showed up. With 15 seconds of the first round remaining Tyson connected with a looping right hand which put his Polish opponent on the canvas. He got up straight away and wanted to continue. The bell saved him from further punishment.
Tyson swarmed all over Golota in the next round, landing the same looping right that put him down in the previous round. Golota took what Tyson gave, but one right visibly hurt the Pole. He showed courage to fight back, but Tyson was landing at will.
As the bell sounded to end the round, Golota walked around his corner refusing to fight another round. "I quit," he said to his stunned cornermen. They pleaded with him to box on, but he was having none of it, leaving the referee little option but to stop the contest and award the contest to Tyson by technical knockout.
Golota was pelted by rubbish and drink cans from angry fans as he returned to his dressing room. It was here that the Pole claimed that Tyson was butting him and the referee was doing nothing about it. It was later revealed that Golota had broken a bone in his head, which could've pierced his brain had the fight resumed.
Tyson tested positive for marijuana after the bout and the result was changed from a TKO to a No Contest. He was banned for three months and fined $5,000.
The following month in Las Vegas Lennox Lewis put his WBC and IBF titles on the line against the Tyson-esque David Tua. The Samoan was ranked number one by both organisations and would give Lewis practice for facing the real Tyson at a later date. Lewis kept his foe at range and negotiated the twelve rounds without tasting Tua's left hook. The scores of 117-111, 119-109 and 118-110 reflected his dominance in the bout.
The WBA heavyweight title changed hands on 03rd March 2001 as John Ruiz boxed relentlessly to overturn the defeat he suffered to Evander Holyfield last time out for the vacant belt. He floored the four time heavyweight champion in the eleventh round en-route to an unanimous decision 116-110, 115-111 and 114-111.
The following month Lewis took on Hasim Rahman in South Africa. He weighed in over eighteen stone and only landed in the country twelve days before the bout, not giving his body enough time to acclimatise to the high altitude. But he was still favourite to retain his two belts.
Lewis controlled the action but was relying heavily on his big right hand, but in round five Rahman nailed the champion with the best right hand to someone's jaw he ever threw. Not only did he relieve Lewis of his senses, he took the WBC and IBF belts too.
Mike Tyson took on Brian Nielsen in his home country of Denmark on 13th October. Tyson weighed his heaviest ever, but still looked cut, compared to the soft body of his opponent. Tyson started fast as usual and attacked the soft body of the Dane. Nielsen absorbed some big shots to the body and head, but managed to hear the bell.
Where Nielsen stayed on the ropes for most of the first round, he did manage stay in the centre of the ring for the second. He had some success with his left hook, but it didn't hurt Tyson, who took the round by landing the meatier punches. The Dane was cut over the left eye from what a appeared to be a clash of heads at the bell.
The third was going the same way, then late in the round a fast combination to the head put Nielsen to the canvas, for only the second time in his career. He got up and continued, but on the bell suffered a low blow. He collapsed to his knees in the corner. The referee, Steve Smoger confirmed the blow was unintentional and would give him five minutes to recover if he continued.
Nielsen only took 90 seconds to recover before the fourth round got underway. Tyson swarmed all over his man for the next two rounds, landing at will to head and body. The sixth seemed as if Tyson was taking a breather, but he still was the one landing the bigger shots.
As the bell sounded to start the seventh, Nielsen retired on his stool, giving the bout to Tyson by TKO. Now he waited to see if Lewis could gain revenge over Rahman the following month.
17th November 2001 was make or break day for Lewis, as after many legal wranglings finally secured the immediate rematch clause that was in his original contract with Rahman. Lewis was installed as 5-2 favourite, even though he got knocked out by Rahman in their previous match.
Thirty-six year old Lewis did gain revenge in the fourth round as he followed up a left hook with a devastating right hand. Rahman was out, he tried to regain his feet but couldn't. Lewis now joined Muhammad Ali and Evander Holyfield as a three time heavyweight champion and set up a lucrative date with Tyson.
The press conference to announce the Lewis-Tyson match was held in New York on 22nd January 2002. The challenger was announced first and strode onto the stage, staring where Lewis was to appear. When the champion took to the stage, Tyson made his way towards him. One of Lewis' bodyguard's stepped between them and pushed Tyson back. Tyson threw a left hook that missed, while Lewis raised his hands and threw a punch. A melee erupted on the stage as boxing officials and both camp members rushed in. With all the pushing and shoving that was going on both fighters fell to the floor. While they were down, Tyson, who suffered a cut on his head bit Lewis' leg.
The promotors planned to stage the contest in Las Vegas on 06th April, but the Nevada State Athletic Commission voted to deny Tyson a license on 29th January. Several other states which included New York, California and Texas also refused Tyson a boxing license.
The contest was finally announced to take place at The Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee on 08th June 2002. The contract guaranteed each fighter $17.5 million each and it stated that if the fight ended in a flagrant foul, the boxer committing such an infringement would forfeit $3,000,000 of their purse to the other party. Tyson was also forced to agree to pay Lewis $335,000 for biting his leg. The payment was due on the day after the fight.
The fight also meant that Home Box Office, who had Lewis under contract and Showtime, who Tyson fought for had to work together.
Lewis was a 2-1 betting favourite. Before the fight the referee, Eddie Cotton gave both boxers their fight instructions in their dressing rooms, as a team of yellow shirted security guards formed a barrier in the centre of the ring, from ring post to ring post, meaning the gladiators wouldn't engage in the traditional stare down, or touch gloves.
Both men looked to work behind the jab, then Tyson landed a right to the head. Lewis then caught Tyson on the way in with a huge right uppercut. Tyson backed off as the champion tried the uppercut a few more times. The round turned ugly as Lewis clinched, but he was still scoring with he superior jab.
Tyson rushed out in the next round, but Lewis stepped back and was able to land a lethal right uppercut. The referee warned the champion for holding, but that was part of his tactics. Step back as Tyson rushed in, land the uppercut and hold. Lewis' jab was also keeping Tyson at bay and when they did get close, the champion used his weight advantage to push the challenger off.
Tyson was instructed to get close and make this an ugly fight, but Lewis boxed well behind his jab in the next round. When Tyson did get close he didn't do anything. He did land a jab here and there, but it wasn't until late in the round that he got through with a trademark left hook. His right eye was cut and his nose was bloodied, thanks to Lewis' ramrod jab.
Lewis was beginning to dominate now. Tyson couldn't get close to his man as the champion jabbed and fired in right crosses at will. The round was nearly over when Lewis threw a one-two, which caught Tyson on the chin. They came close and Lewis leaned on his man as Tyson fell to the canvas and stayed on his back looking at the champion. Eddie Cotton ruled it as not a knockdown and deducted a point from Lewis' card as the round ended.
Tyson was looking a desperate figure now as he just looked to land the one that mattered, but Lewis' jab stopped him from doing such a thing. Tyson was now bleeding from the left eye as his cut right eye was beginning to swell.
Lewis controlled the sixth round too, but the power of Tyson showed as Lewis finished the round with a swelling under his left eye. The seventh was another dominating round for the champion as the challenger just ate jabs and Lewis' big right hand.
Though Tyson told his corner he had had enough, he did start the eighth round aggressively - it was short lived, thanks to the champion's jab. Tyson did land two good body punches, but a jab, right uppercut followed by a left uppercut and a right buckled Tyson's legs; his legs dipped but he didn't touch the canvas though the referee ruled it a knockdown and gave Tyson a standing eight count.
Tyson was hurt and now a spent force. Lewis fired in some hard shots which backed his man up. Tyson's face was just a bloody mess as a left right combination finally put Tyson on his back for the count of ten at two minutes 25 seconds of the round..
Tyson embraced Lewis after the fight and kissed Violet Lewis, (Lennox's mother) in the ring. "I am happy for him," he said. "I am thankful for the chance. He knows I love him and I hope he gives me the chance to fight him one more time."
The rematch between Lewis and Tyson never happened, but Tyson carried on with his career and faced Clifford Ettiene on 22nd February 2003. The fight took place again at The Pyramid in Memphis. Ettiene had a respectable record of 24-1-1 (17 KO's), but a defeat to Fres Oquendo, where he was knocked down seven times in eight rounds put a big question mark about his jaw.
Tyson sporting a new facial tattoo needed only 49 seconds to record win number 50 as a straight right hand finished Ettiene. Tyson wouldn't fight for the remainder of the year, due mostly to filing for bankruptcy and filing a lawsuit against former promotor Don King for $100 million.
Seventeen months later Mike Tyson took on former British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion Danny Williams. The bout took place at the Freedom Hall State Fairground, Louisville, Kentucky on 30th July 2004. Williams had a record of 31-3 (26 KO's) and weighed in at a solid 265 lbs, compared to Tyson's 233 lbs.
Williams looked to trade from the opening bell and Tyson landed some hard shots to the body. The Brit tied Tyson up but a left hook, followed by a left uppercut had Williams wobbling and it looked only a matter of time before the thirty-eight year old Tyson would finish him. Towards the end of the first Tyson threw a left to the body and appeared to stagger back. It was later revealed that he tore a ligament in his left knee at this moment.
Williams had some successes in the next round, but was on the back foot for most of it as Tyson was the aggressor. A left hook from Williams seemed to get Tyson's attention, but Williams found that he had to fight off the ropes.
Tyson pushed Williams to the ropes at the start of the third and both men traded. The referee called
break and the British man landed a late punch which cost him a point. The referee also called the doctor to look at Tyson's cut right eye. They resumed the action of trading blows, but Williams landed south of the border and got a second point deducted. Still they traded punch for punch as the bell sounded.
Both men came out slugging in the fourth round, but as the stanza progressed, Tyson was relying on one right hand as Williams was throwing combinations. Then it seemed as if Tyson just disappeared as Williams fired out a barrage of unanswered punches and Tyson was slumped on the seat of his pants as blood trickled down his face. The referee, Dennis Alfred counted him out with 9 seconds of the round remaining. Tyson's plans of fighting for the heavyweight championship had just evaporated.
Tyson received surgery for his ligament damage and next climbed into the ring on 11th June 2005 at the MCI Center in Washington. His opponent was Irishman Kevin McBride, who was unbeaten in his last seven fights, but all four of his defeats came by stoppage.
Many believed that Tyson was a shot entity, but would destroy his opponent quickly. Tyson boxed on the outside, landing some big shots, but the towering opponent remained competitive and survived the opening three minutes. Tyson still looked to work on the outside as McBride tried the right uppercut, he made it to the bell.
Tyson started fast in the third and looked to take out his taller opponent. McBride did a good job in smothering Tyson's work, but it was the American who was landing the telling punches. Tyson again looked to take out McBride in the fourth working the body and head, but the Irishman soaked up the hard punches and stayed close to his opponent, nullifying any knockout blows.
Tyson again started the fifth aggressively, but it was McBride who was having success late in the round. Tyson had slowed considerably and looked to be in trouble as he was against the ropes, shipping punishment as the bell sounded.
Tyson looked in some distress as the sixth round started, but he jumped all over the Irishman. As they clinched on the ropes, Tyson twisted McBride's arm, just like he did against Francois Botha, in an attempt to break it. After a warning, Tyson was on the ropes and lunged his head into McBride's, cutting his left eye. The Referee, Joe Cortez took away two points for the butt.
Again Tyson started his onslaught as he looked to end the fight, but McBride came on strong towards the end of the round. Tyson sagged on the ropes as his opponent landed some good shots. McBride weighed 271 lbs and leaned on his man, sinking Tyson to the canvas.
The bell rang and Joe Cortez signalled it wasn't a knockdown, but Tyson just sat there with no intention of getting up. He barely made it up as he got back to his corner. The crowd was stunned when Tyson refused to come out for the next round, meaning that Kevin McBride was announced as the winner via TKO victory.
"I do not have the guts to be in this sport anymore," said Tyson. "I don't want to disrespect the sport that I love. My heart is not into this anymore. I'm sorry for the fans that paid for this. I wish I could have done better."
Mike Tyson retired with a record of 50 wins, 6 defeats, 2 no contest and 44 wins by knockout. He will go down in history as the youngest ever world heavyweight champion and one of the most exciting heavyweights to ever grace a boxing ring.
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