The Iron Years Part Six: Decline

Updated: Aug 6, 2019


Mike Tyson


Hiatus

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.

The Return

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.