The Real Deal Part Six: Surpassing Ali & the Impossible Quest

Updated: Aug 7, 2019

Evander Holyfield

On 19th September 1998, a month shy of his thirty-sixth birthday, Evander Holyfield defended his IBF and WBA heavyweight titles. He faced top International Boxing Federation contender Vaughan Bean, who was outpointed by then IBF champion Michael Moorer by majority decision in March 1997.

Holyfield, fighting in front of his home town fans in Atlanta, looked to be an old fighter at times. Many believed that Bean wouldn't give too many problems, as the man had only fought eight fighters with a winning record. Holyfield had to draw on all his experience to overcome Bean, who he knocked down in the tenth round as he ran out an unanimous decision 117-110 (twice) and 116-111 winner.

Seventeen days later Lennox Lewis, the WBC heavyweight champion negated twelve rounds against his mandatory contender Zeliko Mavrovic, winning by scores of 119-109, 117-112 and 117-111. The victory over the Croatian set up a unification battle against Evander Holyfield at the Mecca of boxing, Madison Square Garden (who paid $8 million to host the event), New York on 13th March 1999.

Holyfield decisioning Vaughan Bean in SEP 1998

Lennox Lewis was born on 02nd September 1965 in West Ham, London. He moved to Canada at the age of twelve. He stayed unbeaten as an amateur for three years, before he lost to the eighteen year old Donovan Ruddock at the age of fifteen. He lost to top amateurs Tyrell Biggs and the Cuban Jorge Luis Gonzalez, as he represented Canada.

In the 1988 Seoul Olympics he stopped American Riddick Bowe in the second round to capture the gold medal in the super-heavyweight division. He teamed up with British boxing manager Frank Maloney and fought under his birth country as a professional. He made his debut on 27th June 1989, stopping Al Malcolm in the second round.

Exactly a year later he faced former WBA cruiserweight champion Ossie Ocasio, who extended him the full eight rounds for the first time in his career. In October that same year he stopped the European heavyweight champion, Jean-Maurice Chanet in the sixth round to claim his first professional title.

Lewis was then matched against the British champion and top five heavyweight contender Gary Mason, who sported a 35-0 (32 KO's) resume. Mason, who suffered a detached retina in his right eye after beating Everett Martin two fights previously, was considered too experienced and powerful for the 14-0 (12 KO's) Lewis.

The EBU champion boxed superbly and targeted the damaged right eye, forcing a stoppage after seven rounds. He then travelled to America and knocked out ex WBA heavyweight champion Mike Weaver in six rounds. He then faced former IBF cruiserweight champion Glen McCrory in defence of his domestic crowns, proving too big and powerful as he brushed aside his challenger in two rounds.

After two more contests in the states, Lewis returned to Britain to face Commonwealth heavyweight champion Derek Williams. After three rounds he added the title to his British and European championships, becoming the first man to do so since Richard Dunn defeated Joe Bugner in October 1976.

Lewis won one more contest before taking on Donovan 'Razor' Ruddock in a WBC title final eliminator match on 31st October 1992. It was seen as a real acid test against the Canadian, who had endured nineteen brutal rounds against Mike Tyson in 1991. Lewis put in a powerful performance, knocking 'Razor' down at the end of round one and crushing his man with a further two knockdowns in the next round, meaning he was next in line to face the winner of the first Holyfield/Bowe encounter.

With Riddick Bowe inflicting Holyfield's first defeat and claimed the undisputed heavyweight title, he and his team decided to relinquish the WBC belt rather than face the Brit. Bowe famously dumped the belt in a bin at a London press conference.

In January 1993 the WBC awarded Lewis the title and ordered him to make his first defence against Tony Tucker. The bout took place in Las Vegas and the former IBF champion had only one blemish on his forty-eight fight career and that was a points defeat to Mike Tyson back in 1987.

Tucker who had never been off his feet, was knocked down in rounds three and nine en route to a 118-111, 117-111 and 116-112 points