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 defeat. Lewis then stopped Frank Bruno in seven rounds. The WBC bout was the first time that two British counterparts faced off in a world heavyweight tile fight.

Lewis then stopped Phil Jackson, before top contender Oliver McCall landed a righthand in round two to upset the champion and claim the green belt. Lennox Lewis was then frozen out of the world title picture and was forced to take on danger men like Lionel Butler, Tommy Morrison and Ray Mercer, before taking on McCall in February 1997 for the vacant WBC heavyweight title.

In a bizarre fight, where McCall seemed to have a mental breakdown in the ring simply refused to fight. With 55 seconds of the fifth round elapsed, referee Mills Lane stopped the contest, crediting Lewis with a TKO victory as he regained the WBC crown.

In his second tenure as champion Lewis beat Henry Akimande with a sixth round disqualification (for excessive holding), blew away the dangerous Pole Andrew Golota in 95 seconds, knocked down Shannon Briggs three times to claim the lineal heavyweight crown in five rounds and outpointed Mavrovic.

The fight with Holyfield was the high profile encounter he craved and the world were looking forward to having the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Riddick Bowe beat Holyfield in November 1993.

Lewis Vs Holyfield was set for 13th March 1999

The sell-out crowd of 21,284 had already witnessed Fernando Vargas defend his IBF light-middlewight crown, stopping Britain's Howard Clarke in four rounds. The WBA flyweight title changed hands when Leo Gamez stopped Hugo Rafael Soto. Heavyweight contender John Ruiz stopped Mario Cawley in the fourth round as he made the first defence of the WBA-NABA title. Ruiz was also hoping for a shot at the winner of the main event. Plus WBA welterweight champion James Page out pointed Sam Garr on the chief support event.

The British fans were in fine voice as they sang "There's only one Lennox Lewis. One Lennox Lewis. Walking along. Singing his song. Walking in his winter wonderland," They cheered every British celebrity that were shown on the big screens above the ring and booed anyone that was American.

WBC champion Lennox Lewis walked out first to Bob Marley's Crazy Bald Heads, as Holyfield entered the ring to Gospel music. Lewis towered over Holyfield and came into the ring at 245 pounds (111.13 KG's) whilst the WBA & IBF champion weighed 215 pounds (97.52KG's). Arthur Mercante Junior was the referee and he emulated his father, Arthur Mercante Senior, as he officiated the first Ali-Frazier contest in Madison Square Garden on 08th March 1971, for the undisputed heavyweight title.

Lewis started fast and kept Holyfield on the back foot for most of the round. The jab, when thrown with force, snapped back the shaved skull of the older man. Holyfield wasn't allowed to do anything effective, but he did land a snappy left-right as the round drew to a close. On the bell Lewis leaned on his man, whilst Holyfield lifted him up and forced the bigger man onto the seat of his pants. The British contingent booed as referee ticked off both men.

Lewis' jab was an effective weapon

Holyfield was backed to ropes in round two as Lewis teed off on him. Again the centre of the ring was dominated by the WBC champion, as the 'Real Deal' was unusually throwing very little in the way of leather.

"Predictions are for the weathermen," Holyfield said before the fight. "I have confidence in the word of God. I'm not predicting, I'm telling you: I will knock him out in the third round." Lewis did start the round fast, but it was Holyfield who actually got through with some good lefts and rights, as he backed his opponent to a ring corner and let loose with some haymakers. Holyfield won his first round of the contest, but he failed to knock out his man as predicted.

Lewis boxed well behind his jab for most of round four and was beginning to find the range with his right. Holyfield did have some success as he tried to force the fight in the last 60 seconds. In round five Holyfield threw a wild left hook, which was countered with a hard right to the side of his head. The smaller man was hurt and covered up on the ropes as his opponent landed some hard shots. Holyfield survived the crisis and tried to fire back.

Judges Stanley Christodoulou and Larry O'Connell scored this dominant round to Lewis 10-9, but Eugenia Williams controversially gave it to Holyfield. The Sunday Mirror ran a front page headline that she received thousands of dollars to score the fight for Holyfield. Williams successfully won substantial damages in the libel suit.

Lewis looked to take control in the  first half of the contest

In round six Lewis dropped his hands and Holyfield exploded into action as he landed a left hook, followed by a right and another left to the Brit's unprotected jaw. Lewis weathered the storm and got back to work behind the jab and was landing some good right leads.

At the midway point of the contest both men grappled each other to the canvas. Lewis fired in a straight right