Split Decision: Holyfield v Lewis I

Split Decision is a brand-new series where we look back at some classic fights from the past and evaluate if the right outcome was achieved. Of course, boxing is subjective, there are certain styles that appeal to certain fans and that is what we love about it. Two people can watch the exact same fight and have polar opposite views on it. It’s what gets us talking. In this series, we judge the judges and see how you think we’ve done.


The sight of a British heavyweight being denied a heavyweight championship victory against an American champion on American soil is not an all too unfamiliar one. The most recent example which will spring to mind is Tyson Fury being awarded a draw against then WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder in December 2018 in Los Angeles, when most felt he won the fight comfortably, after rising from the ashes in an unforgettable twelfth round. However, for some, that would be a case of history repeating itself as Lennox Lewis suffered a similar fate in a unification fight with Evander Holyfield back in March 1999.



In a bout billed as Undisputed (despite Brit Herbie Hide holding the WBO title) Holyfield was defending his WBA and IBF titles while Lewis brought his WBC belt and status as the Lineal heavyweight champion to the table. Holyfield had captured the WBA title in a surprising stoppage win against Mike Tyson, losing in only his first defence after beating Bruce Seldon. In opting to fight Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson relinquished the WBC title which created an opportunity for Lennox Lewis to avenge his loss to Oliver McCall and re-capture the belt. He did so, in bizarre fashion, as McCall refused to throw punches from round four onwards and began crying in-between rounds before it was finally concluded by the ref in the fifth.


Holyfield would then add the IBF title to his collection in a rematch with Michael Moorer, who had previously beaten the Real Deal in a close contest in 1994. This time, Holyfield floored Moorer five times as the latter would be denied the opportunity to come out for round nine by the ringside physician. Meanwhile, Lewis became the Lineal heavyweight champion by knocking out Shannon Briggs in 1998, thus creating an eagerly anticipated unification fight between the two.




The Fight


A packed Madison Square Garden would see Lennox Lewis struggle to make it into the ring during a ridiculously congested ring walk, something of which you just wouldn’t see anything like today. Holyfield had less trouble with his journey, looking focused on the job ahead and singing along proudly to his gospel ring walk music.


Round one saw Lewis establish his dominant jab from the outset – not allowing Holyfield to land a punch for the first two minutes of the opener. Much of the same followed in the second as Lewis looked calm and calculated, taking the first two rounds with ease.


Holyfield had predicted in the build-up that he would knock Lewis out in the third round and he galvanised himself to try and make that prophecy a reality. Holyfield landed a left hook to open a barrage which would be followed up by a straight right and another left, as he announced himself in the fight. Towards the end of the round, Holyfield landed a crisp cross right which seemed to stun Lewis and serve as a reminder that this fight was on.



Lewis came out for round four in a composed fashion, again working behind the jab and it seemed Holyfield had exerted quite a lot of energy in the third, now unable to get into distance to attack. Lewis enjoyed success with some stinging right hands and he appeared to be impenetrable when firing the jab in full flow.


Holyfield found himself in trouble in the first minute of round five, overstretching for a left hook, leaving himself exposed for Lewis to initially stun him with a shot near the back of the head and then with a flurry of composed, spiteful right hands. To further stamp his authority on the round, Lewis finished it by unleashing a wicked four-punch combination with the stats showing he landed an impressive 75% of the 57 punches he threw in the round.


Lewis landed the punch of a relatively quiet round six, a big uppercut, but it was in the seventh where he threatened to end things early. After a ripping left hook to the body, Lewis landed a straight right, later followed by