Revisiting Holyfield-Lewis I

lennox lewis19.11.07 - By Geoffrey Ciani: As I awaited the reading of the scorecards in Saturday night’s super featherweight showdown between Joan Guzman and Humberto Soto, I was about ready to flip the channel, figuring a Guzman victory was a foregone conclusion. For whatever reason, I decided to wait for the official announcement—after all, in professional boxing, you just never know. I’m glad I stayed tuned, for what happened next was rather humorous.

Before the verdict is read, HBO has a tradition of listing the judges one-by-one and citing some previous fight that each scored in the past. As Bob Papa began listing the judges’ names, he came upon the name “Jean Williams” and proceeded to explain how she had previously scored the fight between Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield which ended in a draw. Lewis, who happened to be commentating, immediately quipped, “That wasn’t a draw! I beat him two times!” which drew laughter from Papa.

As if this was not funny enough, Williams also happened to be the judge who inexplicably scored the bout 115-113 in favor of Holyfield. As Papa duly noted, this did not build much confidence around Eugenia Williams’s ability to score a fight. The fact that HBO decided to cite this bout as her most notable was nothing short of hysterical, especially considering that Lewis himself was a part of the commentating team on this particular night.

Luckily, Williams was on the mark this time, having scored the bout in favor of Guzman, 117-111. However, I could not help but wonder, “What the hell was she thinking scoring that first bout for Holyfield?” To most observers, the unification bout between Holyfield and Lewis was a no-brainer—Lewis won the fight, and did so convincingly. That one judge had the bout ruled a draw was bad enough, but that Williams actually scored the bout in favor of Holyfield reeked of corruption.

Going into this showdown, neither fighter had looked especially good in his previous bout. Holyfield looked rather ordinary when he squared off against Vaughn Bean in September 1998. Despite dropping Bean in the tenth, Holyfield did not look as sharp and focused as he had ten months earlier when he avenged his loss against Michael Moorer to add the IBF trinket alongside the WBA. Lewis looked equally bad the same month when he defended his WBC crown against the very talented but unknown Zaljko Mavrovic. Most members of the boxing community had assumed Lewis would have no problems against the unheralded Mavrovic, who proved to be a game opponent.

Back at this time, the heavyweight division had not had an undisputed heavyweight champion since Riddick Bowe decided to dump his WBC belt into a trash can rather than face Lewis. This was after Bowe had beaten Holyfield to capture the undisputed championship in November 1992—that’s a very long time for boxing’s keynote division to have gone without an undisputed king. Perhaps the two lackluster performances against Bean and Mavrovic were a blessing in disguise, prompting each champion to finally settle things once and for all.

Who was the real heavyweight champion of the world: Evander Holyfield or Lennox Lewis? That question was supposed to be answered on March 13, 1999. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a night of clarity ended on a sour note, and fans were no closer to having an undisputed champion than they had been before the match began.

Going into this championship match-up, Holyfield uncharacteristically made a bold prediction and stated that he would stop Lennox Lewis in the third round. In fact, this was a divine prophecy, for Holyfield actually even pegged the Almighty God as the source of his prediction. During the first two rather uneventful rounds, Holyfield did not do much, and was repeatedly caught at the end of Lewis’s telephone pole jab. Between the second and third stanzas, Holyfield assured his trainer, Don Turner, that they would be out of there shortly, an obvious reference to his divine prophecy.

The third round wound up being the most entertaining in an otherwise lackluster encounter, as Holyfield came charging out like a bull fully dedicated to stopping Lewis this round as he predicted. Lewis actually looked a bit frightened in this round, as Holyfield unleashed a series of blistering combinations and even managed to back the bigger man into a corner. However, when the bell sounded to end the round with Lewis still on his feet, Lewis seemed relieved and rejuvenated whereas Holyfield seemed entirely depleted.

During the rest of the bout, neither fighter seemed especially passionate about winning the contest, which was bizarre considering the high stakes at hand. Lewis controlled most of the bout by utilizing his jab, which landed frequently. This mostly prevented Holyfield from working his way inside to land any meaningful blows. To be fair, Holyfield occasionally had his moments and managed to land some telling shots, but in the end, he was outworked, out-jabbed, and out-hustled.

In the end, this should have been a unanimous decision victory for Lennox Lewis. Unfortunately, only one judge, Stanley Christodoulou, saw it in his favor, having scored the bout 116-113. Even that seemed to be generous towards Holyfield. Larry O’Connell saw it 115-115, and of course, the aforementioned Jean Williams inexplicably had it for Holyfield 115-113. Incidentally, I scored the bout 117-111 in favor of Lewis, and I’m hard-pressed to see how anyone, let along all three of the official judges, could manage to give Holyfield any more than three rounds.

The looks on each fighter’s face told the whole story. Lewis looked as if he had been unjustly robbed and became irate; Holyfield looked relieved, and one can tell from the look in his eyes that he knew he was the recipient of a gift decision. This was by far one of the worst decisions rendered in recent memory, and it is the type of decision that leaves a bad taste in the mouth of fans throughout the boxing community, in particular, the casual fans.

As things turned out, justice was ultimately served as Lewis was awarded the decision in the rematch eight months later. In a rather ironic twist, the second encounter was a much closer contest, which I personally scored 115-113 in favor of Lewis. However, only one judge saw it that way, as the other two had it 116-112 and 117-111.

Perhaps these judges were overcompensating for the fact that Lewis should have been awarded the decision the first time around, but it is a bit humorous that the scorecards from these two fights would be more indicative of the fights that actually took place if you switched the March scores with the November outcome and vice versa. Only in professional boxing!

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Article posted on 20.11.2007

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