There was controversy by the bucket load before the fight. There was massive doubt the fight would actually happen. There was massive fan interest. It was 20 years ago today when Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson finally got it on; this after a wild pre-fight presser that saw Tyson attack and bite Lewis, “Iron Mike” subsequently being denied a licence in many places. But eventually the fight found a home, and Lewis found out how much better he was than Tyson. At this stage in their respective careers, at least.
Tyson, aged 35, and Lewis, aged 36, fought in Memphis and the promotion was absolutely huge. Enormous. Unsurpassed. But for a while it really was hit and miss when it came to whether or not the two would actually fight – in the ring. The two biggest names in the heavyweight division at the time, who had sparred once as young men in The Catskills, got into THAT nasty skirmish in January of 2002 when, at a presser to announce the fight, Tyson slung some punches at a Lewis bodyguard as the two were supposed to meet head-to-head on a podium in New York. Tyson then allegedly bit Lewis on the leg during the ensuing brawl. Tyson, basically going full-on nuts, was later refused a license everywhere apart from Memphis.
The fight everyone still wanted to see, in fact wanted to see even more, was back on.
After a bright start, with Tyson winning the opening round, the one-time “invincible” fighter faded. Tyson then took a beating. Cut above both eyes, outboxed, out-punched and out-muscled, Tyson was no match for Lewis. Finally laid out, flat on his back in round eight, Tyson looked like a finished, never to fight again former champ. It was sad to see how far Tyson had fallen.
There was, astonishingly, brief talk of a rematch, with Tyson, incredibly asking his conqueror for the chance to fight him “one more time.” Thankfully the repeat beating Tyson would have received never happened. What we saw 20 years ago today was a fight that, for it to have been truly competitive, would have had to have taken place at least five or six years earlier. But it didn’t, and fans took what was left of a super-fight.
Tyson, shot or close to it but badly needing money, fought on, the former king managing one win and then being KO’d a further two times by fighters who today readily admit they would not have stood a chance with the peak version of the fighter they climbed into the ring with. It turned out Lewis didn’t have too much left to offer either. Escaping a humbling loss to Vitali Klitschko in his career finale a year after he’d punished Tyson, Lewis barely made it through the battle; aided to victory as he was by the horrific cuts Klitschko suffered.
Lewis and Tyson had to fight; it was simply demanded by the general public. But after their fight, one won with command by Lewis, neither man should have fought again.