It was twenty years ago today when it happened; when THE draw to end all draws, and start all debates, was thrust upon us. And how the accusations flowed as a result of the result: corruption, a fix, the worst decision in heavyweight championship boxing. It was the Evander Holyfield-Lennox Lewis showdown, “Undisputed,” for all the heavyweight marbles. Taking place at the legendary Madison Square Garden in 1999, the clash for the lineal, WBA/WBC/IBF titles proved to shock the entire world. Or the decision handed in at the end of 12 pretty much otherwise unremarkable rounds shocked the planet.
Holyfield, 36-3, had recently smashed Mike Tyson, he had survived an ear bite attack in a return with Tyson and “The Real Deal” had then avenged his “heart attack” loss to Michael Moorer. Holyfield was all-conquering and he had just one man left to beat: Lewis. Lennox was coming off a revenge win of his own, over Oliver McCall, and he had recently seen off good fighters like Shannon Briggs and Andrew Golota. Both Holyfield and Lewis were confident of victory going into the March ’99 collision, the usually quietly confident Holyfield uncharacteristically predicting a third-round KO win. Lewis laughed at such a prediction.
Lewis, 34-1 was in charge early, scooping the opening two rounds. Ahead of the third, Holyfied said to his corner, ‘this is the round he go out, y’all.” It never happened, although Holyfield did win the session. From there on in, though a number of rounds were quite close, Lewis definitely got the better of it. Holyfield, for once finding out that he could not overcome a naturally bigger, heavier man, was all empty as the bell rang to end the 12th and final round. Lewis, fresher and practically unmarked, threw his hands in the air, so sure was he he had won the biggest, most important fight of his life.
Then came the stunner of a decision: 116-113 for Lewis, 115-113 for Holyfield, and 115-115, all-even. The boos were deafening.
Later, the judging skills of a certain, soon to be infamous Eugenia Williams being put under the microscope, the drawn verdict was universally lambasted. Don King, promoter of Holyfield, was the bad guy in the opinion of many, while the scores handed in by Williams and British judge Larry O’Connell were also targeted. Lewis, ironically, was more popular, more appreciated than ever before; in the U.S especially.
There is no doubt Lewis was robbed of a deserved victory and a rematch was soon ordered. The second time around, it was a much more competitive fight, but Lewis got what he should have got in the first fight, a unanimous decision victory.
All these years later, and no draw in recent boxing history – save the 1993 draw between Pernell Whitaker and Julio Cesar Chavez – has so inflamed the sporting world. People might have grumbled about the drawn verdict that was handed in at the conclusion of the December bout between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder but, compared to the atrocity that took place 20 years ago today, that decision was perfectly acceptable. No less than the mayor of New York himself confessed to his embarrassment regarding the result that absolutely nobody agreed with.