The two superstar heavyweights may not have been that different in age, but when Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson finally fought – on this day 17 years ago – the fight was no contest. A mismatch. A sad-to-watch beating. Yet imagine if the fight did not happen? To this day, Lewis would have had two big feelings of what if – his lost fight with Riddick Bowe being the other (and some fans would say Lewis’ career is today less than 100 percent complete due to how he never gave Vitali Klitschko a rematch; but that’s another story).
Tyson, aged 35, and Lewis, aged 36, fought in Memphis and the promotion was absolutely huge. Enormous. Unsurpassed. But for a while it was hit and miss when it came to whether or not the two would fight. The two biggest names in the heavyweight division at the time, who had sparred once as young men in The Catskills, got into a 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 nuts, was later refused a license just about everywhere – apart from Memphis.
The fight everyone still wanted to see was back on.
After a bright start, Tyson winning the opening round, the one-time “Baddest Man on The Planet” faded, then took a beating, then took a compete and utter hammering. Cut above both eyes, out-boxed, out-punched and out-muscled, Tyson was no match for Lewis. Finally laid out, flat on his back in the 8th, Tyson looked like a finished, never to fight again former champ.
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 17 years ago today was a fight that, for it to have been truly competitive, would 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 needing money, fought on, 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 (Danny Williams and Kevin McBride).
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. To this day fans argue how Lewis should have granted Klitschko a rematch, and they also debate what would have happened if the cuts Klitschko’s face was torn apart by had not been opened.
Both Lewis and Tyson should have called it a career after their fight of 2002. Lewis had nothing left to prove, while Tyson had nothing left to fight with.