Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday: History in the Making – Lennox Lewis vs. Frank Bruno

Lennox Lewis Frank Bruno - Bob Thomas Sports Photography 2
Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography

After a week and a half of sustained rain in Cardiff, Wales, the Boxing Gods had blessed fans with a small window of dry skies. On a Friday night, October 1, 1993, the WBC World Heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis would defend his title against Britain’s favorite son, Frank Bruno. The bout would take place at Cardiff Arms Park, an outdoor rugby stadium.

As the HBO team came on the air it was approaching one o’clock in the morning in Cardiff. Jim Lampley immediately pointed out that there was tremendous concern that the fight could be delayed or may not take place due to inclement weather. Although the rain had finally let up, there was a chill in the air as the temperature at fight time was 50 degrees.

The matchup was billed “The Battle of Britain” and carried historical significance. For the first time in history, two Englishmen, both living in London, would square off for the Heavyweight championship of the world.

Lewis had become the first Englishman to hold the crown since Bob Fitzsimmons in 1897. Pre-fight animosity got downright nasty as Bruno said Lewis was “not British” having been born in Jamaica and having lived for many years in Canada. It was true that Lewis had won his gold medal representing Canada in the 1988 Olympics. Lewis countered saying he had fought and beaten more British fighters than had his challenger and that Bruno would go on television dressed in women’s clothing. The back and forth was often heated.

Lewis (23-0, 19 KOs) had turned professional in the summer of 1989. Standing 6’5″, his career skyrocketed on Halloween night 1992. In London, he faced the man many pointed to as the future of the division, Donovan “Razor” Ruddock. Lewis solidified his No. 1 ranking by blasting Ruddock in an unmerciful beating that lasted less than six minutes.

Just two weeks later, Riddick Bowe defeated the undisputed champion Evander Holyfield, handing him his first loss. Instead of fighting the number one contender, Lewis, Bowe elected to hold a press conference and drop his WBC title belt into a garbage can. Just weeks later, the WBC named Lewis the champion.

With expectations off the chart, Lewis looked less than brilliant in his first defense against cagey veteran Tony Tucker. Despite moments of difficulty, Lewis scored a unanimous decision and did drop Tucker twice. Questions then arose as to which Lewis would show up against Bruno. Would it be the Lewis who dominated Ruddock or the Lewis who at times struggled against Tucker?

At 6’3″ tall, Bruno (36-3, 35 KOs) held a distinct experience advantage over Lewis. The bout against Lewis marked his third opportunity at the Heavyweight crown. He had lost in his first two attempts against Tim Witherspoon and Mike Tyson. His only other loss was to James Smith. But, like a tooth ache, Bruno kept coming.

Bruno turned professional in March of 1982. Like Lewis, he was a big heavyweight with a body like a Greek God. His resume was replete with big names and former as well as future world champions. The knock on Bruno was his inability to cash in on the big stage and bring the title back to London.

An arena that had sold 40,000 plus tickets stood on its feet as Bruno made his way to the ring. The crowd went berserk as their longtime love-affair with Bruno leaped into fifth gear. Wearing white trimmed with red and blue, Bruno also wore a red stocking cap. The weather conditions were palpable as you could see his breath in the cold night air.

Merchant was as excited as the many onlookers. “The Heavyweight championship of the world means so much to so many people.”

After leaving Bruno pacing in the ring for several minutes, Lewis exited his dressing room. Preceded by the WBC championship belt, Lewis also wore a stocking cap and was adorned in red trimmed with white. The crowd response was quite different as Lampley pointed out. “And now he enters the ring to what must be seen as a derisive greeting from what is clearly a partisan Bruno crowd.”

Scheduled for 12 rounds, ring announcer Mike Goodall first introduced the referee, Mickey Vann. Vann took a tremendous amount of heat for his scorecard in the Pernell Whitaker-Julio Caesar Chavez fight less than a month before. He drew the ire of many, including Merchant, who didn’t hold his tongue. “Giving this man this choice assignment in my mind is like naming Jesse James to the Federal Reserve Board.”

George Foreman, Merchant and Lampley were all ringside to call the action live on HBO.

After Goodall introduced the fighters, Vann provided the instructions in the center of the ring. Both men were in superb condition and their stares were as cold as the temperature in the ring.

As the crowd settled in, Lampley quickly covered the rules which included a unique item, what he called “a once in a blue moon rule.” If the bout were to be stopped because of rain before the third round ended the fight would be declared a no contest. If stopped after the third round was complete, on to the scorecards we would go. This would place an enormous premium on winning the early rounds.

The opening bell sounded and we were underway. Merchant jested, “If this fight is half as good as the commercial that promoted it we’ll have a hell of a fight!” Lewis launched and missed a wild overhand right to start the action. Bruno was clearly the aggressor moving forward as Lewis was comfortable moving backward playing the role of counter-puncher.

Lennox Lewis Frank Bruno - Bob Thomas Sports Photography 3
Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography

After three minutes, neither man had established a clear advantage.

As the second round began, Lewis showed that he listened to his corner in between rounds. Bruno was holding his hands very high and Lewis had been instructed to attack the body. As Lewis pounded to the body, Bruno countered with left hooks and right hands. Bruno dictated most of the action and appeared to have won the round easily.

One minute into the third round, Bruno rocked Lewis into the ropes with a sledgehammer right hand. The crowd exploded with chants of, “Bruno! Bruno!” Less than a minute later, Bruno hurt Lewis again and backed him into a corner. As the bell sounded, Bruno looked comfortable and in command.

Although cold, there was no rain in sight and the bout was now official with three rounds completed.

As we entered the fourth, Bruno’s left eye began swelling. Lewis looked to rake the eye and continued countering with powerful overhand rights and a menacing left jab. After the fourth, Harold Letterman shared that he had Bruno ahead four rounds to none, 40-36.

As the bout entered the fifth Bruno visibly began slowing down. There were spots where Lewis was the aggressor and Bruno was moving in reverse. Fans could ever so subtly feel the tide turning as Lewis, working behind a strong left jab, continued to target the swelling left eye of Bruno by throwing brutal right hands.

Now in Round 6, Lewis was showing damage. He had a cut on the left eyelid. As Bruno pressed forward you could see the fighter’s breath as they stood toe-to-toe at mid ring. Midway through the round, Foreman made a brilliant observation commenting, “Bruno is starting to drop that left hand a little too much.” Indeed, both of his hands were slipping lower and lower.

The bell sounded to begin the seventh and both fighters engaged in immediate back and forth at center ring. Seconds into the round, Bruno landed a wicked right hand that forced Lewis into the corner. As Bruno moved in for the kill, he began firing right uppercuts in a rapid fire succession.

As Lewis’ knees bent he covered up in the corner and peeked through his gloves, launching one of the greatest left hooks in boxing history. His radar was spot on and the left hand impaled on the side of Bruno’s chin. Bruno’s head snapped and his legs went rubbery and he stumbled backward.

Lennox Lewis - Frank Bruno - PA Photos
Photo by PA

Lampley screamed over the reaction of the crowd, “Lewis in trouble in the corner. Oh! And lands a sensational left hook! Let’s see if he can finish! Bruno in serious trouble! A frozen Frank Bruno is there taking punishment! And now Mickey Vann stops the fight! It was a one punch comeback!”

Incredibly, the fight was over at 1:12 of the seventh round.

After the Lewis victory, the Heavyweight picture looked clearer. But, as is often the case, things got clouded again in a hurry. Lewis told Merchant after the fight that he wanted the undefeated Bowe. Tommy Morrison, who had only one loss to Ray Mercer, was also being seriously considered.

Just four weeks later, Morrison was upset by Michael Bentt in a first-round knockout. The following week, Bowe would lose a close decision to Holyfield in their rematch.

Bruno would fight on and finally reach the summit, winning the Heavyweight title from Oliver McCall. His first defense would be in the Spring of 1996. In a rematch with Tyson, he would be knocked out in the third round and would subsequently retire.

Lewis would also fight on and finish as one of the few fighters who defeated every man he had ever faced, two via rematches against Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman. He would be inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 2009.

Undeniably, these men made history and provided fans with one unforgettable evening.

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