Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday: Mike Tyson vs. Lennox Lewis is On

Mike Tyson - Al Bello - Getty Images Sport Classic

“I’m the best ever! I’m the most brutal and vicious, and most ruthless champion there’s ever been. There’s no one can stop me. Lennox is a conqueror? No, I’m Alexander. He’s no Alexander. I’m the best ever! There’s never been anybody as ruthless. I’m Sonny Liston, I’m Jack Dempsey. There’s no one like me. I’m from their cloth. There’s no one that can match me. My style is impetuous, my defense is impregnable and I’m just ferocious. I want your heart! I want to eat his children!”

Shortly after knocking out Lou Savarese in 38 seconds of the first round, and flooring referee John Coyle in the process, an enraged Mike Tyson unloaded on his future opponent, Lennox Lewis, in a post-fight tirade. The Tyson tour was in Scotland and Tyson had the champion Lewis on his mind, “I’m coming for you Lennox.”

Tyson was once the most feared man on the planet. The aura of invincibility was shaken after losses to James Douglas and twice to Evander Holyfield. There was, however, still a real sense that Tyson had enough in the gas tank to do away with Lewis.

Lewis was the champion many loved to disparage. He, and his style, was not much cared for by American boxing fans. His defense-first approach was often ridiculed and sometimes booed by boxing fans and critics alike. To add salt to the wound, many now questioned his chin after one punch knockout losses to both Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman.

While Tyson finished business in Scotland, he was facing other issues as well. In October of 2000, in Detroit, he would beat Andrew Golota into submission as Golota refused to come out for the third round, the commission in Michigan would then change the result from a TKO to a no contest due to Tyson’s testing positive for marijuana after the fight.

In October of 2001, Tyson beat up on Brian Nielsen in Copenhagen, Denmark. Nielsen cried uncle and was retired after six rounds of punishment. In the midst of that, Tyson was again in trouble with the law. In what was described as a road rage incident, Tyson pled no contest after assaulting two men after a 1998 traffic accident in Maryland. He would be sentenced to one year in jail.

Meanwhile, Lewis continued his march as champion. After the loss to McCall, Lewis won 13 of his next 14 bouts. The draw with Holyfield is regarded as one of the worst decisions in the history of the sport. In a rematch Holyfield eight months later, Lewis won the undisputed Heavyweight crown.

In a page right out of Tyson-Douglas, lightening, along with a Rahman right hand, struck in South Africa. Lewis was upset on the same scale as Tyson was eleven years earlier in Tokyo. A Rahman right hand separated Lewis from his senses, and his titles, in a devastating fifth round knockout. Lewis got his revenge six months later and put Rahman to sleep inside of four rounds.

Finally, after years of back and forth, the Tyson-Lewis fight was on.

On January 22, 2002, the two met at a press conference in New York City to announce their fight. Both men were on stage and were to be announced in front of fans and media in the Hudson Theatre. Tyson was announced first and took his spot on the right hand side of the stage.

Next, Lewis was announced. As he made his way to his position on the opposite side of the stage, Tyson took off his cap, throwing it to the floor and charged at Lewis.

As he neared the champion, one of the Lewis bodyguards stepped in front of Tyson, impeding his path to Lewis.

Tyson reared back and threw a wild left hook that missed the Lewis bodyguard. As men from both camps leaped into the fray, Tyson and Lewis locked horns and spilled to the ground. After the two were separated and order was restored, Tyson made his way to the podium where he launched a profanity filled tirade that left those watching in utter disbelief.

The press conference brawl would be named by The Ring as the 2002 “Event of the year.”

Tyson’s actions, however, had consequences. Tyson was ordered to appear in front of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. In a unique move, the group voted not to allow Tyson to fight in Nevada and the originally scheduled April 6 date in Las Vegas was off.

As the search was on to find a new home, Memphis, Tennessee anted up and the fight was on again. The Pyramid in Memphis would host the bout and was rescheduled for June 8.

In another unique move, the two fighters were to be separated from each other until they met in the ring. That meant separate news and press conferences as well as separate weigh-ins. This dimension added to the volatility of the fight.

The bad blood continued as Lewis promised, “I want to get rid of all the misfits in boxing, and Mike Tyson is the last misfit.”

Tyson counted with his own promise saying, “I’ll give my best to destroy him. I just want to put my hand through his head and brain. I want his brain to come in contact with my fist. I want to damage his brain.”

At 34, Tyson (49–3, 43 KOs) was facing a range of questions about his ability to compete with Lewis. Lewis had been active fighting at a high level whereas Tyson had only fought 18 rounds over the course of the last three and a half years. He struggled against Francois Botha, had a no contest against Orlen Norris for hitting him after the bell, and the no contest against Golota. He had easily beaten Savarese and Julius Francis whom many regarded as subpar opposition.

On the other hand, the 35-year-old Lewis (39–2–1, 30 KOs) was still haunted by his two knockout losses to McCall and Rahman. Although avenging both loses, the big question remained could his chin hold up under the Tyson assault? His advantages lied in his activity level and the quality of opponents fought over the course of the last few years.

Now that the fight had a home it was being billed as “Lewis versus Tyson Is On.”

In another improbable turn of events, the fight was co-promoted by both HBO and Showtime Pay-Per-View. HBO’s Jim Lampley and Showtime’s Bobby Czyz teamed up to call the fight.

Tyson entered the ring first. Before exiting the backstage area he and his team were met by a squad of police and security. Tyson was not allowed to pass unless they agreed to a prior stipulation which only allowed “two and four”, referring to the number of corner men and handlers allowed at ringside.

Once the 234 pound Tyson stepped into the ring, it was vintage Tyson. “Iron” Mike wore all black and had a towel with a hole cut in the middle around his neck.

Next came Lewis. At 249 pounds, he faced the scrutiny as did Tyson by police and security. As Czyz pointed out, “What’s good for the goose has to be good for the gander. You can’t have it one way and not the other.” Lewis sported white trunks trimmed with red and was bare chested as he wore no robe on his way towards the waiting Tyson.

In another pair of firsts, a security team wearing yellow was a center ring, arms locked, to keep the fighters separated. Add to that both Michael Buffer and Jimmy Lennon Jr. inside the ring to announce the fighters. There would be no instructions provided in the ring by referee Eddie Cotton nor would the fighters touch gloves. They simply went back to their corners to await the bell.

Prior to the two meeting at center ring, Lampley had one final thought, explaining 19 years ago, a 17 year old Lennox Lewis was in upstate New York to spar with a 16 year old Mike Tyson. They lived in the same room together for a week and sparred against one another every day. Tonight, as Cus D’Amato had predicted, they were in the ring with the legitimate, linear and universally recognized undisputed Heavyweight title on the line.

Both had peered at one another over the wall of security. With the ring now emptied out, the bell sounded and as expected, Tyson charged right at Lewis.

Lennox Lewis Mike Tyson - AFP Getty Images Jeff Haynes

Tyson, knees bent, sprang forward and upward at the much taller Lewis. Seconds into the bout, Lewis caught Tyson with a monster uppercut and seemed to rock Tyson. Undaunted, Tyson continued to press the champion. Lewis held and tried to smother Tyson with his size and weight. Tyson continued to push Lewis back with his jab and many scored the first for Tyson.

Lewis bounced back strong in the second and took command using his long left jab and dropping superbly timed right crosses that strafed Tyson’s chin. Into the third, Tyson’s right eye had had begun swelling and blood began to trickle from it as the round climaxed. Lewis continued to control the fight and Tyson continued to press forward.

In the fourth round, Lewis continued to use his size and lean on Tyson, pushing him down to the canvas. Cotton then deducted a point from Lewis leaving many in the crowd of over 15 thousand booing.

Tyson came out in the fifth reenergized, working behind head movement and his own jab. He launched a vicious right hand followed by a left hook, both missing their intended target. As Lewis continued landing his own bombs, Tyson then began to bleed from his left eye. As the blood streamed down his cheek, Tyson was still determined as he again began to slow.

Between rounds as the Lewis corner worked on a mouse under his left eye, Emmanuel Steward screamed at Lewis, almost incensed, “You got a dead man in front of you! Get this (expletive) out of here!” The Tyson corner pleaded with him to be more active and let his hands go.

Lampley called more of the same in the sixth round as Lewis continued to land at will. “Target practice. Taking candy from a baby. This is easy for Lewis.”

As the fight moved into the seventh, Lewis landed a blistering uppercut at the midway point of the round that shook Tyson from head to toe. Tyson crouched into a knees bent positon with his hands held high next to his cheeks. Cotton stepped in an immediately ruled it a knockdown.

Seconds later, Lewis went for the kill. As Tyson stepped in and leaned to his left, Lewis unloaded a vicious right hand that dropped Tyson in his tracks and putting him flat on his back. As Cotton counted, Tyson had gotten to his knees as the count reached 10. Cotton waived a halt to the action as Lampley exclaimed, “Lennox Lewis knocks out Mike Tyson and banishes him from the upper stratosphere of the Heavyweight division!”

Mike Tyson Lennox Lewis - Jeff Haynes AFP

The fight was the largest grossing fight in history at nearly 107 million dollars. That record would be broken when Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather got together in 2007. The Ring named the Lewis demolition the “Knockout of the Year.”

Tyson was humbled after the fight. Lewis cemented himself as unquestionably the best in the division.

And although there was a rematch clause, the two would not meet again.

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