A British heavyweight bowing out in style
With Tyson Fury vs Anthony Joshua’s fight tantalisingly close, and Fury flirting with the idea of retirement afterwards, I’ve been delving into the archives to find the last time a truly great British heavyweight left the big time on top.
The year was 2003, the venue was Los Angeles and the main event was gripping.
After a clinical performance against a well past his prime Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, now a three-time world champion, decided to take his time with stepping back into the ring.
A year later, after talks of a lucrative Tyson rematch didn’t materialise, Lewis, now 37 was due to face the little-known Kirk Johnson in defence of his fringe IBO belt.
However, Johnson pulled out with just 2 weeks to go, so instead, Lewis squared off against his WBC number one challenger, the hard-punching enigma from Ukraine, Vitali Klitschko.
The challenger had been due to fight on the undercard and had prepared meticulously, as usual, weighing in at a ready 248 lbs.
The champion, on the other hand, looked complacent, he had done everything the sport had asked of him and could be forgiven for thinking this fight was routine. His weight echoed his mood, weighing in at a career heaviest of 256.5 lbs. Lennox thought he knew the script but someone hadn’t told Vitali.
Fireworks in the first round
At the opening bell the pair squared off in centre ring like the bare-knuckle fighters of old but it wasn’t long before the fireworks began.
The 31-year-old Ukrainian giant pounced on a lethargic Lennox Lewis in the first round, tagging him repeatedly with a big right hand. Lewis rode the shots well but offered little in return save a few looping left hooks.
It looked like an early night for the long-reigning champion after another discouraging round in the second. ‘The Lion’ came out with more purpose in the third round, causing a savage cut above Klitschko’s left eye from a dynamite straight right.
At times Lewis’ ramrod jab forced Vitali back onto his heels, showing a champion’s resolve. The fourth round ebbed and flowed with the two warriors taking it in turns to throw leather.
As they moved into the fifth round, the scars of battle were beginning to show. Klitschko began to reinstate his dominance but every shot that Lewis landed seemed to do more damage to the brave challenger.
Wearing a mask of blood
As they sat in the corners in between the fifth and sixth rounds, Klitschko’s face wore a mask of blood, stemming from a wide gash in the eye and another on his cheek. Lewis, although tired was chugging on through the contest, leaving destruction in his wake.
The wily champion seemed to be gaining confidence throughout the sixth, tagging his rival with a beautiful uppercut midway through the round and using his relaxed style to negate faster hands.
Before the bell for the seventh round could toll it was all over! The referee, on orders from the doctor, stopped the contest due to the severity of the cuts sustained by Klitschko and, despite a scare, Lewis was declared the winner via TKO.
The outcome of that epic has been debated ever since, with many pundits and fans disgruntled that Vitali Klitschko was robbed of his crowning glory.
But, I see it from a different point of view. I see it as the last roar of a great British heavyweight.
Despite his age, inactivity and weight, Lennox Lewis was able to cut and defeat a younger, stronger, hungrier challenger. It is a result that had rarely been repeated before or since with the all too familiar story being an ageing champion being humbled by a younger rival.
Weekly Covid-19 British Top 5
Following on from last week, I’ve put together another list of 5 of my favourite fights involving British boxers to keep the boxing juices flowing during this time.