Mike Tyson has always known that he couldn't beat Lennox Lewis. He knew it in 1996, when he paid Lewis $4 million in step-aside money so that he could first face the softer Bruce Seldon for WBA title. He knew it a few months later when he vacated the WBC title rather than face Lewis, his mandatory challenger. He knew it in New York, when his press-conference scuttle with Lewis seemed like an easy way to get out of the fight. And he knew it in Memphis, where boxing officials had set up a ring in which Tyson would pay for his crimes against the sport. As the one-time Baddest Man on the Planet was lead to the ring by his team of yes-men, the aggressive scowls and overflowing energy Tyson flaunted at the weigh-in were replaced by a bounce-free stroll and a look of concern. Mike Tyson was in for a beating... and he knew it.
Tyson calmly ducked between the ropes as rapper DMX loudly requested that the Memphis crowd "Suck. My. Dick," over the sound system. The gangsta rap was soon replaced with the more soothing grooves of Bob Marley as a robe-less Lewis confidently made his way to the ring. The squared circle was divided in half by a row of security men in bright yellow shirts. Lewis quickly made his way towards the human wall to get in a stare at Tyson. Meanwhile, another battle of champions was brewing. Michael Buffer and Jimmy Lennon, Jr. got into a war of catchphrases as they took turns announcing the sanctioning bodies, ringside officials, and eventually each fighter. In the end, it was Buffer by vicious knockout.
Eventually the fight was on. The ring cleared, the fighters passed on final instructions, and they met in center ring. For a few seconds, Tyson bristled with energy. His gloves shook in front of his face, and his head darted about. Both fighters threw jabs, and it was Tyson's stick that landed clean, pushing a bouncy Lewis back a few steps. Lewis was on his toes, backing away from Tyson as Mike missed with a lunging overhand right. Lewis countered the whiff with a long right uppercut that also missed. Tyson crashed into Lewis after missing his right and the two bounced into the ropes. But as they bounced off, Tyson was turned to the right. Lewis jumped on him, throwing an overhand right and two uppercuts. The right was blocked by Tyson's glove, but the left uppercut that followed landed flush on Tyson's chin. Tyson stood still, his gloves pinned to his chin as Lewis immediately followed with a right uppercut. This punch also landed on Tyson's face, and Lewis clinched to prevent a counter. Tyson would later tell ESPN that Lewis hurt him in the first round, and this sequence, 30 seconds into the bout, was the most likely source.
Tyson must have been rattled by Lewis' power, because he immediately stopped moving his head. For the rest of the round, and most of the rest of the fight, Tyson would simply walk into Lewis (occasionally behind a jab) without moving his head at all. Four times in a row, in fact, Tyson simply threw himself at Lewis and ended in a clinch. The only punch Mike Tyson landed in these attacks was a nice headbutt on the fourth lunge. Already, Tyson was there to be hit. But Lewis was still antsy. He was on his toes, backing away from every Tyson charge. At one point, Tyson double jabbed him as he backed up and the resulting clumsy retreat drew a rise from a crowd that thought Lewis might have been wobbled.
Lewis wasn't yet standing his ground in the opening round. He managed one decent right hand as Tyson was coming in head-first, but near the end of the round Tyson nicely hooked off the jab. The hook landed right on Lennox's chin, but Tyson had failed to turn over his fist. While Lewis' head snapped back, he had not tasted Tyson's full power. After the punch, the two clinched yet again, and a frustrated Tyson pushed his forearm into Lewis' throat. Believe it or not, it would end up being the closest Tyson would come to committing a foul.
Lennox Lewis did commit a foul in the first, although it was a minor one. After Lewis tagged Tyson with a short right and a bent-over Tyson fell into a clinch, Lewis did what everyone on the high side of a clinch does: lean down on your opponent until the ref calls for a break. Eddie Cotton didn't warn Lewis this time, but he would later. The first round ended shortly after Cotton called for a break. Tyson had been the aggressor, and Lewis had nervously skirted away from his uninspired attacks, but the Lewis uppercuts were the only telling blows of the round, and tilted a close feel-out round to the champion.
Returning to his corner, Lewis was immediately told by trainer Emanuel Steward, "If you could see how bad he looks, you'd be surprised." He was right. By round's end, Tyson's head movement was a rumor and he was looking winded. Back in his corner, Tyson was also looking discouraged. He complained to his trainer about Lewis' holding, and asked Ronnie Shield to remind the ref to watch for it.
Tyson rushed at Lewis to open the second round and missed the jab he threw. He crashed into Lewis again, and Lewis simply caught him. As the ref moved in for a break, Tyson turned to him and began complaining about being held. Cotton forced the break, turned to Lewis, and gave him a stern lecture on the penalties associated with further holding. It seemed like an overreaction, especially given the manner in which the offending clinch had originated. Back in action, Tyson missed another jab and fell into another clinch. After a break, Tyson again came straight into Lewis without moving his head. This time, Lewis timed him with a right uppercut, and the punch landed hard and clean on Tyson's chin. Lewis followed quickly by stuffing two loud jabs into Tyson's face and then backing away as Tyson tried to answer with a Hail Mary hook. Tyson was already looking worn out. He stood at a distance with his hands at his chin, and again stepped into Lewis' range. Lewis nailed Tyson with another jab-uppercut, and after a break timed another uppercut to Tyson's body. After each of these short attacks, the men fell into what can only be described as mutually-caused clinches. But after the uppercut to the body, Cotton again called time and gave only Lewis a long warning about holding.
Lewis was beginning to realize that Tyson wasn't going to suddenly start bobbing and weaving like the old days. He ended the round by pumping his jab and then landing a crisp right uppercut-left hook combo with 15 seconds to go. The post-uppercut clinch was broken, and Lewis again loaded up the uppercut. Tyson walked right into it just as the bell rang. Landing right on the point of Tyson's chin, the punch swiveled his head to the side. When Tyson got to his corner, he slumped forward on his stool, looking as though he was already seriously discouraged.
Tyson came out jabbing in the third round, but couldn't find his target and again fell into clinch position. Rather than risk another warning from Cotton, Lewis now openly shoved Tyson off him. Lewis now answered back with his own jab. Lewis pumped the punch into Tyson's face with authority, and glanced a few right hands off Tyson's head. Tyson's only answer was a digging body shot on the break that Cotton didn't see. Back at center ring, Lewis freely thrust the jab. It was a sharp contrast to the range-finding jab Lewis had used in the opening rounds. Three hard flush jabs landed on Tyson's face. One of them opened a two-inch gash over Tyson's right eye. Lewis targeted the cut with two lightly-thrown lead left hooks and locked Tyson's right arm after landing them. But Tyson's left hand was free and he looped a long left hook at Lewis and rocked the champion's head straight back. It was Tyson's best punch of the night, and Lewis seemed unaffected.
Tyson tried to follow-up with another hook, but like so many of his punches it was a wide, wild swing and Lewis was able to see it coming a mile away. Tyson was looking winded before, but after two huge blows he looked even more tired. For his next assault, he stood as still as possible and walked right up to Lennox Lewis without moving his hands at all. Lewis launched a downward right hand that crashed into Tyson's face as he walked in. After yet another break, Tyson missed badly with an overhand right. Lewis again stuffed his jab into Tyson's bloody face. Lewis closed the round with a series of unanswered jabs, following with the right hand only once: half-second after the bell. The blow landed square on Tyson's nose.
Tyson had lost all three rounds on our cards, and he came out to start round four with a dazzling three seconds of head movement. But after bobbing his torso left and right like he were working on a drill, Tyson ended on the left and just hung there. Lewis jumped on his and powered in a massive right hand into his face. It was Lewis' best clean punch of the night, but it was soon a memory as a much better Lennox Lewis right hand crashed into the side of Mike's head and violently snapped it to the side. Tyson fell into Lewis, who now shoved him off. Tyson flicked a weak hook that missed and tasted a pretty decent Lewis left hook in return. Lewis followed with a long left hook to the body and Tyson had no answer. Emanuel Steward would have preferred Lewis jump on Tyson, but instead he returned to the jab. Time and again Lewis pumped a heavy jab into Tyson's face and snapped his head back. At mid-round he finally followed these unopposed jabs with a vicious right uppercut that filled the Memphis Pyramid with the sound of snapping leather. Lewis followed with another uppercut with another series of flush, heavy jabs. Tyson simply stood there, unable to get out of the way. Lewis grew so confident that twice he left his jab extended and measured Tyson for loaded right crosses that busted Iron Mike right on the nose.
Tyson finally threw something in return after this one-sided assault. Twice he missed badly with a hook before falling into a clinch. But just as Lewis might have been getting cocky, Tyson slammed Lewis square in the mouth with an overhand right. It was a great punch, the kind that pushes the opponent's chin straight in, but Lewis took it without shaking. There wasn't much time left the round, maybe 20 seconds. But no sooner had Tyson landed a serious blow, Lewis answered. Lewis flicked two light jabs, then let go with a compact right cross. The punch landed on Tyson's forehead, and his knees buckled. Tyson dipped to where he was bending over just as Lewis' follow-through left him draped over Tyson's back. Thinking that Tyson was bent merely to clutch his waist, Lewis once again began to lean down on Tyson. But Tyson was headed towards taking a knee, and Lewis' extra pushing down accelerated his descent. Tyson flopped onto his back and referee Eddie Cotton ruled immediately that Tyson had been pushed to the canvas. It was a close call, but one in a string of decisions Cotton ended up making in favor of Tyson.
Tyson lay on the canvas for a few seconds, breathing very hard. He lifted his arms and gestured to Cotton as though maybe he might get a pull up to his feet. When Cotton wouldn't help him, he slowly rolled over and raised himself up. Cotton had failed to stop the clock as Tyson went down and then walked it off. The remaining 10 seconds had ticked away, and a bell sounded to end the round. Lennox Lewis started to walk from a neutral corner, where he had stayed while Tyson loitered on the canvas, towards his stool when Eddie Cotton stopped him. Cotton grabbed his arm and signaled that Lewis was being deducted one point. It was a dubious decision, and one, which potentially made the fight close, especially if a scorecard had given the close first round to Tyson.
When Lennox Lewis finally did make it back to his corner, he quickly got an earful from Emanuel Steward. Steward was livid that Lewis hadn't tried to finish Tyson in that round, and was screaming himself hoarse that Tyson was exhausted and finished. He was right.
Both fighters sensed that the point deduction put the momentum of the bout up-for-grabs and began the fifth round with a burst of energy. Tyson lunged with a laughable overhand right that missed, and Lewis tattooed him with a quick double jab. One of these two heavy jabs opened another cut on Tyson, this one over his left eye. After a brief clinch, Lewis jabbed at the new cut again and the blood began to trickle down the left side of Tyson's face. Lewis wasn't done jabbing, and he launched four more jabs. One of these was a stiff jab to Tyson's stomach. The punch demonstrated the confidence Lewis was now fighting with. Lewis may have even crossed over from confident to cocky, as he now began keeping his hands down and jabbing from the waist. Cocky or not, it was working. Mike Tyson was not moving his head, and Lewis' jab was busting up his face.
After half a round of jabs, Lewis followed up with another blistering uppercut. He jabbed again, and when his jab hung up on Tyson's shoulder, he hooked his right into Tyson's head. Tyson was hurting, and Cotton again called time to give Lewis a lecture. The crowd now booed what was beginning to look like an anti-Lewis bias. When the fight resumed, Lewis took his time, again throwing and landing a series of clean, head-snapping jabs. Tyson's face now began to swell, his cuts growing wider as the lumps grew over each eye. There was still a full minute left in the fifth.
Lewis' jab was looking spectacular, thanks in large part to Tyson's inability to block the punch with his gloves. Near the 1:00 left mark, one particularly heavy jab seemed to rattle the winded Tyson, who took a wobbly half step backwards. Lewis jabbed out the remaining minute of the round, adding in only a single right hand and a single right uppercut to the mix. No matter, Tyson's face was being mangled, and Lewis was setting a deadly pace. Back in corner after the round, Steward was still furious with Lewis. He wanted a stoppage, and he wanted it now. Lewis would later claim that he felt Tyson needed more softening up. In his corner, Tyson was being begged to start punching. Lewis' jab was preventing Tyson from getting even a single punch off. But Tyson barely heard his corner as he moaned about his two cuts.
Lewis continued jabbing relentlessly in the sixth round. After 30 seconds of stick, Lewis launched a wicked one-two that landed flush and expelled sweat from every inch of Tyson's head. Tyson simply stood there and took it, and so Lewis threw another. This second right hand landed with full force on Tyson's left ear. Tyson's was undefended when the punch landed, and his head was thrust so violently sideways that Tyson's right ear actually touched his right shoulder. Say what you want about Tyson's diminished skills, but his chin has always been first rate. Withstanding this punch alone was an amazing feat.
Tyson looked seriously weary, and he half-heartedly launched an overhand right that was so slow it had no chance of landing. Tyson came out of that clinch to find two jabs and two big right hands waiting for him. Lewis was really loading up with his shots, and Tyson was eating them clean. Tyson looked in a daze. It must have been instincts, because all of a sudden Tyson, who hadn't thrown a two-punch combination since the first round, suddenly nailed Lewis with a beautiful left uppercut-right hook combo. It was as though Tyson's body had suddenly remembered an old Catskills move. But Tyson was too tired at this point, and even though both punches caught a surprised Lewis on the chin, neither one had any effect whatsoever.
Lewis finished the sixth round strong, nailing Tyson each time he stumbled forward. Lewis landed another overhand right with 50 seconds to go, a glancing right with 30 seconds to go, and a picture perfect uppercut to Tyson's chin with 15 seconds to go. Yes, they were fighting at the slow pace that you might expect from two 36 year-olds, but Lewis was still putting a serious beating on Tyson.
Tyson had absorbed a series of wrecking ball punches in the sixth, and he again slumped onto his stool in between rounds. His plastic surgeon raised him up to pinch his gaping cuts as everyone else in his corner simultaneously yelled instructions. The chaos got to Ronnie Shields who screamed that "only one fucking person talk at a time!" It didn't help. Everyone kept talking at once while Tyson whimpered at the pain from his cuts.
The beating continued in round seven, again with Tyson simply standing there and taking his beating as though he expected it. Lewis opened with a well-timed one-two. He pecked Tyson with three jabs before landing another one-two. Two more jabs, and a one-two. Tyson was getting hammered. Lewis threw another one-two and the right hand missed Tyson's head and landed on his right shoulder. As Lewis pulled his arm back, his elbow crossed in front of Tyson's face. Referee Eddie Cotton now jumped between the fighters and started yelling at Lewis for elbowing Tyson. He was drowned out by the crowd's boos. Lewis looked at him like he was crazy. It was another questionable move. Simply put, Tyson was getting beaten up, and Cotton gave him what amounted to a free standing-eight count.
After Cotton had finished his warning, Lewis and Tyson met in center ring for a telling moment. Both men stood with their gloves up, and for a moment they both froze while watching each other. After two seconds of stillness, Tyson twice feinted at Lewis, who immediately flinched. Even at this late stage of the game, with Tyson bloody and battered, Lewis was still showing tremendous caution. A short time later, however, Lennox again got the upper hand. He pumped two more ridiculously heavy telephone-pole jabs into Tyson's face. Tyson nose began to trickle blood. Then Lewis pushed out a jab that he left extended to measure Tyson for a huge right. Tyson's face was exposed and the right hand detonated on Tyson's face. What was keeping Tyson standing? Lewis landed a few more jabs, easily controlling Tyson before trying a left hook. Tyson tried to clinch after the hook, but Lewis shoved him off. No sooner than Tyson was pushed back into range, Lewis fired two jab-crosses. The second one landed particularly flush and the blood now poured from Tyson's nose.
Tyson was a complete mess. He was bleeding from two cuts and his nose, his eyes were closing, and he looked like he could barely hold up his hands to protect himself. Lewis showed no mercy, and three times nailed Tyson with one-twos. The third rocked Tyson's head, but still he remained standing. Lewis jabbed again and hooked with his right hand. He punctuated the round with one more one-two and a seriously busted-up Tyson stumbled back to his corner.
The knockout seemed inevitable. Lewis shoved his jab into Tyson's face six times to open round eight, and completed the sequence with two short body shots as Tyson came in close for a hug. After the break, Tyson came at Lewis with a right cross to the ribs that landed clean. Another break and Tyson again slammed his right into Lewis' side. These were the only scoring punches Tyson had landed in several rounds. But after trying a third body blow, Tyson walked into a short Lewis uppercut. The blow landed clean but paled next to the left uppercut that quickly followed and drove Tyson's head backwards. Lewis was only two-thirds of the way through his combination, and continued with a downward right hand that hit Tyson on the forehead and made him dip his knees nearly to the canvas.
We said "nearly" to the canvas. Tyson's knees buckled in place and he dipped so low that his ass was only inches from the canvas. Tyson started to pop back up from this knee-buckle when Eddie Cotton jumped in and suddenly ruled that Tyson had been knocked down. He hadn't. His gloves hadn't touched the canvas. Neither did his posterior. Cotton was once again interrupting a Tyson beating. Tyson got the eight count, and a chance to catch his breath... but eight seconds was not going to save him now. He barely responded when Cotton asked him if he wanted to continue. Tyson's right eye had swollen shut and his left eye was 75% there. His nose was still bleeding and he looked like he was done. Lewis clocked Tyson with a big right as action resumed, then hammered him with a right uppercut-left hook combo. Lewis missed with another right, but landed the follow-up hook as Tyson retreated to the ropes. Lewis followed him in... and ducked a sweeping Tyson right hand in the process. After missing the right, Tyson fell into a clinch with Lewis, and from that clinch stuffed the champ with a short right uppercut to the chin.
Cotton called for a break and pushed the fighters apart. Lewis sucked in a deep breath, readied himself, and then launched a long right hand. Tyson was one again hanging his torso in place to the left and the punch swept across his chin. Tyson's head swiveled and his entire body froze in place. He began to slump to the canvas. Lewis was again draped over Tyson after the punch and his was just beginning to lean on a bent-over Tyson when Tyson fell out from underneath him. So, in effect, Lewis pushed him down... but only a little. He was already going to the canvas. Cotton thought about calling another foul on Lewis, but then he looked at Tyson.
Tyson was on his back on the canvas, holding his right hand over his hurting face. When Tyson removed his hand, his face was a mess of blood. The cuts on his eyes dripped lines of blood down each side of his head. Tyson's eyes were closed. Yes, swollen shut, but closed also. Tyson briefly opened his eyes at the count of four, then closed the remaining slits again and rested his head back on the canvas. At six he reopened his eyes, and a seven-and-a-half he rolled over to try and beat the count. By nine he was still crouched on his knees. Before Cotton could call "Ten," Tyson's weight fell back into the ropes. Cotton waved the fight off. Tyson was not getting to his feet by 10. Lennox Lewis KO8.
Simply put, this was by far the worst beating Mike Tyson has ever taken. Worse than the Douglas beating, much worse than the Holyfield KO. And it wasn't that much of a surprise. Tyson looked overweight and listless. He was exhausted after two rounds, and timid after only one. His skills have gone past eroded. Many of them are extinct. Lennox Lewis has been sporting some grey hair recently, but Mike Tyson looked older than George Foreman for much of this fight. For anyone who saw past the Tyson mystique and really looked at his recent outing, this was no surprise. Tyson has long been a shell of his former self, propped up by investors who want their end back. Perhaps the only surprise for Tyson-watchers was that he fought within the rules and didn't quit on his stool. Then again, Tyson was beaten so badly that he probably wasn't aware that fouling out was an option.
In fact, Tyson was beaten so badly that Lennox Lewis actually beat the mean out of him. After the fight, Tyson was extraordinarily gracious. He called Lennox Lewis "masterful," and tripped over himself trying to give Lewis respect. At one point, as the two men stood next to each other calmly answering questions, Tyson reached over and wiped a bead of sweat off of Lewis' face. It was a tender moment eclipsed by the sheer creepiness of Tyson's new demeanor.
Okay, it wasn't a completely new Tyson. He was quick to mention that he originally said he wanted two fights before facing Lewis and that he probably wasn't fully ready. He also clamored for a rematch, although there is absolutely, positively no need for one. Lewis was gracious and gave Tyson a "maybe." The real signs point to an imminent retirement from Lewis. He's cleaned out the misfits (Golota, McCall, Botha, Akinwande, Tyson), the other titlist (Holyfield) and the #1 contenders (Grant and Tua) from the division. If he fights on, he has to face Chris Byrd, or else face an unmarketable Ruiz-Johnson winner. No one wants to see Holyfield III. The Klitschkos aren't yet big box office draws in the U.S. There's no one left for him. He'll probably call it quits at the top of his game.
As for Mike Tyson, he needs another payday. But at the post-fight shindig, he mentioned that he might just "fade off into the sunset and just fly my birds." That's unlikely. Although he would absolutely prefer to retire from fighting, he needs the money... badly. Then again, there won't be any big money waiting for him. He's been roughed up by Lewis and is not likely to get in with a heavyweight just as big but 10 years younger. Tyson is probably finished, and that's just fine with him. You know what? That's just fine with us, too.
BOXING CHRONICLE.COM SCORECARD:
* = -1 for pushing down
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