17 years ago Saturday night, in Memphis Tennessee, Undisputed Heavyweight Champion Lennox Lewis and former long time world champion, “Iron Mike” Tyson finally stepped through the ropes for an historic battle.
Lewis came in with a 39 -2- 1 record, but having already lost-then regained, the Heavyweight Championship two previous times. The most recent of those had been his two immediate fights before Tyson, where he had been knocked out by American Hasim Rahman in April of 2001 in South Africa. However, he had avenged that defeat seven months later in November with a fourth round knockout of Rahman in Las Vegas.
Tyson meanwhile, had been Undisputed heavyweight champion in the late 1980s, including 10 successful title defenses, before he was stunned in February of 1990 by James “Buster” Douglas in a tenth round knockout loss in Tokyo Japan. Tyson had also gone to prison for a rape conviction in Indiana in 1992 and spent another three years away from the sport.
After regaining his heavyweight titles, Tyson was beaten in a thrilling battle by an aging former champ, Evander Holyfield, on a 11th round TKO in November of 1996. Then, in June of 1997, one of the most controversial and bizarre heavyweight title fights ever happened in the rematch, when Holyfield had his ear partially bitten off by Tyson during a clinch in the third round.
Tyson was disqualified by legendary ref Mills Lane and was banned for over a year after his actions that night in Las Vegas.
So, Tyson did not fight again until 1999 and he scored impressive knockouts against mostly no-name competition, except for contender Andrew Golota, who he knocked out in October of 2000. Tyson only fought one time late in 2001 scoring another KO against Brian Nielsen.
The Lewis Tyson fight was originally slated to be fought in April of 2002 in Las Vegas, but the state of Nevada Athletic Commission and the WBC both banded together to keep the flight from Vegas after Tyson and his entourage’s actions in a press conference with Lewis in New York in January.
That’s where Tysons threw a punch on a bodyguard that was standing in front of Lewis during a staredown at the PR event. Full mayhem erupted on the stage with multiple individuals throwing punches at each other Tyson ended up on the ground with Lewis, where he proceed to bite Lewis’s leg. The two reached a settlement in civil court with Tyson agreeing to pay Lewis $335,000 for his actions. Also, then-WBC president Jose Suliman was knocked unconscious during the meele’. Next, Tyson also launched in to a well publicized profane tirade at reporters threatening to kill or “eat” them.
Nevertheless, the fight went back up for bidding, and the City of Memphis landed it for $12 million. It was the first time that the “River City” had ever hosted a World Heavyweight Title bout. And, the date was pushed back to June 8th. It actually set the all time pay per view revenue record up until that fight with over $107 million in “buys.” There was announced crowd of just over 15,000 inside the downtown “Pyramid” arena.
After some early feeling out in round one, Tyson actually connected with one of his patented big bomb left hooks That shook Lewis up, momentarily, just before the first round bell. However, after that Lewis continued to use his tremendous size and reach advantage to score with his jab and land overhand rights. He also staggered Tyson on more than one occasion with an uppercut.
Lewis was dominating with the jab keeping Tyson away and appeared to have scored a knockdown in the fourth round by landing a punch. However, referee Eddie Cotton ruled that it was more of a slip with Lewis pushing Tyson down towards the ground, as he came forward after the punch.
By the seventh round Lewis had bruised and open cuts over both of Tyson’s eyes and his left eye, which had swelled badly in the loss to Douglas 12 years earlier, was closing, again. Lewis rocked Tyson with a big right hook and left uppercut late in the 7th round, but could not finish him off. However in the 8th, Lewis pressed the action and scored early not down with a right-left combination that sent Tyson to the ground on his knees.
Then, with just under a minute remaining, Lewis finally caught Tyson again with a booming right cross as Tyson was coming in and that leveled the former champion onto his back. He was counted out at the 2:25 mark.
For the once seemingly invincible Tyson, he only fought three more times after that night with one win and two losses.
Interestingly, Lewis only fought one more time in his career in June of 2003 when he stopped Vitali Klitschko in the sixth round in Los Angeles to retain the heavyweight championship, once more. Lewis finished all-time with a 41 – 2- 1 record.
However, these two tremendous heavyweight champion warriors had their memorable scrap 17 years ago in the town that Elvis put on the map.