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Lewis stopped Klitschko in his final fight

Evander Holyfield became Cruiserweight champ in 1986

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Lewis stopped Klitschko in his final fight

Mark Robinson- Matchroom Boxing UK

Lewis stopped Klitschko in his final fight

The Hall of Fame career of former Undisputed Heavyweight Champion, Lennox Lewis, ended on a high note nearly 20 years ago Sunday night. That’s when the famed Britt finished his career by outlasting Ukrainian contender and future longtime WBC Title holder, Vitali Klitschko, by TKO.

The night was June 21st, 2003, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, as Lenox came off of a titanic win over fellow boxing legend, Mike Tyson, the previous June by knockout.

Klitschko was the number one ranked, once unbeaten, top contender, and at 32 – 1 was six years younger than the 38-year old Lewis, when they squared off.

And from the outset, Lewis looked like a fighter that was either ill-trained or overmatched, or both, against Klitschko.

The 6 ft 7 inch, mammoth challenger matched Lewis in size and popped him early with a couple of big right hands bringing a rise out of the crowd. Lewis responded landing a solid right of his own, but clearly after round one it was obvious this was going to be a battle.

Klitschko rocked Lewis again, early in round two but Lewis showed his tested championship grit and responded with a solid right of his own. Still, Klitschko continued to land solid straight jabs and right hands and Lewis began to show swelling under his left eye at the conclusion of round two.

Then, the fight changed dramatically in Lewis’ favor at the beginning of round three. That’s, when he landed a hard overhand right just above Klitschko’s left eye, opening a nasty gash and blood flowed heavily for the rest of the round.

Klitschko’s corner worked feverishly to try to stop the blood flow and it was effective in the fourth round, as he got back control of the fight.

However, he began to bleed again in the fifth round from Lewis landing another right hand and mauling him inside. Lewis also continued to score with occasional uppercuts that would rock the challenger. In the sixth round Klitschko again hurt Lewis early with a right hand, forcing the champion to hang on.

It looked as though Lewis was tiring badly and showing his 38 years, but he still used survival instincts and an occasional punch or two to stay competitive in the round.

And, in his favor was the overriding factor that Klitschko was bleeding badly again at the end of the 6th frame. Next,  ringside physician, Dr. Paul Russel of the California Commission, took an extended look at the nasty three-inch gash over his eye. And it was he who instructed the referee, Lou Moret, to halt the bout.

That was met with widespread booing and Klitschko disputing the decision to stop the fight, yelling out “no, no, no” that could be heard on only on the HBO microphones but from those covering the fight at ringside.

Klitschko stalked towards Lewis with many of the entourages between them. He was comforted somewhat by his brother, Vladimir, who also helped keep him calm and separated from trying to restart the fight with between he and Lewis.

Finally, Lewis was declared the winner on a six round TKO, because the punch had caused the cut and Klitschko could not continue with the blood flow.

You can relive the drama of Lewis’ farewell fight here on the HBO call of Jim Lampley, George Foreman and Larry Merchant:

There was talk of a rematch between the two for early 2004, however, Lewis ended up retiring before that ever happened.

He finished his Hall of Fame career with a 41-2-1, 32 KOs record having avenged his only two defeats, both by knockouts over Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman. It was also a career where Lewis beat the likes of Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson solidifying his all-time status.

As for Klitschko, with Lewis retiring he won the vacant WBC belt in April of 2004 by stopping Corrie Sanders in the very same Staples Center ring. Vitali Klitschko would go on to defend that WBC Title, 11 more times successfully before retiring in 2012 with a 45 – 2 record.

However, it has to still bother him to this day that he was on the verge of stunning a Hall of Fame fighter and maybe ending his career on a down note, if not for a nasty cut that derailed it all in 2003.

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A veteran broadcaster of over 25 years, T.J. has been a fight fan longer than that! He’s the host of the “Big Fight Weekend” podcast and will go “toe to toe” with anyone who thinks that Marvin Hagler beat Sugar Ray Leonard or that Tyson, Lennox Lewis or Deontay Wilder could have beaten Ali!

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