Heavyweight boxing has always been the flagstone of our sport, with the exception of a few weak years here and there throughout the gloved era, yet even during those durations the heavyweight champion was always known as the single most dominant figure in all of sport.
In the 1990ʼs, heavyweight boxing may have been the strongest and talented it ever had been in its history, except for the glorious 1970ʼs.
During the 1990's, we had not only established contenders and former champions, but perhaps some of the most exciting prospects in recent memory. We were flooded with names like Hasim Rahman, Shannon Briggs, Henry Akinwande, Michael Grant, Frans Botha, Frank Bruno, Bruce Seldon, Andrew Golota, Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer, Tommy Morrison, Oliver McCall, Razor Ruddock, David Tua, Fres Oquendo, Chris Byrd, Larry Donald, Lou Savarese and Michael Moorer.
Although not all turned out to be superstars in the end, during that time all were exceptional. The only thing we were missing was a single dominant champion.
Mike Tyson, the most famous man in boxing, was in serious decline. He had lost several big bouts and was not taking the sport seriously, and to make matters worse, he disgraced not only himself but boxing itself by biting Evander Holyfieldʼs ear in their 1997 rematch of a bout in which Tyson lost to Holyfield via TKO.
There had been even a bigger problem during the 1990ʼs as the heavyweight championship had been changing hands far too often. Tommy Morrison, Michael Moorer, Bruce Seldon, Mike Tyson, Oliver McCall, Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer, Shannon Briggs and Frank Bruno had all held one version or another of the heavyweight crown for a short period, but with all of the talent in the most revered division in boxing, there was not one single dominant man to carry the reigns.
Holyfield had traded the title more than anyone as he had thee wars with Bowe and had lost his belt to Moorer but always seemed to regain it one way or another. Lennox Lewis was exciting and showed dominance but had lost his title by a surprising one shot KO to Oliver McCall in 1994 due to arrogance and poor training.
It was in 1997 that things began to be sorted out and the two mainstays of the upper tier, Holyfield and Lewis, who had avenged his KO loss and regained the world title, had reached the top of the division.
There was just one thing left to do: have the two men fight to see who really ruled the division of big men!
On March 13, 1999 at Madison Square Garden, the two men faced off. From round one, Lewis used his boxing ability and reach to his advantage while Holyfield was left doing what he did best, relying on heart to pull him through.
Each man had his moments at times, but it was clear at the end who the better man was, clear to everyone but the judges that scored it a draw, a decision in which drew a reaction of boos from the crowd, who felt Lewis was the winner that night.
Like any high profile bout that Holyfield has ever fought in, here was just one thing to do; have a rematch to clear things up. On November 13 of that same year at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, once again these two heavyweight legends met.
This time there was little doubt left in anyoneʼs mind including the judges at hand on who had been the better man. Lewis boxed masterfully, using his jab as a perfect tool, landing it at will. When Holyfield would attempt to draw him into a war, Lewis would unleash his powerful right that neutralized Evanderʼs efforts.
When the bell sounded to end the fight, everyone in attendance was on their feet and when the decision was announced, we had finally had our one true king of heavyweight boxing.
Lennox Lewis would continue on as the best man over 200 lb for another four years, losing only once to Hasim Rahman by KO April of 2001, another loss which Lewis avenged.
In June of 2003, Lewis would retire with a record of 41-2-1 (32) and go down as not only one of boxing's greatest heavyweights but one of the sport's greatest fighters period.
It was this month, in November 1999, that he would begin to cement that legacy.