-The second time around Saturday night, Lennox Lewis failed to dominate Evander Holyfield as in their controversial draw eight months ago in New York. Yet this time Lewis won the decision, making him undisputed heavyweight champion.
A respected trio of judges appointed by the Nevada Athletic Commission voted unanimously for Lewis over Holyfield--who fought better than he did in March--establishing the British fighter as the first unified heavyweight titleholder since Riddick Bowe in 1992.
An outburst of boos from the crowd of 18,000 at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center greeted the announcement of the scores in the 12-round title unification rematch. Bill Graham scored it 117-111, Chuck Giampa 116-112 and Jerry Roth 115-113.
The scores brought cheers from thousands of Lewis fans from Britain, who had been relatively quiet the last half of the fight with the outcome in doubt. Through seven rounds, all three judges scored the fight 67-66 for Lewis, who increased his margin over the last five rounds. Graham awarded the last five to Lewis, while Giampa gave Lewis four of the last five and Roth three of the last five.
Holyfield, who at 37 gave away three years, more than 25 pounds and 6 1/2 inches in reach, took the defeat stoically.
"I did everything I could," he said solemnly. "But when things fall into the judges' hands, anything can happen. I'm not happy with it, but I have to live with it." Declining to say whether he will continue fighting as his record slipped to 36-4-1, Holyfield added: "Victory to me means doing my very best, and I was able to do that tonight."
"This time it was more difficult," Lewis (35-1-1) said. "You go through the first fight and you win it, but you don't get the decision.
"Basically, it's been 10 years I've been trying to be undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. I finally did it and I'm bringing all the belts back home."
But is he? In a bizarre turn of events, an official with the International Boxing Federation, one of the three major sanctioning bodies, reportedly left the arena with the IBF belt.
Lewis's representatives had delayed in paying the $300,000 sanctioning fee to the organization, whose president and three other top officials were indicted Nov. 4, accused of accepting bribes from promoters and managers for favorable rankings for their boxers. But at 5 p.m. Saturday, according to Pat English, a lawyer representing Lewis, an agreement was reached with IBF official Walter Stone to place the money in escrow.
English said that just before the bout Stone, citing "a higher authority," said he could not make the agreement after all.
Holyfield, who had been titleholder in the view of both the World Boxing Association and the IBF, entered the ring with only the WBA belt. Lewis came in with two. In addition to the World Boxing Council belt that he had held, he carried along the belt of a lesser sanctioning group, the International Boxing Organization.
After the fight, English contended that the beleaguered IBF had been operating in a for-profit status--unlike the WBA and WBC--but "within the last week" revived its lapsed status as a nonprofit organization.
"Technically, that makes two IBFs," English said. "We wanted to put the money in escrow until the situation with the IBF was straightened out."
IBF President Bob Lee said today from his home in New Jersey that the IBF title, at least for now, is vacant. Lee confirmed that a nonprofit IBF corporation had been reactivated, and that is where Lewis's sanctioning fee should go.
"This needs to be handled by Friday," Lee said.
If Lewis's representatives pay the fee, Lee would name Lewis the IBF champion. Promoter Don King, who handled Holyfield, shouted derision at Lewis's representatives. "You didn't pay the sanctioning fee," King said.
But English outtalked even King, concluding by saying that Lewis was the undisputed champion "and that nothing Don King or I say" should mar the evening. King then hailed Lewis as the undisputed champion.
What was dissatisfying about the fight was Lewis's passivity against an older and smaller opponent. Nor did Lewis take the fight to Holyfield as he had promised.
Punch statistics, however, favored Lewis significantly. He was credited with landing 119 of 259 power punches, Holyfield 85 of 254. Lewis connected on 76 of 231 jabs, Holyfield 52 of 162.
But the numbers suggest something less than a definitive way of judging a bout. If Lewis truly had landed 119 power punches, it would have been unlikely that Holyfield could have finished the fight. In addition, many blows that Lewis appeared to land were blocked by Holyfield's forearms and gloves.
"Lennox used his jab effectively early in the fight, and his physical power was the difference late in the fight," said Emanuel Steward, Lewis's trainer.
That is how the three judges saw the fight as well. Holyfield had his moments. He stayed at long range most of the time, darting inside to throw punches, then dropping back to a safe range. His movement, especially in the first half of the fight, kept Lewis off balance.
A cut was opened alongside Lewis's right eye when the fighters' heads banged in the fifth round, but the wound was small and never posed a threat.
The last minute of the ninth round was the high point for action, with both fighters landing heavily. But those 60 seconds took a lot out of Holyfield. He had virtually nothing left in rounds 10 and 11. He rallied gamely in the 12th, but Roth was the only judge to score the round for him.