Sportsmail revisits Lewis v Holyfield double-header from 21 years ago

The first bout was branded a ‘travesty’, the rematch was a slugfest in paradise: Lennox Lewis went toe-to-toe with his ‘toughest ever opponent’ Evander Holyfield 21 years ago, in two fights that have gone down in boxing folklore

  • Lennox Lewis labelled Evander Holyfield as the ‘toughest opponent’ he’s faced
  • The pair went toe-to-toe twice in 1999 to unify the heavyweight division
  • Their first fight in New York was labelled a ‘travesty’ after it was declared a draw
  • Lewis dominated the bout with one judge criminally claiming Holyfield as victor
  • Their rematch was more evenly-contested before Lewis walked away as champ 

Lennox Lewis will go down as one of the best boxers of all time having beat some of the fiercest and most vicious fighters on his way to the heavyweight summit.

The London-born fighter beat the likes of Mike Tyson and Vitali Klitschko in his distinguished career but Lewis revealed it was Evander Holyfield that gave him a serious run for his money when the two fought 21 years ago.

Lewis made the surprising call on Sunday when he was asked who gave him his toughest test.

Lennox Lewis (centre) said Evander Holyfield (right) was the toughest opponent he faced

‘People seem to be genuinely surprised when I tell them (Holyfield) was my toughest opponent, not to be confused with my toughest fight, which was (Ray) Mercer, but when you really dive into why that is, it actually makes a lot of sense,’ Lewis wrote on Instagram.

‘Before he moved up to the heavyweight division, he’s a man that cleared out the cruiserweight division to become the undisputed champion, and arguably the best ever, in that weight class. 

‘That’s a lot of experience and it’s safe to say that by the time we met for the undisputed heavyweight championship in 1999, he had seen it all. When you combine Evander’s amateur and professional experience, you would be hard pressed not to see the kind of success he’s had in the ring.’

But what happened in their two fights that has seen them go down in boxing folklore? Here, Sportsmail revisits the two bouts that would be remembered for all the right and wrong reasons.


In what is deemed as one of the most atrocious decisions in the sport’s history, the first edition of Lewis v Holyfield was declared a draw despite the dominant display from the Brit.

While the American claimed he started the contest on top, it was Lewis who dominated the early rounds, landing several big right hands while Holyfield retreated to the ropes. 

Following two difficult rounds, Atlanta-born Holyfield told his corner ‘this is the round he go out’ referencing his prediction that he would knock out Lewis during the third. 

Lewis (right) put on a dominate display against Holyfield (left) in their first fight in New York

Lewis (red trunks) started brightly and was the rightful winner before being denied the victory

While it didn’t exactly come to fruition, Holyfield did go on to win the round after flying out the traps aggressively from the bell and was inches away from landing a deadly haymaker.

Regaining his composure, Lewis would claim back the next two rounds, putting him four in front while landing a lot more shots compared to Holyfield. 

A wobble in the sixth for Lewis was never going to trouble him in the long run as he continued to outbox his American counterpart and add more rounds in what looked like a solid victory for the then 33-year-old.

The statistics that were shown just before the judges scorecards were announced showed the sobering truth that Lewis should’ve walked away comfortably with the win.

Lewis landed 348 of the 613 punches he threw compared to the 130 of 385 Holyfield had thrown.

Lewis raises his arms in victory believing he has won the fight at Madison Square Garden

The referee raises both Holyfield’s and Lewis’ arms following the controversial draw decision 

After the dominant display by Lewis, judge Stanley Christodoulou named him the winner by the score of 116–113, but England’s own Larry O’Connell called the fight a draw at 115–115 while Eugenia Williams criminally scored the fight in favour of Holyfield 115–113. 

‘That is a travesty. That is, ladies and gentlemen, a travesty. An outrage, a highway robbery – Lennox Lewis has just been robbed of the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world,’ HBO’s match commentator Jim Lampley said with disgust after the scorecards were announced. 

Deafening boos filled the ring in what many claimed was the perfect foil of Don King – one of boxing’s most vilified promoters.

Immediately after the bout, boxing’s sanctioning bodies ordered a rematch which took place seven months later in Nevada. But this time, it would be for all the marbles with the IBO heavyweight title now on the line, too. 

Lewis’ trainer Emanuel Steward reads the papers on March 14, with the fight called a ‘robbery’


After being controversially denied the chance to become the first undisputed heavyweight champion since 1992, Lewis would replicate another brilliant performance to come out on top against Holyfield inside the Thomas & Mack Center in Paradise, Nevada.

And just like the first bout, the rematch went the same way after Lewis won the opening two rounds, and would go on to win the third according to two of the judges’ scorecards.

However, a late flurry of punches from Holyfield, including a sickening right to the side of Lewis’ head saw him win favour on the final judge’s card for the third round.

In what was his best spell over both fights, ‘The Real Deal’ would get the better of Lewis from round four through to seven but was busted open after the pair traded heavy blows in the fifth.

In what was an evenly-contested fight, Holyfield (right) would put up more of a fight in Nevada

Despite Holyfield’s dominant spell from round four through to seven, Lewis would battle back

Holyfield used his jab impressively to nullify Lewis, who had to work the body of the American in retaliation later on.

Lewis would be shocked with a number of powerful shots which saw the Brit retreat before the pair traded right-hands in an exhilarating seventh.

Again, just like their first encounter, Lewis seized control following a good spell for Holyfield by going on to claim rounds eight through to 11, setting up yet another 12-round battle between the duo.

‘They fought a lot better fight this time – and the fans appreciate it,’ the commentator said as the final bell was rung, leading to Lewis confidently raising his arms in the air. 

In what was a more evenly-contested bout, a unanimous decision was reached with scores of 115-113, 116-112 and 117-111 all in favour of Lewis, who would walk away as the undisputed champion of the heavyweight division.

Lewis celebrates after becoming the first undisputed heavyweight champion since 1992

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