Lennox Lewis recalls manic press conference fight with Mike Tyson
Lennox Lewis vs Mike Tyson was all set to be boxing’s richest fight in and Las Vegas was bracing itself for the heavyweight showdown.
Ahead of the scheduled bout in April 2002, a press conference in New York was arranged where the two would come face-to-face.
But chaos ensued and the heavily anticipated fight nearly didn’t happen.
“There was tension when we got to New York,” Courtney Shand, Lewis’ long time friend explained in an exclusive clip given to talkSPORT from new documentary, Lennox: The Untold Story.
“The night before the press conference, he said ‘If Mike makes a move for me, forget all the money – I’m not backing down from him, I’m not backing up from him.’”
In many ways, it was good vs evil, with Tyson – the former undisputed champion – painted as the villain, which was a role he had become used to.
It all started when Lewis walked onto his small podium on stage. It was expected both men would trade insults for the cameras – standard stuff. But no.
“All of a sudden I saw him take his hat off, throw it on the ground and start marching towards me,” Lewis recalled of the moment he realised the fight was happening sooner than scheduled.
One of Lewis’ bodyguards put out his hand to keep ‘Iron Mike’ at arms length, but received a left hook for his trouble. It missed, but all hell broke loose.
Lewis then threw a right hand at Tyson, who bit his rival’s leg, which surprised nobody given his previous.
“Boom. I was on it – the first three punches were mine and the first bite was his,” Lewis added.
Tyson was actually forced to agree to pay Lewis $335,000 for biting his leg, while contracts addressed the real possibility of foul play ending the fight prematurely. The fighter committing any infraction that caused this would forfeit $3 million of his purse to the other man.
The actual fight, however, was years in the making, stretching back to their sparring sessions as kids where the future champions had to be separated by Tyson’s legendary trainer, Cus D’Amato. Shock defeats and prison time simply delayed the inevitable.
Fast forward to Janaury 2002, though, and Tyson seemed to just lose the plot. After the brawl, he directed foul mouthed insults at the crowd, which included racist and sexual threats and seemed to aim them at one particular journalist who shouted ‘put him in a straightjacket’.
It was setting up a feisty encounter for when the two actually fought.
However, the incident put the actual match in doubt, with promoters forced to find an alternative to Vegas for the scheduled April bout as the Nevada State Athletic Commission decided not to re-license Tyson.
Memphis eventually played host – in June – and before the fighters entered the ring, a dozen yellow-shirted security guards formed a barrier from corner to corner to keep them apart.
The fighters received instructions in the dressing room from the referee and didn’t meet in the centre of the ring before going at it.
Eight rounds later Tyson was on his backside and bleeding after the beating Lewis dished out. His WBC, IBO and IBF belts were never in danger.
The press conference tear up, meanwhile, won the Ring Magazine Event of the Year.
Lewis boxed until 2003, with his last fight being a win against Vitali Klitschko, losing just twice in 44 fight.
Tyson retired after losing to Kevin McBride in 2005, but is now back in training and preparing for an ‘exhibition’ against Roy Jones Jr and has been sharing training clips of his comeback where he claims to be as light as he was in his teens.
LENNOX: THE UNTOLD STORY is released in the UK and Ireland on 13 November on digital and 16 November on DVD.