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Lewis Makes It United Kingdom

TIMES STAFF WRITER

This time, they got it right.

In what was nearly a replay of their first meeting, the only difference being more competent judging, Lennox Lewis won a tough, gritty unanimous decision over Evander Holyfield on Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center in front of a sellout crowd of about 19,000.

And when ring announcer Jimmy Lennon dramatically announced the winner, the approximately 6,000 British subjects in the crowd burst into song, celebrating the crowning of the first undisputed heavyweight champion born in Great Britain since Bob Fitzsimmons beat Gentleman Jim Corbett in 1897.

The judges’ scorecards read as follows: Jerry Roth 115-113, Chuck Giampa 116-112, Bill Graham 117-111. The Associated Press had Lewis winning 116-113. The Times’ Steve Springer had it 116-113 while Times columnist Bill Plaschke had Lewis the victor, 115-114.

Of course boxing being boxing, the evening, despite a clean fight and a firm decision, could not be expected to go without some controversy.

And sure enough, after waiting a century to get themselves another undisputed champ, the British were only able to enjoy the moment for half a hour.

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Lewis thought he had added Holyfield’s International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Assn. titles to his World Boxing Council title. But 30 minutes after the bout, IBF officials announced that they were declaring their piece of the heavyweight title vacant because Lewis had failed to pay a $300,000 sanctioning fee.

Lewis’ handlers had tried to negotiate a payment schedule before the fight.

Still, not even the IBF, an organization whose top three officials were indicted last week by a federal grand jury on charges of bribery for fixing rankings, could dampen Lewis’ momentous evening.

“When it was on the line, I knew I had to unify the belt,” he said. “I went through some trials and tribulations with him.”

But in the end, even Eugenia Williams would have had trouble messing up Saturday night’s fight.

As was the case in the first Holyfield-Lewis battle in March in New York’s Madison Square Garden, Lewis used his edge in size to nullify the aggressive Holyfield. Lewis’ 2 1/2-inch height advantage, 6 1/2-inch reach advantage and 25-pound weight advantage proved too much for Holyfield, whose only chance for victory was to fight inside and hurt Lewis with right uppercuts and overhand rights.

As well as a few well-timed head butts.

Holyfield had all his weapons working, and indeed hurt Lewis on several occasions. But in the end, he couldn’t break through to do the kind of damage he had done in the past to win the heavyweight title three times.

Holyfield naturally saw it differently.

“Of course I was surprised,” he said of the decision. “I was just fighting. I just fight and let the judges decide. Of course I am disappointed in the decision, but life goes on.”

For Lewis, life is beautiful. He gets revenge for the outcome of his first bout against Holyfield, which ended in a controversial draw although most ringside observers felt Lewis had won. The judging of Williams in particular was heavily criticized.

Now, although he failed to knock Holyfield down as was also the case in their first match, and despite the fact that he again fought a tactical bout with long stretches of holding and inactivity, Lewis emerges as the dominant heavyweight in the world in improving his record to 35-1-1 with 27 knockouts.

Holyfield drops to 36-4-1 with 25 knockouts, but he at least answered those critics who said he was a washed-up fighter at age 37.

“I hit him with a couple of shots,” Holyfield said, “and I thought it would catch up with him. I was able to counter off his potshots. I was able to come back after I hit him with a couple of shots. The big thing in life is to give it your all. If it falls into the judges’ hands, you have to leave it to them.”

On this night, it was left in good hands.

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In the semi-main event, Fabrice Tiozzo (41-1, 27 knockouts) of France defended his WBA cruiserweight championship by defeating Ken Murphy (21-2-1, 15 knockouts) on a seventh-round TKO.

In a preliminary fight, Sharmba Mitchell (46-2, 29 knockouts) defended his WBA super-lightweight title by winning an unanimous decision over Elio Ortiz of Venezuela (17-4, 13 knockouts). And in another earlier fight, Gilbert Serrano (18-4-2, 16 knockouts) won the WBA lightweight championship with a 10th-round TKO of champion Stefano Zoff (29-7-2, 11 knockouts). The fight was stopped by referee Jay Nady 31 seconds into the round.


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