Lewis vs Tyson Lewis vs Tyson


Q&A with Richard Hoffer

Posted: Wednesday June 05, 2002 10:22 AM asked Sports Illustrated boxing writer Richard Hoffer for his insight on key aspects of the upcoming Tyson-Lewis title fight.

  Lennox Lewis (second from left) and Mike Tyson (far right) in 1984. With them are (from left) Kevin Rooney, Tyson's trainer; Cus D'Amato, his manager and adoptive father; and Arnie Boehm, Lewis' first coach.  Bob Martin Tyson-Lewis has been billed in extremes: good vs. evil, gentleman vs. savage, Brit vs. brute, etc. How would you size up the meeting of these two characters?

Hoffer: Almost any fight can be reduced to a morality play but, agreed, this one yields to melodrama better than most. One guy is a convicted rapist, the other plays chess. It's a promoter's dream. Yet these issues tend to boil off under the hot lights. Both men, after all, have chosen lives as professional fighters, and it's hard to see one as more violent in the ring than the other (unpredictable, yes). I've seen Lewis destroy a couple of guys (just as I've seen Tyson do) with a chilling, cold confidence. I've seen him be careful, but never intimidated. Once the bell rings, I don't think it's good vs. evil so much as who unloads first. Lewis has the advantage in weight, height and reach, but Tyson is among the best one-punch fighters in history. Should we expect an early knockout or a slugfest?

Hoffer: If Tyson has his way, it will surely be quick and conclusive. He pops out at you, runs you over. He'd like nothing more than to press Lewis from the start. But Lewis (with veteran trainer Emanuel Steward at his side) is too smart and too athletic and too powerful himself to get backed up. Tyson's fans say he can penetrate Lewis' jab, but it's an awfully long jab. That said, it is easier to pick Tyson for an early knockout than a decision. What are the biggest challenges each fighter will face in this bout? What can we look for in terms of strategy?

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Hoffer: Lewis must somehow keep Tyson at bay, but he can't afford to be overly cautious in doing so. He doesn't fight so well backing up, and he would get demolished if he decided to accept Tyson's charges. The last time Tyson was beaten, it was because Evander Holyfield was bold enough to manhandle him. Lewis ought to have the strength to do the same. In any case, Lewis will have to fire hard and often to neutralize Tyson's aggression. People are concerned about Lewis' chin. Should they be?

Hoffer: Well, yeah. Twice he went down like a sack of laundry when he got clipped on the jaw. Once against Oliver McCall, more recently with Hasim Rahman . These were not lightweights, but they don't exactly make you forget George Foreman, either. So you have to wonder. Tyson seems better constituted to take a punch, although he too has seen stars. Tyson hasn't gone the distance in more than 10 years. If he can't score an early knockout against Lewis, does he have the discipline and skill to execute a "Plan B"?

Hoffer: Plan B? Tyson barely has Plan A. It is Lewis' great hope that he can frustrate Tyson, whether by jabbing or clinching, and force him out of the only plan of attack in which he has confidence -- an overwhelming knockout. Tyson has no intention of becoming Willie Pep at this point in his career; if he's still trying to solve Lewis in Round 12, oh boy. Lewis has shown no signs of being intimidated by Tyson. In fact, Lewis has suggested that Tyson fears him. Who is more likely to lose the psychological battle, and why? Are there signs of mental meltdown we can look for during the fight?

Hoffer: We have seen Tyson fold in battle and it hasn't been pretty. If Tyson hasn't been able to impose himself upon Lewis by the middle rounds, the bout could get nasty. Lewis will not likely lose his cool (consciousness, maybe). He might not be the warrior Holyfield was (he might not be a warrior at all), but he's fully willing to accept whatever Tyson throws at him to score this victory. In his mind, it's all he needs to restore his career. According to Steward, "The referee in this fight is probably the most important referee in the history of boxing." What's your take on Eddie Cotton's role in this fight?

Hoffer: Steward's overstating it, but this isn't the place for the meek and ineffectual. The longer order can be maintained, the better off we all will be. Obviously, a strong referee is more important to Lewis than Tyson. Whatever transgressions occur are likely to cut Lewis' way. Some have said this is the most important fight in boxing history. Can you put this bout into historical perspective?

Hoffer: Most important fight? Hardly. Two guys in their mid-30s -- one with a suspect jaw, the other with a suspect head -- finally resolve an issue that first came up five years ago. Had it happened then, maybe. Now it's merely an intriguing fight, more an exploration of personality than pugilism. This is not Ali-Frazier, for sure. It's a curiosity, that's all. Lewis has said this fight is "about his legacy." What impact will this fight have on the legacies of both boxers and on the future of the heavyweight division?

Hoffer: If Lewis wins this fight, he can retire with dignity. Remember, it's his insistence upon the meeting that brought HBO and Showtime together, and thus produced this fight. He could hardly leave the sport without meeting Tyson; the whispers would be in his ear the rest of his life. Once Tyson is dispatched he can be regarded as a pretty good heavyweight champion, but not a great one. A great fighter does not lose so often (just twice, but still) or perform with such a lack of luster in victory (he was never as concussive as he should have been). If that happens, Tyson moves down boxing's food chain, getting progressively smaller purses for progressively odder matches (Holyfield III anyone?).

On the other hand, if Tyson beats Lewis decisively he must be reconsidered entirely. With Tyson as champion, the division would be re-energized, at least to the extent that promoters would scramble for a Tyson beater. Boxing would be back in business. What's your prediction for the outcome of the fight?

Hoffer: I think Tyson has the power and speed to beat Lewis. But, barring an early knockout, I don't see him equipped for the long haul. Lewis is no pushover and could easily lead Tyson to the breaking point. I see Lewis winning in a decision or, worst case, in a disqualification.

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