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Boxing's black eye
Holyfield-Lewis flap delivers low blow to sweet science
Posted: Monday March 15, 1999 09:29 PM
By Nick Charles, CNN/SI
ATLANTA (CNN/SI) -- Boxing didn't expect to wake up to headlines like this. Only days after the final bell, a sport ready to toast an undisputed heavyweight champion instead finds itself suffering from a hangover.
"I thought that I won the fight hands down," said Lennox Lewis, the WBC heavyweight champion. "This was highway robbery but what can you do? You can only smile and go on. I call for an immediate re-match next month."
"He may not be happy, he felt he probably won, but altogether ... He had to get over it," said Evander Holyfield, the WBA and IBF champion. "We all have to learn to get over things like that."
For the sell-out crowd that jammed Madison Square Garden, and the millions more who paid to watch at home, the fight was another reason to regard boxing as a sport infected with political machinations and wild disparities that turned what could have been a crowning acheivement into another fiasco.
Controversey is nothing new to boxing. But in recent years the black eyes seem to be multiplying. We've seen rioting in and out of the ring ... We've watched a fighter suffer a nervous breakdown during a heavyweight title fight ... and a gruesome act that shocked even those used to the violence inherent in the game.
Last Saturday night's main event could have added another layer of luster, but a decision incomprehensible to most observers was the low blow boxing was desperate to avoid.
"This fight was great for boxing," said Dino Duva, Lewis' co-promoter. "It was great for the sport. Great for the heavyweight division. That's why this fight sold out in three weeks. That's why the pay-per-view is going through the roof. It was good for boxing and then you know what? You get knocked down with a [expletive] decision like this! Excuse my language!"
"I've been covering boxing twenty years," said boxing analyst Steve Farhood. "I would put this in the top five for the worst decisions I've seen."
What fueled such cynicism is the baffling difference of opinion from the judges. With three different championships on the line, each governing body selected one judge.
The IBF appointee, Jean Williams is a full-time government employee in New Jersey and the least-experienced of the panel. She thought Holyfield was the winner.
"As the rounds were completed I wrote on the back of the scorecards what they did and what I saw is what I wrote down," said Williams, who judged her first title fight in 1995. "I'm not connected with no one and that's it."
WBC judge Larry O'Connell owns an engraving company in his native England. He called it even.
"I was chosen as a fair British referee with integrity and I've still got that integrity and I don't feel you should judge me on my integrity," O'Connell said. "I done what I saw, and you can only do what you saw. And if I made a mistake and it's an honest mistake, that's the best mistake you can make."
The WBA's Stanley Chirstadoulou has over 20 years' experience scoring fights and heads the South African Boxing Commission. He said Lewis won.
"I don't like to critcize," said Christodoulou, who judged his first title fight in 1976. "They're colleagues of mine. They're people of integrity. They saw it the way they saw it. They sat at different angles but I was honestly of the opinion this evening that Lennox deserved the victory."
Yet, had the dominate Lewis lost the final round, he would have lost the fight and his championship to a battered and bruised Holyfield.
"You had one judge from England," said boxing writer Tom Hauser. "One judge from the United States and one supposedly neutral judge. I mean, what that really presumes is that two of the three judges will be biased and of course the judge from the United States voted for Holyfield."
The only person who seemed to revel in the confusion following the Holyfield/Lewis verdict was promoter Don King -- a man who stood to gain the most from a Holyfield victory because he promotes him and who now can smack his lips at the prospect of the fresh money that should pour in for a re-match.
"I just take it from here and go forward," Kind said. "I said 'let's do it again' right from the ring-side when they said the decision. That's all I know."
The question the paying public will have to now ask is whether it's worth making both a financial and emotional investment in a sport that seemed to insult them once again.
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