Only a minute had passed in the round. Time stood still; for a split second both men were frozen in a clumsy embrace, their burning lungs sucking deep for oxygen. Holyfield's recovery time was astonishingly short. One moment he was under attack; no one knew what was keeping him on his feet. The next he was peering through swollen eyes, ready to mount an assault of his own.
It was magnificent. A hard right hand from Holyfield started the second minute of fighting. Then the exhausted fighters came together in a clinch. With a minute remaining, Holyfield launched a hook, then two combinations and three upper-cuts. Badly winded, Bowe could only hang on and ride out the storm. He tried to keep Holyfield off with a lazy right hand, then three pushing jabs. Holyfield ignored them all. Firing wildly, technique abandoned, he unloaded on Bowe, slamming a right hand and two hooks to his head but not with enough power to save his title. Then Bowe, despite being pounded by a salvo of 14 shots in 15 seconds, found a hidden reserve. His punches began to regain their sting.
As the round ended, both men stood with their feet planted, retreat forgotten. They were exhausted, but still they hammered at each other, wondering if this hell would ever end. A combination caught Holyfield at the bell. The 18,000 fans in the Thomas & Mack Center gave the fighters a standing ovation.
No heavyweight champion and challenger have ever fought a more heroic round. Other boxers have been linked in three-minute essays in raw courage—Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes and Ken Norton, Tommy Hearns and Marvin Hagler—but none can claim to have been in a round fought more ferociously.
Later, in Newman's suite, Bowe stared at the flickering images on TV. "I was rumbling, that's all I know," he said of the magnificent 10th. "I was trying to take him out. I wanted to prove to him that I could be just as strong in the late rounds. In the corner before the round, I'd said to Eddie, 'I think I can take him out and put him on the canvas.' Eddie had told me to go ahead and get him. Then after I shook him, I realized he was still strong and determined. He somehow made it through my barrage, and after that I said, 'I'm just going to box him the rest of the way.' "
Holyfield, amazingly, came out strong to open the 11th. But the champion was caught by a left hook that drove him back. Moving quickly, Bowe tagged Holyfield with a right uppercut and then nailed him with another from the left side. Holyfield fell forward, lunging for Bowe, whose back was to the ropes. As Bowe dipped down and away, the champion toppled forward across the top rope. A Bowe hook swept down and crashed against the side of Holyfield's head, slamming his throat against the ropes. Holyfield went down on both knees. Instinctively he flung his right hand up and behind his head to guard against another blow.
As Holyfield regained his feet, referee Joe Cortez counted to the mandatory eight. "How you feeling? You all right?" Cortez said. Holyfield allowed that he was line.
Moving in, Bowe summoned one more big burst, a well-disciplined 13-shot volley that failed to dent Holyfield's resolve. After the last punch Holyfield grabbed the challenger. For a moment the men clung to each other, stealing a moment's respite. When they separated for the last half of the round, it was the indefatigable Holyfield who went on the attack, but Bowe's flicking jab held him at bay.
Holyfield spent the last three minutes valiantly trying to do what he had failed to accomplish in the first 11 rounds. He had the will, but he never had the power. Showing remarkable stamina after such a punishing fight, Bowe boxed well in the last round. Fittingly, each man threw a punch at the final bell. The scoring went as expected. Judges Jerry Roth and Dalby Shirley scored it 117-110. Judge Chuck Giampa had it 115-112. As ring announcer Michael Buffer recited the speech that would make the decision known to all—"...and new heavyweight champion..."—Holyfield pointed to Bowe. Bedlam broke out in Bowe's corner.
Leaning far out over the ropes, Bowe shook his right fist at Lewis, who was at ringside doing color for TVKO. Lewis, the British champion and the WBC's top contender after his stunning KO of Razor Ruddock on Oct. 31, is eager to have the first shot at the new champion, and in the giddy moments after his triumph, Bowe seemed ready to oblige.