So much was made of the size of the fighters, you'd have thought the bout was being promoted by the Department of Weights and Measures. They were this heavy, combined. This tall, laid end to end. So wide, side by side. They were, according to the New York City billboards, TWO BIG.
There was also a suspicion that, despite all that mass and muscle, they were Two Good to be True. The champion, 6'5", 247-pound Lennox Lewis, has often been reluctant to demonstrate his might. The challenger, undefeated (30-0-1) yet unschooled Michael Grant, 6'7" and 250 pounds, could turn out to be nothing but a converted power forward. Size matters but probably not in heavyweight boxing. Or else Primo Camera would have arenas named after him (and Joe Louis wouldn't).
The prefight publicity, so stuck on the idea of fistic tonnage (boxing's sold by the pound now?), didn't conjure up anything more dramatic than a show of heavy machinery, bulldozers in New York's Madison Square Garden. It was not an exciting prospect. Yet here's what happened against all low expectations: The two men collided from the get-go, and their recklessness and heft (the total of 497 pounds was the most ever for a title fight) combined for a breathtaking spectacle. It was brief and horribly one-sided, a little like the swinging of those wrecking balls, and wildly entertaining. Nobody leaving the Garden last Saturday night, nobody who saw Lewis pound Grant out in less than two rounds, felt shortchanged. This was exactly the kind of heavyweight boxing, primitive and brutal, that could restore interest in the division.
Certainly it restored Lewis's reputation. The gifted but mysterious Brit's high-profile bouts had all ended in some kind of disappointment, though never of his own making. At 34 he gave the impression that time was running out on him. He was the undisputed champion, sure, but even his backers were ready to pull the plug on his presumed destiny. "I can no longer brag about this great talent," said his trainer, Emanuel Steward, "if it doesn't come out in this fight."
It came out, again and again. Lewis, now 36-1-1, dropped the 27-year-old Grant three times in the first round and then, with a crunching uppercut late in the second round, stopped him for good. The domination was shocking. Grant, who looked tight coming into the ring, is a skilled if unproven contender, and he appeared to get stoned right back to his early amateur days. After Lewis clipped him with an overhand right to the back of the head early in the bout, Grant dropped all pretense of being a boxer; he suddenly had no ability and, as was soon evident, no business being in the ring any longer.
Lewis said afterward, in his disturbingly reasonable way, that " Michael Grant's style was appropriate to showcasing my talent." The same can't be said of the style of Evander Holyfield, who defused Lewis's power en route to a controversial draw in their first title bout and a 12-round loss in their second. In any case, Grant's game plan, to box the big man, dissolved in a spontaneous show of bravado, and Lewis had himself a punching bag. The third knockdown, on a picture-perfect left-right combination, couldn't have been easier if Grant had been positioned on a tee.
Lewis, however reasonable after the fight, was nevertheless mindful that he was on his way to making a little history. "There's always been a question about my heart," he said softly. Well, not his heart so much as his head. "This might have some impact on my reputation."
Steward felt Lewis was charting a future as well. "Nobody will beat him," the trainer said. More than that, Lewis exploded the notion that he can't or won't punch to dramatic effect. "He enjoys the knockouts," Steward said. "Deep down, he's very egotistical. He actually enjoys creating that kind of excitement."
Certainly Grant didn't bring anything to the table. His excuse was that Lewis, by dropping his hands, duped him into rushing in. "I thought I could knock his block off," Grant said. "I guess I had my selfish reasons." He paused. " Lennox Lewis is champion for a reason." It was a one-man show, and nobody was complaining.
On the basis of this concussive presentation—you'll be seeing plenty of the knockout, Lewis holding Grant's head down with his left arm while almost rising off his own feet to deliver a savage right uppercut—Lewis's next bout will earn him considerably more than the $10 million he got for this one. This fight was the kind of thing, no matter how big or small the opponent, that people pay to see. It has made Lewis a star, and whoever wants to get into the ring with him will get a pretty good payday too.