Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield are both legends of the boxing game, a pair of former heavyweight champions (Holyfield also a cruiserweight champion), two star amateurs who became great pros.
They met twice in 1999, with the first fight going to an incredibly controversial draw in New York, and Lewis winning the rematch eight months later in Las Vegas by clear decision.
Lewis, who retired after his 2003 win over Vitali Klitschko with a career record of 41-2-1 (32 KO), still counts Holyfield (44-10-2, 29 KO), who would keep fighting into 2011, as the toughest opponent of his career, which he understands surprises some people given most felt he clearly defeated Evander twice.
“People seem to be genuinely surprised when I tell them (Holyfield) was my toughest opponent, not to be confused with my toughest fight, which was (Ray) Mercer, but when you really dive into why that is, it actually makes a lot of sense,” the now 54-year-old Lewis wrote on Instagram.
“Holyfield, like me, has an extensive amateur pedigree that has served him well throughout his professional career. He started boxing at eight years old and was an Olympic bronze medalist in 1984. Before he moved up to the heavyweight division, he’s a man that cleared out the cruiserweight division to become the undisputed champion, and arguably the best ever, in that weight class.
“That’s a lot of experience and it’s safe to say that by the time we met for the undisputed heavyweight championship in 1999, he had seen it all. When you combine Evander’s amateur and professional experience, you would be hard pressed not to see the kind of success he’s had in the ring.
“I may tease him a bit on our two fights, he knows I won both fights even though he won’t admit it, but in all seriousness, he’s the only man that has gone 24 rounds with me.”
Lewis also feels the success both had is an indicator of how important amateur boxing experience really can be.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of amateur experience,” he wrote. “Consider the amateurs as your internship into the pros. The more you learn about your craft, the better it will serve you.
“Me and Evander’s extensive amateur experience brought us to the top of our games. In a sport where there are no guarantees, and even one mistake can end in disaster, it’s important to play the odds. So although we have both had setbacks in our careers, there was very little chance that the success we sought in the sport of boxing would not be reached based on our experience.”