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 Carnera 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
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
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.
Until now Lewis has been a difficult and largely unpromotable
fighter. In that respect this bout was no different from the
rest. It wasn't just Lewis, though. Either nobody was taking
Grant seriously or everybody had given up on heavyweight boxing
altogether, because the event was virtually buzz-free. Not even
in New York, at the supposed mecca, could these two guys create
any prefight commotion. The promoters plugged tirelessly, but
nobody could produce a storyline more dramatic than...two
really big kids in the same ring, same time.
One problem is that the heavyweight title historically belongs
to the baddest man on the planet, and neither Lewis nor Grant
is, according to our recent tastes, particularly bad. Lewis is
discreet to a fault (his handlers sometimes surprise him by
bursting into his bedroom, where he's sitting in the dark, just
thinking), and his flamboyance is limited to his penchant for
chess. Grant, who looks bookish in his tiny eyeglasses, actually
is bookish. He was reading something on Mark Twain right up to
fight time. Worse, he likes to noodle on the piano. Maybe some
jazz, but mostly gospel tunes. He is an actual choirboy.
In addition there was the problem of Grant's boxing pedigree.
Lewis has few fans on this side of the Atlantic, but at least he
had the regard of enthusiasts who had seen him in seven title
fights. He is cautious, yes, but extraordinarily able. Grant, on
the other hand, has the look of a contender who's been
well-handled, steered into this $4 million jackpot by promoters
and broadcasters. Fight folk are always skeptical of athletes
turned boxers. Grant was an all-sports whiz who played football
and basketball during his juco and college career and had an
invite from the Kansas City Royals. He turned pro only in 1994,
at age 21. He may be ambitious, and he may be a fast learner,
but going into the Lewis fight, he had a resume that was pretty
In particular there was that troubling bout last year with
Andrew Golota, in which Grant's flaws (he holds his hands low,
for one thing) were nearly fatal. Knocked down and losing, he
showed guts by finally stopping Golota, but...he had been
knocked down and had been losing.
Supposedly his most glaring flaw had been overcome in training;
Don Turner added a round every time his protege dropped his mitts
too low. This news didn't reassure the public, and it didn't
frighten Lewis. He noted that Turner, who had been in the
opposing corner for his fights against Henry Akinwande and
Holyfield, was not the guy to figure him out. "This man's a
three-time loser," said Lewis, laughing. "To me, it's three
strikes and you're out."
Turner deflected this criticism by saying, "I've got a different
guy this time." Then it occurred to him to find a precedent for
redemption. He observed that Ray Arcel was known as the
Undertaker, so often did he retrieve bodies from under Joe
Louis's feet, until he finally got the best of the great man with
Ezzard Charles--on about his 45th try. Maybe that's what Turner
has to look forward to.
Oddly, except for Turner, the only person to give Grant hope was
Steward, Lewis's guy. Was he trying to sell tickets, or what? The
week of the fight Steward was saying that Turner's talk (which
Steward had always characterized as high-strung babble) "has got
me afraid. In Michael Grant he's got the perfect package."
Steward, behind Lewis for the two Holyfield fights, said he
never had a worry going into those bouts. Holyfield would fight
only to survive. But Grant might force the action and produce a
risky slugfest. Looking back, you wonder if Steward hadn't been
licking his chops when he issued the warning, "You never know
which Michael Grant is going to show up. Then again, you don't
know which Lennox Lewis will show up either."
Lewis certainly seemed the more confident fighter, as he ought
to have been. He shrugged off the WBA's decision to rescind its
title because Lewis was not fighting the top-ranked, but even
less qualified, John Ruiz ("Johnny Louise," Lewis kept saying).
And Lewis rightfully mocked Holyfield for seizing the
opportunity to fight an elimination bout and regain one of the
three crowns at the back door.
Then Grant tried to assert his personality, saying he might not
fight because the gloves Lewis was insisting upon would not fit
his enormous hands. Lewis challenged him at a press conference
to measure one of those hands against his own. Surprisingly,
Grant did as he was told, and the two pressed palms. "The same,"
said Lewis, disgustedly.
Later in the press conference, the normally reasonable Grant
went into a strange and quavering riff about "truth" and
"shining a light on all of you." It was emotional, but not in a
particularly good way. "Michael sounded a bit upset there," said
Lewis, laughing, as if to say, This might be easier than I
Indeed it was. Lewis was confident he'd have a short night's
work if Grant rushed him. The champion recognized, as Steward
had, that Grant, for all his size, could not cope with Lewis's
counterpunching nor with his power. Lewis and Steward knew that,
no matter what the boxers' combined weight, it didn't add up to
a close fight. Lewis was just Two Good.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN IACONO DOWNSIZED The 6'7" Grant came out swinging and walked right into Lewis's devastating right hand.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN IACONO LIGHTS OUT Late in Round 2, Lewis held Grant's head with his left hand and put an end to the evening with a right uppercut.
COLOR PHOTO: WILL HART/HBO WHAT A NIGHTMARE Grant survived three first-round knockdowns, but he finally went belly-up for good in Round 2.
You wonder if Steward had been licking his chops when he warned,
"You never know which Michael Grant will show up."