State of the Unification

The Heavyweight Championship is in crisis

The 33-year-old Lewis (34-1), winner of an Olympic gold medal like Holyfield, loser by knockout to Oliver McCall (later avenged), for years was a big British heavyweight who'd never fought anybody major and seemed destined to go the way of Don Cockell, Henry Cooper, Frank Bruno, and other past large Brits sacrificed to the Americans. That was before his 95-second destruction of the Polish heavyweight Andrew Golota in 1997. That fight showed that, in addition to his sometimes awkward style, Lewis has the most powerful right hand in the division. But as his current trainer, Emanuel Steward, recently told reporters, Lewis will be "just another big kid from England with dreadlocks" if he loses.

Holyfield is already more accomplished in his era than the great Dempsey was in his, if far less celebrated. And he would probably beat Tyson pitifully every afternoon if they fought for a week straight. Holy rather than hip-hop, he is so lacking in Tyson's (or Dempsey's) sinister magnetism that he was once sent to Haiti with Colin Powell as an election observer.

No Tyson-like attractions: Lewis and Holyfield
AP/Wide World
No Tyson-like attractions: Lewis and Holyfield

Whatever's to blame— his own style, the greedy proliferation of titles, or the sport's move from mainstream television to pay-per-view— Holyfield has been champion in a marginalized era. Only now, with the double opportunity left by Jordan's retirement and this unification bout, is there even a chance of restoring the office of the heavyweight championship to anything near its full visibility. Until then, as Martin Snow says, the heavyweight championship is in worse shape than that other recently humbled institution, the presidency. But, explains Snow, "at least with the presidency nobody got screwed."

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