Boxing: Lewis rumpus leaves only the shape of the ring undisputed
Tuesday 16 March 1999
The scene may have brought the noble art down to the level of trailer- trash daytime TV confrontation, but few on either side of the Atlantic seemed to have any doubt that the redoubtable dame was right.
Boxing officials ordered a re-match for the drawn fight, headlines screamed of robbery, and the British sports minister pitched in. Commenting on the verdict of the one judge who gave the fight to Holyfield, Tony Banks told radio listeners: "Now we don't know why ... but quite clearly it was the wrong decision ... What fight was she actually watching?"
The trouble was that most of the British public being invited to join this "we woz robbed" debate hadn't seen any fight at all, and are unlikely to. Unless they were domestic cable or dish subscribers willing to pay between pounds 11.95 and pounds 16.95 for the fight, or had a friendly landlord willing and able to open to the early hours, the argument would be all sound and no fury.
And commentators who saw it in the flesh agreed with the eventual outcome. Not that you would think that by reading theheadlines. "STITCH- UP," screamed The Sun's front page, outlining allegations of a "CRIME OF CENTURY". Only after reading Colin Hart, the paper's boxing correspondent, was it revealed that he, too, had scored the fight as a draw. In the Daily Mail, under the headline "Robbery", the writer Jeff Powell had also "made it a draw".
In New York, The Independent's Richard Williams was another to agree with Larry O'Connell, the beleaguered British judge who gave both fighters 115 points and effectively held the contest's casting vote.
But all the fuss seemed to have had an effect on Mr O'Connell's perception yesterday. "Judged on the weight of opinion, I would say I was wrong," he conceded after arriving back at his home in Kent. "But I did what I thought was right at the time. I can't be any more honest than that".
Speculation was that a re-match was good news for the money men of the fight game, particularly Don King. But Mr O'Connell dismissed any suggestion that the fight may have been fixed as "absolute crap".
Undoubted winners have been the bookmakers. Punters normally back one fighter or the other, so the bookies have a very good day when nobody wins.
Even Ladbrokes, which gave the best odds for a draw of 40-1 and had to fork out pounds 20,000 to one punter, maintained that it was still the best result for them. Turnover across Britain for the fight would have been above pounds 1m, a spokesman said.
For William Hill, a spokesman said: "We couldn't have pre-ordained a better result."
Brave words indeed, under the circumstances.
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