Not many of the 21,284 people packing the Garden thought that the British- born fighter had failed to beat Holyfield on points over 12 rounds. But the dissident minority included one of the three judges, while another felt unable to decide in favour of either man. The split decision left both boxers holding on to their respective titles, but was received with widespread booing in the hall.
Many Americans, including newspaper and television commentators, shared the outrage of the 7,000-strong British contingent. "Robbery!" screamed the front-page headline in the New York Post a few hours later. "Robbed!" agreed the Daily News. "A heist," suggested the New York Times.
Lewis started the fight strongly and held Holyfield at bay during the later stages. "The whole world could see for itself what happened," he said. "This was highway robbery. I call for an automatic rematch next month. But I doubt if he's going to want to fight me again. He looked like an old man in there."
Holyfield, clearly the more bruised and exhausted of the two, admitted his luck, in his own devout fashion. "I go in with God and I come out with God," he said. "Usually the decisions don't go my way. I had a blessed day today, thank the Lord. Lewis really shone. He proved he was tough and that he's good for the game of boxing. In six months, if he wants to get it on, let's get it on. It's no problem with me."
Blame was levelled at the British judge, Larry O'Connell, a Kent engraver who scored the fight even, and at Jean Williams, the US judge, who gave the fight to Holyfield. But there were dark mutterings of the sort that tend to accompany any fight promoted by the flamboyant Don King, to whom a Lewis victory would have meant the end of his grip on the heavyweight division.
Among the more predictably extreme reactions was that of Frank Maloney, Lewis's manager. "If I was Tony Blair," he said, "I'd cut off all diplomatic relations with the United States. It's an absolute con."
Tony Banks, the Sports minister, added: "It was a bad night for boxing. The judging appears to have been bizarre and the result gives rise to the thought that it was more about business than sport. We need a rematch and it should be in this country."
Other boxers were quick to support Lewis. Frank Bruno, the last Briton to fight for the undisputed title, described it as "the most disgusting decision I've ever seen in a boxing ring; Lennox made the fight look easy". Chris Eubank called it "a travesty of justice".
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