The advanced prospect of a unifying contest later this year between Holyfield and Lewis, who has the World Boxing Council belt, disappeared at Caesars Palace here on Friday night when Moorer gained the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation championships on a majority decision that probably ended Holyfield's career.
Under the rules of both organisations, Moorer is allowed 12 months before being required to face a mandatory challenger, so the implications for Lewis are serious, especially as the completion of that term is likely to coincide with Mike Tyson's release from imprisonment in Indianapolis. Yesterday, Lewis, who aims to retire at the end of next year, spoke of his disappointment and frustration. 'These things keep happening,' he said, 'and I've got to hope that Moorer wants to fight me, but there are a lot of politics involved.'
'Now we have to think Indianapolis,' said Seth Abraham, who presides over crucial funding of the championship by Time Warner Sports through cable and pay-per-view television outlets. 'That's becoming the most important element. The man in the driving seat when Tyson comes out is looking at a lot of retirement money.'
So, the next 12 months of the heavyweight championship began on Friday with predictions that Moorer will enthusiastically go along with a no-risks policy. 'I'm the man who beat the man who beat the man,' he said, tracing his status back to the sensational defeat James 'Buster' Douglas inflicted on Tyson in Tokyo four years ago. If Moorer was not such a devotee of the unexpected, he would not have been heard saying, 'You saw the truth' in one breath and, 'my trainer drove me on' in another.
When Moorer returned to his corner at the end of the ninth round, his trainer, Teddy Atlas, was not best pleased. He could see the contest slipping away, he could see Holyfield regaining the initiative. To emphasise his annoyance, Atlas commandeered Moorer's stool. 'If you don't want this, then let's change places. I'll do the fighting. Go out and do it, otherwise don't bring your ass back.'
At that stage, there was not much between them, but Holyfield had done enough to win the ninth clearly. When the bell sounded to start the 10th, Atlas slapped Moorer on the rump and shouted, 'Keep working. Get off with jab.'
From the outset, Moorer's jab was more important than the power he is supposed to possess. The power was incidental because it never materialised, or at least Holyfield had the chin to absorb it. 'I didn't want Michael to go in there thinking about a puncher's chance,' Atlas said. 'I didn't want him to think about getting lucky.'
All the best plans . . . when on top in the second round, after clearly hurting Holyfield, forcing him to hang on, Moorer went for a quick finish and ended up on his backside. Looking surprised, he took an eight count. Doubtless believing that the contest was unfolding as he planned it, Holyfield went further ahead in the third, but suddenly he was the picture in the attic. The curse of age came over him. In the fifth, blood began to seep from a cut in the corner of his left eye and at the bell he returned to his corner wearily.
If Holyfield sensed the game was up, that unwisely he had gone a fight too far, he continued to go about his work gamely, fighting in spurts, employing every trick that he knows.
Through sheer willpower, the ninth was successful for the champion and the issue was still close. Coming out for the 10th, Moorer made a great effort, indicating doubt in his corner, and as it would be revealed, there was little between them at the bell on the official scorecards. Going into the last round, one of the judges, Jerry Roth, had them level. Chuck Giampa had Moorer ahead by three points. Dalby Shirley favoured the champion by a point. There could be no argument with their unanimous view that Moorer won the final session. But had Roth not scored the second round even instead of concurring with his colleagues who awarded it to Holyfield on the strength of a knockdown, a total of 114-114 on his card, as well as Shirley's, would have meant the champion keeping his title.
It was hardly one of the great fights in heavyweight history, and ultimately the future took precedence. Inevitably, Lewis's voluntary defence of the WBC title against Phil Jackson in Atlantic City on 6 May is rendered less than significant by Moorer's victory. So is a mandatory defence against Oliver McCall.
Glum faces at ringside. 'When the contest reached half- way, I began to think, 'here we go again,' ' Lewis's manager, Frank Maloney, said. 'So far, nothing has worked out. Bowe messed Lennox around. Tommy Morrison lost to Michael Bentt. Now this.'
Moorer had less to beat than a great champion but in doing so, he has raised an image of the future. Tyson may never again be the force who unified the title in the space of six months seven years ago, but negotiations now focus on a prison cell.
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