It turned out Evander Holyfield wasn't telling the truth, but the 36-year-old IBF-WBA heavyweight champion escaped with a loudly booed draw against Lennox Lewis in Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
Holyfield said Lewis would be knocked out in the third round and that it wasn't a prediction but the truth.
Holyfield, however, never came close to knocking Lewis down, let alone out, as the 33-year-old Briton seemd to dominate the 12-round bout for the undisputed heavyweight championship
According to a punch count, Lewis landed 348 of 613 punches for a connection rate of 57 percent. Holyfield connected on 130 of 385 punches, or 34 percent.
Lewis landed more jabs than Holyfield did punches. Yet, one judge favored Holyfield and another called it a draw.
The official judges' scoring was: Larry O'Connell of Britain, 115-115, Stanley Christodoulou of South Africa favored Lewis 116-113, and Eugenia Williams of the United States had it 115-113 for Holyfield.
The AP card favored Lewis 117-111.
When the decision was announced, it was roundly booed by the sellout crowd of 21,284, which paid a gate of more than $11 million.
"I felt I won the fight," Lewis said. "It was my time to shine and they ripped me off. I'm the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and the whole world knows it. He should give me those two belts because he knows they're mine."
Holyfield never came close to having Lewis in serious trouble while Holyfield was staggered on several occasions. His left eye appeared almost closed and the left side of his face was badly swollen.
Lewis was bidding to become the first Brit to win the undisputed heavyweight championship in this century. Of the 12 previous British challengers who had failed only two had gone the distance.
Much had been made of Holyfield's prediction that Lewis would fall in the third round and, while Holyfield appeared to have the best of that round when he landed several hard rights to the head, Lewis was never in danger of going down.
"He controlled the fight. It wasn't even close," said Emanuel Steward, who trains Lewis and used to train Holyfield. "This is what is killing boxing."
Not only was the scoring roundly booed, but Lewis had to win the last round on O'Conner's card just to get a draw.
Lewis seemed to control the action with left jabs and numerous right-hand leads to the head while the 6-21/2 Holyfield had trouble getting inside the 6-5 Lewis' reach. Swelling started around Holyfield's left eye early in the fight and Lewis seemed to have the best of the middle rounds.
Lewis, 246, rattled Holyfield, 215, on several occasions but never came close to putting him down. As the fight drew to a close, Lewis raised his hands in triumph and 7,000 British fans gave him a rousing cheer.
Those cheers became a chorus of boos that rained down on the Garden ring.
One person who dinot agree with the decision was TVKO fight analyst Larry Merchant, who gave Lewis nine of the 12 rounds.
While the decision was roundly booed, there were no disturbances in the arena. 33 year-old Lewis appeared to be just too big for Holyfield, who never dominated the action as he had in twice beating Mike Tyson.
"It's real simple. people around the ring are not the judges. Things happen sometimes like that," Holyfield said. "That's the way it goes. I feel like the heavyweight champion of the world. "
"The whole thing is, I'm not the judges. I was fighting. I haven't had a chance to view the fight."
Lewis' size seemed to be too much for Holyfield. Every time the American tried to get inside, he was eight hit or tied up. In each of six rounds, Holyfield was credited with landing fewer than 10 punches.
Yet O'Conner, who scored it a draw, gave Holyfield five of the last seven rounds and called another even.
It was an interesting fight although it certainly didn't carry the drama or action that occurred in this building on March 6, 1971. That was The Fight between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, in which Frazier knocked down Ali in the 15th round and won a unanimous decision to prove he was the undisputed heavyweight champion.
Holyfield earned $20 million for the first draw on his record but, in the eyes of may ringsiders, it was one of the most important decisions of his career because it kept him a champion. He is now 36-3-1 with 25 knockouts.
The bitterly disappointed Lewis, who earned $10 million, now is 34-1-1.
Earlier, Fernando Vargas had little problems in his first title defense Saturday night as he stopped fringe contender Howard Clarke in the fourth round to retain his IBF junior middleweight title.
In one of three championship fights on the undercard of the Evander Holyfield-Lennox Lewis heavyweight unification battle, the undefeated Vargas (16-0, 16 KOs) was the aggressor from the opening bell, attacking the game challenger with an assortment of power punches to the head and body.
After his quick start, Vargas continued his assault over the next two rounds. Clarke hung in, at times landing counterpunches to the champion's head. But in the fourth, the 22-year-old Vargas proved why he is one of boxing's emerging stars.
Vargas' withering body attack took its toll on Clarke, who was sent to the canvas midway through the round. Clarke was up at six, but soon found himself back down as Vargas lifted him in the air with a crunching left hook to the head.
Clarke beat referee Wayne Kelley's count, but Vargas -- looking for the kill -- landed a barrage of punches, which sent the challenger to the canvas for the third time.
Kelley somehow let the fight continue and Vargas landed a series of punches that sent Clarke crashing into his corner before the referee stepped in an called the bout with 31 seconds remaining in the round.
"It ook me a while to get into it," said Vargas. "The jab set everything. I threw the punches because he is a straight-up fighter."
In his last fight, the 1996 Olympian captured the title with a commanding effort over durable Mexican veteran Yory Boy Campas. After suffering a beating at the hands of Vargas, Campas quit on his stool prior to the start of the ninth round.
Clarke, ranked 13th by the IBF, fell to 26-11-2.
"He has pretty good body shots," Clarke said. "He punched me once in the first round to the body. He stuck to his game plan. He is really good."
In the opening bout, Leo Gamez of Venezuela -- fighting for just the second time in 29 months -- stunned champion Hugo Soto of Argentina with a third-round knockout to capture the WBA flyweight title.
Gamez (31-6-1, 22 KOs), who previously held the WBA strawweight titles on two separate occasions, floored Soto less than midway through the second round. Gamez backed Soto with two left jabs before landing a left hook and a right to the head, which sent the Argentine to the canvas.
Soto weathered the storm for the rest of the round but was in trouble again moments into the third. Gamez went to the attack, again flooring Soto. Referee Carl Schroeder began the count before calling a halt of the contest 33 seconds in the frame.
"We are very excited," Gamez said through an interpreter. "We trained three long months for this championship. The training was basically technical and tactical."
Making the first defense of his title, Soto fell to 50-6-2. He was fighting on American soil for only the second time in his 11-year career.
"He caught me by surprise," said Soto. "I didn't have time to warm up."
In another heavyweight battle, Ruiz risks his ranking against the once-beaten Cawley. Ruiz (33-3, 24 KOs) currently is the No. 1 WBC contender and awaits the winner of the Holyfield-Lewis bout.
Cawley, a Chicago native, is 21-1 with 16 knockouts.
© 1999 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved