After 12 rounds, the sell-out crowd in Madison Square Garden, the commentators, and Lewis himself, were sure he'd won. After all, the British fighter connected on 348 punches, while Holyfield landed just 130. But the fight was called a draw.
Sunday night, the presidents of the IBF, WBA and WBC ordered a rematch. And Gov. George Pataki wants the New York State Athletic Commission to look into the draw. He said his administration worked hard to bring boxing back to the Garden, "but it has to be done in a way that upholds the integrity of the game and people's confidence in the sport."
"I am in disbelief," said Lewis after the 12-round match ended early Sunday in Madison Square Garden. Bob Lee of the International Boxing Federation, Jose Sulaiman of the World Boxing Council and Gilberto Mendoza of the World Boxing Association met after the fight.
Holyfield holds the IBF and WBA titles. Lewis is WBC champion.
IBF judge Jean Williams of Atlantic City, N.J., voted 115-113 for Holyfield. WBA judge Stanley Christodoulou of South Africa had it 116-113 for Lewis. WBC judge Larry O'Connell of Britain called the fight even at 115-115.
"I don't care who the winner was. I scored by the blows that connected," said Williams, who thought Holyfield won even though he landed 218 fewer punches, according to CompuBox Inc.
Outraged by the decision was Emanuel Steward, Lewis' trainer who once trained Holyfield for two fights. "It looks like the judges were rigged ... almost ," Steward said.
"Six months ain't no problem with me," Holyfield, speaking of a rematch, said immediately after the fight.
There may not be a big public demand for a second bout. This fight lacked drama, especially the second half when Lewis got cautious, and 36-year-old Holyfield started showing his age.
The decision was roundly booed by many in the sellout crowd of 21,284. With six seconds remaining in the fight, Lewis lifted his right arm in triumph, and his corner men rushed to congratulate him. Then the decision was announced.
"This was a situation where politics was involved," Lewis said. "When you've got a fight of this magnitude, I'm not saying Don King had anything to do with it, but this is one of his shows. I am in America."
"I hate to say it," Steward said. "This is a sport I make my living in. I am ashamed of it."