Lewis vs Ruddock: The Night Everything Changed
The modern era is one of dominance for British heavyweights. Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua hold all the heavyweight belts, and several other domestic heavyweights are waiting in the wings to challenge for the richest prize in the sport. The American domination of the heavyweight ranks is a thing of the past, at least for now.
Not so long ago British heavyweights had the horizontal label, years of glorious failure, in some cases not so glorious. Bob Fitzsimmons was the last British-born fighter to hold claim to the heavyweight championship of the world. James J Jeffries relieved him of the title in 1889.
In the years since Fitzsimmons we had a century of disappointment and not much realistic hope of ever having anyone replicating what Fitzsimmons did. The likes of Joe Bugner, Richard Dunn, Henry Cooper, Brian London, Tommy Farr and others all challenged and all of them failed.
Frank Bruno was considered our best ever hope when he turned professional in 1982.
But despite the nation falling in love with our latest hopeful, even he couldn’t overcome 100 years of failure. Bruno offered more than a glimmer of light, but Tim Witherspoon and Mike Tyson left Bruno and the great British public heartbroken.
But soon things would change, there was renewed hope from an unlikely source. Like Fitzsimmons, Lennox Lewis was born in England but had moved to another country at an early age. Lewis was just 12 when he moved to Canada to be with his mother in 1977.
Lewis would go onto represent Canada as an amateur, culminating in winning a Gold medal at the 1988 Olympics. The new Olympic champion turned professional and moved back to England to pursue his new career. Lewis was a wanted man, the big American promoters saw the dollar, but Lewis resisted and turned over with Frank Maloney.
When he turned professional in 1989 for many it was viewed with suspicion, a cynical decision not one of love for the country he was born in. Representing Canada in the Olympics, now returning and claiming to be British was a hard sell. Some laboured early performances didn’t exactly adhere him to the masses. Bruno was still active, was there room for both in the hearts of a nation. Like many before him, and for different reasons, acceptance would have to be earned.
In 1991, Lewis started to make progress in many ways, a win over Gary Mason in a savage brutal performance of spite and venom started to turn heads. A revenge win of sorts against old amateur rival Tyrell Biggs had the even the Americans thinking there might be a new world order.
The following year Mike Tyson was incarcerated after his conviction for rape and another old amateur foe, Riddick Bowe was about to challenge Evander Holyfield for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world.
Lewis tempted the big punching number one ranked contender Donovan ‘Razor’ Ruddock to London in 1992 just two weeks prior to the Holyfield Bowe fight, Ruddock was the WBC number one ranked challenger, the winner was expected to meet the winner of Holyfield Bowe.
The Canadian had two fights with Tyson in 1991, and despite losing both contests, he came out with his reputation greatly enhanced. Ruddock was controversially stopped in the first fight and lasted the distance in the return in a competitive fight. Tyson compared his power to like being kicked by a mule.
Prior to the Tyson fights Ruddock had earned wins over the likes of James Broad and former world heavyweight champions James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith and Michael Dokes. Ruddock was a legitimate threat to anyone in the heavyweight division.
Ruddock had rebounded from his fights with Tyson with two wins in 1992, including one over another former champion Greg Page and Ruddock came to England looking to secure a crack at the world heavyweight title and was the betting favourite.
Lewis had his moment to shine but the fight posed significant danger. While Ruddock was limited as a boxer, overly reliant on his power, but he was a genuine knockout threat and with proven durability. Lewis looked set for a long and difficult night at the Earl’s Court in London.
The Commonwealth title was on the line, but Lewis knew much more was up for grabs, a potential to start a new era and end another.
Ruddock was confident, no matter how the fight was going, he always had that left hand, the great equaliser. But Lewis fought as if he was inspired by all those years of hurt, he wanted to prove a point for his country and to all those doubters. Lewis fought for a nation and for acceptance from that nation.
Lewis avoided the danger, circling away from the danger punch. The jab controlled, it dominated. Then Lewis saw his moment, one big right hand landed on the side of the head, Ruddock collapsed to the floor. The bell saved the Canadian, but not for long.
There would be no escape for Ruddock, he was down again early in the 2nd round. In shock at what was happening to him, Ruddock instinctively tried to salvage the fight from the impending defeat. In desperation, he tried to find the power shots he needed, but Lewis stayed composed and soon the Canadian fell face-first to the canvas, this time he stayed down.
This was the night everything changed. The British public finally started to believe and accept. Even the Americans so dominant in heavyweight history must have sensed what was to come. From all the pre-fight indifference, the sensational performance by Lewis left no doubt.
Holyfield would lose his heavyweight titles in a brutal war with Bowe a few weeks later, and Lewis should have met his old amateur opponent. But for many reasons Bowe avoided, deciding to throw his WBC belt in a dustbin in a publicity charade which couldn’t mask what we all could see.
Lewis would be handed the WBC championship courtesy of his win over Ruddock. Britain finally had a heavyweight champion of the world, but after such a long wait, it felt hollow, Bowe took away his moment. Lewis deserved better.