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Boxing: THE PUNCH THAT PUT THE PRIDE BACK INTO BOXING.

Byline: Oliver Holt

THE chant came first from the far side of the Pyramid Arena where the majority of the Lennox Lewis fans were standing on their feet in triumph.

Happy after a day in the Deep South's blazing sun listening to the Memphis Blues on Beale Street, they were singing happy songs of celebration.

"Two-nil to the Eng-er-lund," they sang, banishing for a while at least the misery that has come with all the sporting beatings they have had to take in recent years.

Fans had just watched Britain's world heavyweight champion establish himself as one of boxing's greats by demolishing the myth that was once Mike Tyson.

But in their minds they also believed that this was the second joyous half of what had been a glorious sporting double in one of the most fantastic two days for British sport there has ever been.

First, there was that Friday night in Sapporo when England's footballers produced one of the biggest shocks of the World Cup by humbling their old tormentors, Argentina.

To make it as sweet as it possibly could be, David Beckham scored the winning penalty in a Sapporo Dome 70 per cent full of loyal English fans.

Everyone knew that four years earlier in France 98, Beckham's life was nearly destroyed by the gamesmanship of Argentine Diego Simeone, who helped to get him sent off in St Etienne.

Thirty-six hours later, Lewis matched that achievement by finally proving he was the outstanding fighter of his generation.

First, he taught Tyson a boxing lesson, softening him up with his devastating jab and a series of thudding right hands.

And once Lewis had proved that boxing can still be a sweet science and not just some circus freak show, he battered Tyson to a pulp.

In the course of those eight rounds of mastery, Lewis not only re-established boxing as a legitimate sport where talent can still overcome hype.

Karl Marx said sport was the opium of the masses and now it seems English troubles are being soothed away by the endeavours of Beckham, Michael Owen and David Seaman and the heroics of Lewis.

The days of groaning over sporting staples like another Tim Henman defeat, an Ashes capitulation and a Six Nations anti-climax have temporarily been relegated to bad memories.

For now at least, the English are dreaming the sky is the limit for Sven Goran Eriksson and his players as they prepare to face Nigeria in Osaka on Wednesday, needing only a draw to qualify for the second round.

As for Lewis, what he did here in the early hours of yesterday morning cannot be taken away from him.

In recent years, he had become obsessed by establishing his 'legacy' in the sport, a legacy that had been harmed by shock defeats to journeymen boxers Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman.

But once Lewis had emphatically avenged those defeats, once he had finally beaten Evander Holyfield, the only gap in his CV was victory over Tyson.

And somehow there was something about the menace of Tyson that detracted from everything Lewis had achieved.

There was something in the dangerous vibes he gave out that ate away at the credibility of the gentlemanly champion, some lingering fear that if Tyson really put his mind to it, his bestial aggression would be too much for Lewis's glass chin.

So when Lewis took him to pieces here yesterday, when he gave him a brutal back-alley beating, he removed the last question mark hanging over his reputation and his right to be considered among the best heavyweights there have ever been.

Muhammad Ali is still out there in front, of course. There will probably never be anybody to match him, either for charisma, for cunning or for sheer talent. But below Ali, Lewis can now be counted in the ranks of great heavyweight champions.

He is up there now with Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Larry Holmes, George Foreman and Joe Frazier.

He has beaten everyone there is to beat and, just as importantly, he has done it with a grace, a style and a dignity that has gradually begun to restore some credibility to the battered image of his sport.

He proved against Tyson that a boxer, an old-fashioned pugilist, a student of the Queensberry Rules, can humble an alehouse brawler.

He proved that might does not just come with the empty words and grotesque threats of a deranged mind.

That you don't have to be a cartoon villain to dominate the boxing world and hold it in your thrall.

That was why the fight the promoters labelled the Rumble on the River was more than just the defining contest of Lewis's career.

It was also a fight that altered the perception of what succeeds best in boxing and that banging away with haymakers is not always the answer.

And perhaps most significantly, Lewis versus Tyson, the fight that once seemed destined never to happen, brought the curtain down on another generation of heavyweight fighters.

The allure of Tyson will never be the same again and Lewis has absolutely nothing left to prove.

History is beckoning both of them but in different directions.

Holyfield is still struggling on in the boxing backwaters on some deluded quest to regain his titles but he is a sad shadow of the fighter he was, another victim of not knowing when to stop.

It's all over for that generation now but at least we know for sure who was the best of them.

Not Tyson, who blazed the early trail.

Not Holyfield, whose courage and indomitability cowed Iron Mike.

Not them but the quiet man with the East End roots who left the sound and fury to others and found vindication and fulfilment at last on a sultry Saturday night on the banks of the Mississippi.

CAPTION(S):

POWER AND THE GLORY: Lennox Lewis unloads a crunching right to floor Mike Tyson and signal the end for the former champ
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 10, 2002
Words:996
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