Monday, Nov. 15, 1999 | 9:31 a.m.
Mixed messages emerged in the aftermath of Lennox Lewis' decision victory over Evander Holyfield Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center that brought him the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world.
To wit: Lewis' own trainer, Emanuel Steward, was marginally displeased with his man's showing.
In addition, Lewis may elect to discard the International Boxing Federation portion of his trio of championships.
And while Lewis offered the opinion that Holyfield should retire, Holyfield implied that such a move was unlikely and that he deserved better from the judges in a fight held before 17,916 ready-to-scream fans.
While not living up to expectations, the fight had its moments and the fans roared whenever the combatants exchanged or connected. It was a good but not great fight that brought each man $15 million and at least a little sanity back to a sport that clearly has been on the ropes in recent weeks.
Yet many were stunned by the judges awarding the bout to Lewis by the convincing margin of 6, 4 and 2 points. The Sun had each man winning six rounds and a final tally of 114 apiece.
"I thought this was closer than the first fight," Holyfield proclaimed to general agreement, although his March 13 fight in New York with Lewis was somehow scored a draw. But Holyfield didn't push the issue and accepted the setback as gracefully as possible.
"He fought me good fights both times," Holyfield said. "He's to be commended."
While certainly not gloating, Lewis was a little less gracious than his counterpart.
"It was tougher this time but at times I was playing with him," he said. "I was always aware of his right hand, but I sapped his energy. I wanted to knock him out."
Lewis feels Holyfield, 37, should call it quits.
"He's been in there with everybody," he said. "But he was a spent man in the late rounds. It's time for him to retire."
It's past time for Lewis to give his best effort, his trainer said.
"That was no superstar performance," Steward confessed as the 34-year-old Lewis improved to 35-1-1. "It was disappointing to me. Lennox didn't do what I was hoping he would do, which is fight smartly and win by knockout."
Steward, always blunt and honest, admits his man is merely the best of a mediocre lot.
"The heavyweight division isn't that strong and it's certainly nothing like it was in the 1970s," he said. "There aren't that many quality heavyweights and as this fight here proved, even getting two of them together doesn't guarantee a solid fight."
Lewis and his handlers have yet to chart a course for 2000, but a bout with Mike Tyson is obviously receiving consideration. Tyson -- who may fight Lou Savarese Jan. 15 in London and then Shannon Briggs Feb. 26 in New York -- could help attract a huge crowd and fill a soccer stadium for a fight with Lewis in England.
If so, they may fight without Lewis possessing the IBF belt. In still another calamity for the beleaguered organization, Lewis indicated he may relinquish the title after there was some dispute with the IBF's sanctioning fee.
Lewis left the T&M without the IBF belt in tow.
As it is, Lewis is the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Riddick Bowe in 1992, and the first undisputed heavyweight champion from England since Bob Fitzsimmons in 1897.
"It don't get any bigger than this," Lewis said. "Now I'll go down in the history books forever."
He gave Holyfield credit for altering his approach, yet chided him for repeatedly leading with his head.
"Evander used some different tactics," Lewis said. "He hit me some good shots, but I was able to take them.
"His head? He definitely was using his head as a weapon in there."
Referee Mitch Halpern warned Holyfield as early as the first round for lunging into Lewis with his head, although Holyfield continued to do it and drew another warning from Halpern in the 12th. However subtle, it was an issue throughout the fight.
Holyfield, now 36-4-1, has not announced his intentions but is likely to continue fighting in spite of Lewis' warnings. While a third Holyfield vs. Tyson fight is far less likely than a Lewis vs. Tyson fight, Holyfield retains a certain marketability.
"The reality is that Lennox is the champion, even if I'm unhappy with it," he said. "The fight went the way it did and the result was left to the judges. I was trying to knock him out the whole time and I gave it my all.
"It's up to the people if they want me to continue. We'll see. I could walk away at any time."