Veteran fight enthusiast and Vice-President of his local ex-boxers association Mervyn Gee was at Madison Square Garden the night Lennox Lewis met Evander Holyfield for the undisputed heavyweight championship. He recalls the heady night and more in his own intimate and personal style..
The official poster for the big unification match
My great pal Derek Kendall and I eagerly set off from Heathrow en-route to New York to attend the Lennox Lewis v Evander Holyfield unification fight at Madison Square Garden on March 13.
We stayed at the Hilton, opposite the ill-fated World Trade Centre and once settled in we ate at the “Windows of the World” restaurant – situated on the 47th floor of the centre – for a meal booked three months in advance as seats were like gold dust.
While the meal was expensive we enjoyed every morsel. When the General Manager heard we were from London, he gave us both a souvenir menu which I still possess. I am given to understand that this same gentleman was one of the unfortunate people seen jumping out of the windows on the on the 47th floor in the 9/11 tragedy eighteen months later.
On Friday we toured the city. I’d visited the ‘Big Apple’ many times since the early seventies but this was Derek’s first time, so we took in Times Square, the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building.
Later that same evening, we strolled a few blocks to a lovely pub run by an Irish family from Limerick which I’d used it on a number of previous occasions. The only “problem” is the pub shuts at midnight, and if you were not out the door by then you were “locked in” until 4am! So guess what? We were locked in…
Fight day was the following morning and we met up with some mates to visit Gleasons Gym over the bridge in Brooklyn. I was informed by a number of people that based on my performance the previous evening, I could have won the “Caeli” Irish dancing championship…but, sorry, I digress…
Gleasons was packed but we didn’t see any famous faces. After picking up some t-shirts we made our way to MSG for fight programmes. They were on sale in the foyer: first come, first served. We all managed to get programmes and I got one for my mate Bob Lonkhurst, a writer who penned books on Dave “Boy” Green and Terry Spinks which are both well worth a read.
Later we met Chris Sanigar, the Bristol fight promoter and a guest of the Lewis set-up who informed us of the location of the Lewis after fight celebration, which was duly noted.
Come fight night we met in the bar of what is now the ‘New York New York’ hotel, opposite the Garden. We all got “at it” and entered the Garden in time to see the fight prior to the main event and I honestly cant remember who the contestants were!
We had great seats close to Keith Richard, George Foreman and Chris Eubank. The atmosphere was electric!
Holyfield struggles to cope with Lewis’s height and reach advantages
Lewis won the first two rounds, with records showing he landed 42 punches of 87 thrown, and Holyfield landing 8 of 24 thrown.
Holyfield came more into the fight in the 4th, then Lewis regained control in the 5th and 6th when the fight really became interesting. For my money Holyfield won rounds 7-9 as Lewis began to look hesitant. The final two rounds I scored for the Brit.
Lewis lands a right hand, punching sweat from Holyfield’s head
There was much debate as we awaited the verdict, with most around us sure Lewis had won and when the result was announced as a draw there were boos all round.
Christodulou gave it to Lewis 116-113, Eugenia Williams to Holyfield 115-113 and dear old Larry O’Connell saw it a draw. Later that night Williams and O’Connell said that after reviewing the fight they had Lewis the winner!
After the fight we attended the after-fight party, but soon decided to revisit our favourite Irish pub, spending long, lovely evening drinking and singing the night away, only this time there was no dancing( thank God..).
Sunday was spent in Macy’s and various t-shirt shops buying gifts for the various ladies in the immediate family. Christ, it snowed like crazy overnight and we were held at Kennedy for four hours while they de-iced the plane. Waiting to greet us at Heathrow was my lovely wife, Marie, who carted me back to Wimbledon where I collapsed in my “pit” for about twelve hours!
It was the last time there was an important heavyweight fight at MSG, and it produced a record gate of $13.5 million. I don’t think it will be able to compete with the new Barclays Centre in Brooklyn. The trip really was great. Unfortunately, my old mate Derek died about four years ago but I know from our conversations over the years this was his trip of a lifetime.