Home Columns The Best of the Bowe-Holyfield-Lewis Era of Heavyweights in Boxing

The Best of the Bowe-Holyfield-Lewis Era of Heavyweights in Boxing

The Top 10 Heavyweight Boxers from the Time of Lewis, Holyfield and Bowe

The 2003 retirement of Lennox Lewis brought what is often now sometimes called heavyweight boxing’s “Silver Age” to a close. This is because the Bowe-Holyfield-Lewis period was arguably the most talent-rich period the heavyweights had seen since the end of the Golden Age defined by Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Since Lewis retired, many have come to look back on the 1990s and early years of the 2000s with nostalgia, especially as the division has become a boring snoozefest under the dominance of the Klitschkos.

So who were the best of this era that shines ever brighter with time?

1. Lennox Lewis (42-2-1 with 32 KOs)

When Lennox Lewis went into retirement, his detractors said he was running scared from Vitali Klitschko. Now virtually the entire boxing community misses the last heavyweight champion who was dominant and exciting at the same time. He defeated every member of his own generation of heavyweights who would get in the ring with him (Holyfield, Mercer, Ruddock, Morrison, Bruno, etc.), and then went on to bump off rising contenders from the generation that came next (Grant, David Tua, Rahman, Klitschko the Elder). Lewis had his flaws, to be sure, but one only needs to look at what truly separates him from either Klitschko to see what made him great, especially after he began working with Emmanuel Steward. The Klitschkos and Lewis are all big, athletic guys with good boxing skills, but when Lewis saw a weakness or an opening, he was utterly ruthless and went after it full bore.

2. Evander Holyfield (42-10-2 with 27 KOs)

Holyfield continues to campaign to this day, but is only a shadow of his former greatness. He ranks as #2 on the virtue of his resume: 1-2 with Bowe, 1-1 with Moorer, 0-1-1 with Lewis, 2-0 with Tyson, 1-1-1 with Ruiz, 1-0 with Mercer, Holmes, Rahman and Foreman. Only the second man to win the heavyweight title three times, his “never say die” attitude and warrior’s pride made him the literal glue of the era. It is hard to imagine the 1990s heavyweight picture without Evander Holyfield, and he won more big fights than he lost.

3. Riddick Bowe (43-1 with 33 KOs)

The third of the Silver Age’s defining personalities, Riddick Bowe would surely have ranked higher if only he weren’t so damn lazy. Bowe was an underachiever if ever there was one. Bowe beat Holyfield twice, and would have beaten him in the second bout if only he had stayed focused and in shape. He could have beaten Lewis in 1993, but instead he ducked him in favor of publicity tours and easy paydays. He rarely stayed in shape, and it greatly shortened his career. Even so, Holyfield aside Bowe owns a string of (often unappreciated) wins against then-undefeateds like Larry Donald and Herbie Hide.

4. David Tua (49-3-1 with 42 KOs)

As time has gone by, the resume of this left-hooking slugger just keeps looking better. Once the rising power-hitter of the division, Tua became mired in contract disputes that took him out of the running after the retirement of Lennox Lewis, but he accomplished so much before then. This guy knocked out future champions John Ruiz, Hasim Rahman and Oleg Maskaev and took out contenders Darrol “Doin’ Damage” Wilson and David Izon. There was also his 1997 classic with Ike Ibeabuchi, which set the record for most punches ever thrown in a heavyweight non-title bout. However, Tua’s ability to deal with boxers who could stay out of his way or stick the jab was limited, as demonstrated by Lennox Lewis and Chris Byrd.

5. Ray Mercer (36-7-1 with 27 KOs)

Some fighters shine in their defeats, with Mercer standing as an excellent example. It is hard to find an article about the man which does not comment on his chin using adjectives such as “anvil-like,” “granite” or “concrete.” He stopped Tommy Morrison and outpointed Tim Witherspoon, and in defeat he gave Lennox Lewis the toughest fight of his career. It says a lot that Lewis consistently avoided a rematch with Mercer, no matter how much such a fight promised to pay.

6. Mike Tyson (50-6 with 44 KOs)

Tysoniestas will always scream that Tyson belongs not just at the top of this list, but of any list. The truth is that when Tyson peaked in his early 20s, 4 of the top 5 of this list were all still amateur boxers. His best achievements belong to a different era. He does not rank more highly on this list because he lost to Holyfield and Lewis, and unlike Ray Mercer he did not look good doing it. However, against that he beat a string of minor contenders in the 1990s, more than anyone else who could be ranked against him. It’s nothing to sneer at, but nothing to overstate either.

7. George Foreman (76-5 with 68 KOs)

Old “Big” George Foreman makes it on the list by virtue of his historic knockout of Michael Moorer at age 45 to become the oldest man to win the championship. It is his mixed record against fringe contenders and getting outboxed by Tommy Morrison that prevents him from rising higher.

8. Michael Moorer (52-4-1 with 40 KOs)

After getting cocky and clocked by Foreman, Moorer is best known for beating Evander Holyfield on what was a very bad night for the Real Deal. Another underachiever, Moorer had good skills but a craptastical work ethic, both in and out of the ring. I remember him best for the spectacle of Teddy Atlas waving a phone in his face during a corner break and telling Moorer “Here, let’s call your son and let him know that his daddy’s not even trying.”

9. Larry Holmes (69-6 with 44 KOs)

A hold-over from the previous era, Larry Holmes had enough stuff to hang with the best. He out-foxed and defeated Ray Mercer. It has to be said Evander Holyfield only beat Holmes by out-working him. The “Golden Jab” was just as evident in the 1990s it was in the 1980s.

10. Tommy Morrison (48-3-1 with 48 KOs)

Morrison is often overlooked, sidelined by his HIV results in 1996. However, this is a guy who beat Foreman and “Razor” Rudduck and carried the WBO strap twice. He had a wicked left hook and good skills, but a suspect chin.