BASN Year In Review: A Look Back At Boxing In 2004

By Francis Walker
Updated: December 27, 2004

Evander Holyfield and Bernard Hopkins
Evander Holyfield and Bernard Hopkins

NEW YORK, NY.—The year 2004 had plenty of surprises. Lennox Lewis retired as the world heavyweight champion. Oscar De La Hoya and Roy Jones, Jr. were both knocked out in consecutive weeks. Evander Holyfield’s boxing license was finally revoked. Mike Tyson continues to fade into oblivion.

At age 39, Lewis, London, England, walked away from the sport in which he won the world heavyweight title three times during a 15-year professional career that began after winning a gold medal in the 1988 Olympics. It was not until the last five years of Lewis’ career he gained the appropriate respect from sports fans and the boxing media.

Among Lewis’ career highlights: he fought Evander Holyfield in perhaps the most famous “draw” in world heavyweight championship history (March 1999). Lewis was beating Holyfield from pillar to post across Madison Square Garden in about to determine the undisputed world heavyweight champion.

The controversial “draw” which sparked an investigation and lead to a rematch eight months later. In the rematch, Lewis would defeat Holyfield in a close unanimous decision to unify the WBA, WBC, and IBF world heavyweight titles.

Lewis cemented his legacy as one of the best heavyweights in history when he KO’d Mike Tyson in June 2002 before ending his career with a slugfest against Vitali Klitschko in June 2003.

Lewis, the single most-dominant force in the heavyweight class, ended his career with a 41-2-1, 34 KOs record in 44 profession al contests. Lewis was 15-2-1, 10 KOs in world title fights. Lewis’ retirement allowed people to realize just how weak the heavyweight division is.

In 2004, WBA heavyweight champion John Ruiz and IBF counterpart Chris Byrd each struggled in two defenses. Klitschko won the WBC heavyweight crown vacated by Lewis.

Neither champion is a huge pay per view success, as Lewis’ retirement has confused the public as to who the best heavyweight champion is since neither fighter defeated Lewis.

Holyfield’s licence to fight was finally revoked after his miserable battle against heavyweight journeyman, Larry Donald in Nov. The 41-year-old courageous warrior, who is the only fighter since Muhammad Ali to win the heavyweight championship four times, has been reduced to a one-punch fighter who absorbs too much punishment.

Holyfield was a legend. He is the only boxer to unify the world cruiserweight championships before winning the undisputed world heavyweight title in Feb. 1990 when he KO’d Buster Douglas. Holyfield has fought every top fighter from 190-250 pounds from Dwight Muhammad Qawi to George Foreman, Larry Holmes, and Lennox Lewis.

The climax of Holyfield’s legacy occurred in Nov. 1996 when he knocked out Mike Tyson to win the WBA heavyweight championship. During the June 1997 rematch, Holyfield appeared to dominate Tyson again until “The Baddest Man on the Planet,” was fined $3 million and banned from boxing for over one year for biting a piece of Holyfield’s ear off.

As Holyfield’s legacy grew, so did his unrealistic goal of retiring as the undisputed world heavyweight champion. His journey was at times amazing, but saddening at best.

Before his license was revoked by the New York State Athletic Commission, Holyfield’ record was a shameful 2-5-2 in his final nine fights. Losses to Donald, Chris Byrd, and James Toney were noncompetitive.

Mike Tyson has reached the end of the road as a professional fighter. Tyson simply does not like to train, he is broke, and simply does not want to fight. How many times have people heard, Tyson’s back? In July 2004, one of Tyson’s many comebacks in recent years resulted in disaster when he challenged Danny Williams.

Williams was hurt very badly in the first round, but held on to score a fourth-round knockout of Tyson. Williams shocked the world against Tyson, but was flattened like pancake when he challenged Klitschko for the WBC heavyweight championship in December.

Roy Jones, Jr., having become the first former middleweight champion in more than 100 years to win a heavyweight title in 2003, was recognized as the best fighter in the world. That perception quickly changed when former light-heavyweight champion and top contender Antonio Tarver, scored a one-punch, second round KO of Jones In April 2004.

Perhaps it was a lucky punch, but it was well timed and it landed flush against Jones, who was once the fastest fighter in boxing for over a decade.

In a comeback fight in Sept., Jones was noticeably flat-footed and pressured against the ropes by Glen Johnson. In the ninth round, Johnson landed a right to Jones’ jaw that dropped the former four-division champion flat on his back. Jones was KO’d brutally for the second consecutive fight that could spell the end of his career.

Oscar De La Hoya entered 2004 as boxing’s biggest box-office draw. He signed a three-fight, $45 million contract that led to a world middleweight championship fight against Bernard Hopkins. De La Hoya looked sluggish and undeserving of his victory against Felix Strum before challenging Hopkins in Sept. ‘04.

The fight was closely contested until Hopkins landed a famous “liver” punch that, for the first time in De La Hoya’s career, stopped “The Golden Boy” in his tracks in the ninth-round. It was Hopkins’ nineteenth successful defense of the world 160-pound championship.

Hopkins, who agreed to fight under Golden Boy Promotions, signed a four-fight deal with Golden Boy and HBO. Targeted bouts: No. 1 contender, Howard Eastman (February), Jermain Taylor, Winky Wright and/or Felix Trinidad.

Hopkins-De La Hoya was simply a fight De La Hoya could not win because Hopkins was always the harder puncher and better middleweight boxer. However, De La Hoya’s quest of officially becoming the first fighter since Sugar Ray Leonard to win world championships in five separate weight-classes against Hopkins, a fighter who has not lost a fight since losing to Roy Jones, Jr. (1995), was very appealing and historic.

Felix Trinidad returned to action after a 2 1/2 –year retirement in Oct. Trinidad knocked out Ricardo Mayorga in his return to the middleweight division. Trinidad is in negotiations to fight world junior middleweight champion, Winky Wright next year. Wright proved to be the best 154-pounder with two consecutive victories over Sugar Shane Mosley – unifying the junior middleweight crown.

Fighter of the Year: 2004 had many surprises, but one of the biggest was the selection of “Fighter of the Year.” No other fighter deserves such an honor other than Glen Johnson.

Before 2004 began, Johnson, once a top prospect having won his first 32 professional fights (32-0) entered ’04 as a journeyman. Johnson resurrected his career by winning the IBF light-heavyweight championship before knocking out Jones in September. On Dec. 18, Johnson, who vacated his IBF title he worked so hard for, defeated Tarver in an action-packed contest to earn the claim as “the man to beat” at 175 pounds.

2005 will be a very interesting year. Already there is talk of Don King and HBO working together on a heavyweight championship unification tournament. De La Hoya is rumored to return to his prime weight of 147. De La Hoya ruled the welterweight division from 1997-2000 before facing bigger challenges at 154 and 160. Trinidad is scheduled to fight again in March, one month after Hopkins tries to extend his middleweight title defense record to 20.