In boxing, nothing moves the needle more like the next big thing at heavyweight. We clamour for guys like Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz, who recently signed to fight each other, to be put on prime time television so we can all tune in and watch giants bang away at each other. Like basketball searches for the next Michael Jordan, we as boxing fans search for the next Muhammad Ali, the next Mike Tyson, or the next Lennox Lewis. Promoters can see this as well, and that is how a heavyweight hopeful named Michael Grant came to the forefront.
He was young, athletic, and had a size and reach that was similar to the kingpin of the division in 90’s, Lewis. Lewis, for all his gifts and credentials, was never the most popular heavyweight amongst boxing fans. Most people tuned in to see if the next contender could topple his reign at the top, and more often than not, they left disappointed. Many of those same fans tuned in on this night to see if all the hype behind Grant was going to come to fruition and to see if he was going to dethrone the man that stood just as tall as he did, and like all the other nights, we left disappointed.
Great athlete poor boxer
Beating down ‘tomato cans’ and worn down boxers with some name recognition can get you pretty far in the heavyweight division. For Grant, it got him a shot with the division king, a fight that he didn’t deserve and should never have been in. The heavyweight division was starved for contenders at the time though, as Lewis had just beaten Evander Holyfield for what should have been the second time, but was robbed of a decision that was rightfully his in the first fight, which was ruled a draw.
Along comes Grant. A three-sport star in high school where he drew interest from Major League teams as a pitcher, and also played basketball and football. He also stood six feet, seven inches tall and looked like he was built in a lab. He had the look of a heavyweight champion and had beaten fighters like Corey Sanders, Ross Puritty, David Ison and Lou Savarese. None of those guys were going to set the world on fire, but they had name recognition in the boxing world as at least being live bodies. His bout with Andrew Golota would be the one that earned him the shot against Lewis. Golota, the former title challenger to Riddick Bowe who just couldn’t stop hitting him low, was a respected and a mean fighter.
He dropped Grant twice in the opening round, and just when it looked like the shine was about to come off the heavyweight division’s new toy, Grant rallied for the knockout late in the fight. It was a spirited effort, and in hindsight, the highlight of his career. His next bout would be against Lewis and we would learn that, despite the hard work he had put in to learn his craft and his incredible athletic ability for a man his size, he lacked two vital traits a champion boxer has. Those traits were: the ability to take a punch as well as any boxing talent…
Remember that time you set 50 dollars on fire?
The PPV event was dubbed “Two Big,” and that proved to be what the moment was for the young Grant. The scene had the big fight feel, and the Garden was rocking as the two giant heavyweights came together in the centre of the ring for the instructions. At the conclusion, Grant told Lewis “God Bless.” It wasn’t so much of taunt, but almost seemed like Grant was trying to be friendly with the man that was about to ruin his career in a few moments.
At the opening bell, Grant didn’t show the same intimidation he seemed to wear during the instructions and came out swinging. He aggressively chased Lewis around the ring winging big shots, abandoning any real boxing technique he possessed. He landed a hard right hand almost right away, but it didn’t seem to hurt Lewis, and when a fighter eats your best shot right away and walks through it, it can be a sign of things to come.
Sure enough, Lewis started to find his rhythm with the young lion who continued to wing shots as hard as he could, until Lewis cracked him with an uppercut around the halfway point of the first round and Grant crumpled. If you were like me at home, this was the time that you started to worry that you were about to pay 20 dollars a minute for this fight. Grant slowly got to his feet, his eyes as big as dinner plates, and made the eight count. Lewis pounced again, and as Grant tried to tie him up, Lewis landed three consecutive shots to the side of Michael’s head.
Grant again went on skates and fell into the corner, using the ropes to keep himself upright. Arthur Mercante, the referee in this squash match, ruled it a knockdown and proceeded to not let Grant walk back out there. Lennox knew the challenger was in deep trouble and was on the attack again. He walloped Grant with a one-two that ended with a right hand from hell, and Grant went down in heap. Surely the fight has to be over, right? Wrong. Mercante again allowed Grant to climb to his feet and go to his corner for the end of the round.
The end is near
Lewis beat the career out of Grant. The second round started and the short rest wasn’t enough to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Grant’s legs were still completely gone, and with 24 seconds left in a sloppy round, Lewis finally lowered the boom, as he had done so many times in his illustrious career. Grant went down and you could have counted to 100. The heavyweight contender who had rose all the way to number three in the world was completely exposed by a hall of fame fighter who could beat you like he did Holyfield, or completely ruin you like he did Grant. This fight will go down in boxing history as the day we learned that Grant was more “Pretender” than he was “Contender.”
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