Want to feel old? A baby born the day Lennox Lewis fought Vitali Klitschko is, as of today, old enough to legally drink.

Yes, June 21 marks the 21st anniversary of what would prove to be the end of an era, Lewis’ final fight — and one of the greatest heavyweight championship fights of the 21st century.

And today’s young boxing fans, not just the 21-and-under crowd but probably anyone under the age of about 30, didn’t experience it live. So, let’s revisit that memorable clash at Staples Center between two future Hall of Famers. And let’s lean into all the “21s” by exploring 21 details you may have forgotten over the ensuing 21 years — or perhaps are about to learn for the first time if you weren’t around for Lewis vs. Klitschko on June 21, 2003.

  1. This was a one-fight U.S. boxing broadcast (on HBO), something that never happens in boxing these days. (Although it almost did just a few weeks ago; had Dmitrii Bivol vs. Artur Beterbiev not fallen out, that was going to be a one-fight ESPN broadcast, separate from the 5 vs. 5 pay-per-view.) One-fight broadcasts were rare in the early 2000s as well, but not completely unheard of.
  2. As you may remember, this was supposed to be a two-fight show: Lewis vs. Kirk Johnson, with Klitschko vs. Cedric Boswell in a 10-round co-feature. Then Johnson injured a chest muscle two weeks before, and the short-notice scramble was on. Exact number of days’ notice for Lewis and Klitschko that they would be facing each other: 12. Larry Merchant delivered a great line in his traditional spot just before the opening bell: “This event was upgraded from business class to first class when Klitschko became a part of it. Will it be upgraded as a fight?”
  3. If, under the original plan, Lewis beat Johnson and Klitschko beat Boswell, Lewis and Klitschko were already penciled in to face each other in December — on pay-per-view. That makes this yet another occurrence you never see in boxing nowadays: a fight that could potentially be sold on pay-per-view instead being given to subscribers at no extra charge.
  4. Before this was to be Lewis vs. Johnson, the date was initially being held for a Lewis-Mike Tyson rematch, 12 months after their lopsided fight that began in Memphis and ended in Bolivian. But Tyson felt he wasn’t ready for that. Instead an undercard bout was proposed — Tyson vs. Oleg Maskaev — but that didn’t happen either. Tyson did fight that day, however. He was arrested in Brooklyn on June 21, 2003, for getting into a “physical altercation” with two men in a hotel lobby.
  5. This was the first heavyweight title fight in L.A. in 45 years — since Floyd Patterson stopped Roy Harris on Aug. 18, 1958, at a minor league ballpark known as Wrigley Field. The HBO broadcasters described Lewis-Klitschko as Los Angeles’ first “heavyweight fight of significance” since Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton II in 1973. But the wait for the next heavyweight title fight or heavyweight fight of significance in L.A. wouldn’t last long; 10 months later, Klitschko returned to Staples Center to take on Corrie Sanders.

  6. Leading up to the fight, HBO broadcaster and former champ George Foreman was talking, seemingly seriously, about coming out of retirement to challenge for the title once again if Klitschko were to beat Lennox. Foreman had been retired nearly six years and was 54 years old.
  7. The only U.S. state in which sports betting was legal at the time was Nevada, and there, sportsbooks had Lewis listed as between a 4½-to-1 and 5-to-1 favorite. When it was Lewis vs. Johnson, Lennox was a 6-to-1 favorite.
  8. Was Lewis looking past Klitschko? In addition to accepting the fight on 12 days’ notice — a sign that he didn’t feel threatened by Vitali — he spent part of the prefight build talking excitedly (by the laid-back Lennox’s standards) about a possible fight against Roy Jones. Oh, and he weighed in at 256½ pounds, a career high — three pounds above what he weighed when he was underprepared for the first Hasim Rahman fight.
  9. Even though Lewis was the shorter man (6-foot-5 vs. 6-foot-7, officially), he had the longer reach (84 inches to 79 inches). Speaking of relative heights, Sylvester Stallone was among the celebs shown at ringside before the bout, prompting a tremendous joke (or half-joke?) on air from Jim Lampley that both he and Merchant are taller than Sly. (The internet lists Merchant’s height as 5-foot-5; Lamps vs. Sly would’ve been a close call.)
  10. Random fun fact: There were not one, not two, but three future Hall of Famers on the undercard … all women. Laila Ali, Lucia Rijker, and Jane Couch were all in action. (Rijker shut out Couch over eight rounds, while Ali TKO’d Valerie Mahfood.)

  11. Klitschko’s ring-entrance song: “Hotel California.” He kinda made it work — although he did not have “such a lovely face” by fight’s end. As mid-tempo classic rock songs go, it at least did the job more effectively than the absolute least suitable ring-entrance music of the era, John Ruiz making his way down the aisle to Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon.”
  12. As action-packed as the fight was, it also featured a lot of holding — perhaps more than you remember, and right from the start. The most notable moment in a clinch: In round 5, with his left hand tied up but his right hand free, Lewis banged home 12 (!) consecutive right hands to the ribs before referee Dr. Lou Moret got in there.
  13. When they weren’t wrapped up in clinches, this was indeed a thriller. Among the Merchant comments along the way were “This is Gatti-Ward, on the highest level on the scale!” and “There has never been a heavyweight championship between big men with this kind of intense action.” And Lampley went so far after the fight to loosely compare it to Foreman-Ron Lyle.
  14. Klitschko won the first round clearly though competitively (CompuBox had him out-throwing Lewis 73-39 and out-landing him 23-18), and absolutely dominated round 2. Then came the cut, early in the third round, from a right hand that scraped across Vitali’s left eye. Despite blood pouring down his face, Klitschko statistically dominated round 3 as well, out-throwing Lewis 74-39 and outlanding him 29-19. Still, two judges gave Lewis the round, perhaps scoring the blood, or perhaps won over by a couple of 1-2s with which Lewis began the round.
  15. I’m sneaking in one personal note among the 21 topics: This was the first fight my future wife watched with me. Thanks to HBO’s repeated zoom-ins on the absolutely grotesque cut, it was just about the last fight she watched with me.

  16. Harold Lederman pronounced Klitschko’s first name, “VIE-tally.” There were then and remain to this day debates over the correct pronunciation of “Vitali,” but the late, great Mr. Lederman is the only one I recall mispronouncing it in this particular manner.
  17. Early in the fourth round, in one of their many clinches, the two boxers tumbled to the canvas together — and it sure looked like Klitschko, lying on his back, attempted to kick at Lennox with his right leg as the champ got up. Unfazed, the sportsmanlike Lewis extended a glove and helped pull Klitschko up.
  18. Down 4-0 on one judge’s card and 3-1 on the other two, Lewis finally got on track in the fifth when he started letting uppercuts go — though he also flopped to the ropes appearing exhausted at one point in the round, the punch stats favored Klitschko again, and only one judge gave Lewis the round. All three gave him the sixth, though, a round in which he landed the best punch of the fight, the absolutely sick right uppercut that, to steal a phrase from Mauro Ranallo, popped Vitali’s head straight up in the air like the proverbial Pez dispenser. (Can a Pez dispenser be proverbial? Discuss amongst yourselves.)
  19. When the sixth round ended, Lewis happened to be situated in his own corner, and couldn’t plop his rear end down on the stool fast enough. It looked like he was in a heated game of musical chairs — and one that had gone on a while and drained him of all energy. Of course, the bigger story was unfolding in the opposite corner, where, after a couple of rounds of cutman Joe Souza nearly losing his Q-tip in the cavern that was Klitschko’s eye, Dr. Paul Wallace advised Moret to stop the fight, and that was that. Klitschko reportedly required 84 stitches (which happens to be a multiple of 21, further justifying the structure of this column).
  20. As great as Lewis vs. Klitschko was, Lewis vs. Merchant for possession of the microphone afterward was almost as pitched a battle. “I was just getting my second wind, Larry,” insisted Lewis when asked if he was tired. His trainer Emanuel Steward later described it as “the worst fight of Lennox’s career.” (And remember, this is a guy who got stopped by massive underdogs twice.) Lewis thought things over for about eight months, then announced his retirement the following February, and never did fight again.

  21. Vitali, in his interview with Merchant, “I know, in this fight, when doctor don’t stop, I win this fight.” It was a defeat for Klitschko, officially, but this was the fight that set him on a Hall of Fame path, and fully erased the “Quit-schko” monicker he’d acquired after his shoulder-injury surrender vs. Chris Byrd. And to top it off, he received a bouquet of flowers sent by none other than Max Schmeling in his hotel room afterward. As interactions with former heavyweight champs go, flowers from 97-year-old Schmeling beat a fight against 54-year-old Foreman any day.

Eric Raskin is a veteran boxing journalist with more than 25 years of experience covering the sport for such outlets as BoxingScene, ESPN, Grantland, Playboy, Ringside Seat, and The Ring (where he served as managing editor for seven years). He also co-hosted The HBO Boxing Podcast, Showtime Boxing with Raskin & Mulvaney, and Ring Theory and currently co-hosts The Interim Champion Boxing Podcast with Raskin & Mulvaney. He has won three first-place writing awards from the BWAA, for his work with The Ring, Grantland, and HBO. Outside boxing, he is the senior editor of CasinoReports and the author of 2014’s The Moneymaker Effect. He can be reached on X or LinkedIn, or via email at [email protected].

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