Fight Revisited: The first all-British heavyweight world title fight

This was the first-ever all-British world heavyweight title fight, and Lewis-Bruno certainly delivered - Lewis Oldham reports.

Lennox Lewis officially became the WBC world heavyweight champion on January 14, 1993. He had become mandatory for the title and was due to fight Riddick Bowe for the belt in a rematch from their 1988 Olympic Games encounter.

Lewis - representing Canada - came out on top, defeating Bowe inside two rounds to pick up gold in the super heavyweight category.

Fast-forward five years, and the Brit was seen as a huge threat to the rest of the heavyweight division and there appeared to be unfinished business between Bowe and Lewis.

However, the former didn’t fancy it, opting to choose Evander Holyfield for more money instead and famously dumped his belt in the bin. It's safe to say, the WBC weren't too impressed and stripped him of the title and awarded it to Lewis.

The WBC subsequently made Lewis the new world heavyweight champion. It wasn’t how he would have envisioned winning the famous green-and-belt strap, but he was now on top of the throne. In doing so, Lewis became the first British world heavyweight champion in just short of 100 years. He followed into the footsteps of Bob Fitzsimmons in 1899. 

After successfully defending his title against Tony Tucker, Frank Bruno was his next challenger. Bruno - the people’s champion - had already unsuccessfully challenged twice for the world title against Tim Witherspoon and ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson in 1986 and 1989, respectively.

Verbal trades create British beef

The domestic dust-up between Lewis and Bruno was billed as ‘The Battle of Britain’. The first-ever world heavyweight clash between two British fighters took place on October 1, 1993 at the Cardiff Arms Park in front of over 25,000 fans.

The build-up soon turned sour, as Bruno questioned the legitimacy of Lewis’ Britishness. Lewis fired back, slating Bruno for how he acted in the public eye as well as branding Bruno an “Uncle Tom.” All of this paled in significance as fight night approached - it was the biggest fight of both men’s career at the time. 

Bruno weighed in at 238lbs ahead of the fight, with Lewis nine pounds lighter than the challenger at 229lbs. But Lewis had the advantage of being three years Bruno's junior and was unbeaten from 23 professional fights (19 KO). Bruno meanwhile had three defeats to his name, although he had notched up 36 wins with 35 coming inside the distance.

When it rains, it pours

The weather was gloomy - a storm was brewing - and it added an interesting sub-plot to the fight, as there was a threat of calling off the fight after three rounds because of torrential rain. This meant that if anyone were knocked out or were leading the cards after three rounds, they would be declared the winner.

Understandably, this created a tense opening on the first bell. Both fighters met in the middle of the ring seeking to assert their dominance early on but it was Bruno who seemed to find his rhythm early on. With the crowd chanting Bruno in unison, he dominated the second round.

Bruno looked the more dangerous in the opening couple of rounds having rocked Lewis
Bruno looked the more dangerous in the opening couple of rounds having rocked Lewis

Lewis was not yet settled into the fight, but Bruno was using his jab to its full effect and was taking the centre of the ring in an attempt to hurt the champion. 

Lewis rallied at the start of the third round looking to go on the front foot with a cut on the challenger’s left eye emerging. But Bruno recovered really well and struck with a vicious right hand to temporarily wobble the champion. Bruno had Lewis in trouble, but he could not quite capitalise, allowing the champion to be tentative and recover for the rest of the round.

Round 4 was a slower round but Bruno was still the busier of the two fighters. The challenger continued to use his stiff jab well to stop Lewis in his tracks, however, slowly but surely the champion was making his way into the fight. Bruno at this point was in control of the cards, but he was not really doing enough consistent punishment to truly damage Lewis.

“The Lion” continued to be very tentative in the fifth round, clearly wary of Bruno’s power. He did not want to overcommit to leave himself open to a Bruno assault. The challenger continued to be in control, just doing enough to pick up another round on the scorecard. But his corner was paying more attention to the cut on his eye as the rounds drew on, which will have been playing on the mind of Bruno’s.

Onto the sixth round and Lewis was starting to make his way back into the fight. He threw a lot more in this round, and the fight was soon turning into a real dogfight with both men exchanging shots throughout the round. It was becoming an edgy affair with both looking to land haymakers.

Now we were onto the seventh round and the fight really kicked into another gear here. Bruno came out firing and had Lewis on the ropes early into the round. He was unloading on Lewis until the champion countered with a superb left hook on the ropes that clearly rocked Bruno.

This lit a fire with Lewis, who saw Bruno in huge trouble. The “True Brit” retreated to the ropes with Lewis hammering him with big shot after big shot. Lewis’ onslaught continued for around 20 seconds without Bruno offering one punch back, and after another huge right hand on the ropes, the referee stepped in to briefly separate the fighters. He allowed it to resume but it came to an end seconds later as the attack persisted without reply.

The referee called time on the fight with Bruno still on his feet but prone on the ropes. Lewis’ hand got raised with a victory via TKO 72 seconds into the seventh round. 

Lewis eventually claimed the bragging rights in a fight which included heavy rain on an electric night in Cardiff
Lewis eventually claimed the bragging rights in a fight which included heavy rain on an electric night in Cardiff

It was a superb fight that showed again the threat Lewis possessed with his immense power. Even with him behind on the cards and appearing to be struggling, it took one big punch to turn the fight on its head in his favour.

Bruno was the underdog going in, but he used great tactics in the opening six-rounds to take control of the fight. In the end, he was left to rue not going for the jugular when he was in control in the early going with Lewis, not at his best. But Lewis’ power - especially with his left hook - proved the decisive moment in the history-making showdown.

Both provided huge entertainment and broke down barriers in British boxing to lay the foundations for future British heavyweights like Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, who could have their own piece of history in 2021.