Michael Grant was chugging along nicely as HBO’s creation, the future hope of the heavyweight division. He was and is big, at 6-foot-7, 250 pounds. He was and is intelligent and a good citizen, a good Christian, the anti-Mike Tyson. And after 30 fights, he was undefeated.
He also was downright boring in the ring.
Then came Andrew Golota, the man who pounded Riddick Bowe out of boxing. He pounded on Grant from the opening bell, putting him on the canvas twice in the first round. He battered Grant into a bloody mess for much of the first nine rounds of their November 1999 bout in Atlantic City.
Then Grant shocked Golota in the 10th round with a devastating overhand right, and Golota went down. When he rose on shaky legs before the count reached 10, Golota said he had had enough and quit, though he had led by a wide margin on the cards of all three judges.
That night Michael Grant became interesting (and vulnerable) enough to earn himself a heavyweight title shot. He’ll face current undisputed champion Lennox Lewis on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
Though Lewis, who held the World Boxing Council title before beating Evander Holyfield in their November rematch, won both the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation belts from Holyfield to become undisputed champion, he will lose his WBA championship for refusing to fight its mandatory challenger, John Ruiz. Ruiz and Holyfield will fight for the vacant WBA crown in June.
Lewis (35-1-1, 27 knockouts) believed Grant (31-0, 22 knockouts) was a more attractive opponent.
“Grant is the number one contender in my mind,” Lewis said. “He is the biggest and best opponent out there.”
Grant became the No. 1 contender because he showed boxing fans his heart by withstanding a beating and rallying to beat Golota. He showed Lewis that he was a marketable but safe opponent. After all, Lewis once knocked out Golota in one round.
Grant, 27, hopes Lewis still believes that Grant is as vulnerable as he looked against Golota.
“That’s not the Michael Grant he will see,” Grant said. “I got too cocky in that fight. I’ve learned my lesson.”
Grant has been talking cocky, though, going as far as predicting a 10th-round knockout.
“He doesn’t like pressure,” Grant said. “He tends to slow down in the later rounds. I come on strong. My job is to go out there and impose my will on him. I’m big enough to do that. I’m ready to go the full 12 rounds.”
But then Grant added, “The 10th round looks pretty good to me.”
Grant’s trainer, Don Turner, said his fighter’s confidence against Lewis is not bravado.
“I know Michael pretty well,” Turner said. “Michael really believes he can beat Lennox Lewis, and he has believed it for some time.”
Grant has not spent that much time fighting in his life. Unlike Lewis, a former amateur champion with 82 pro fights, Grant didn’t start boxing until he was 20. He was a star high school athlete in football, basketball and baseball in Chicago and then played junior college football and basketball before he met referee Richard Steele, who talked him into coming to his Las Vegas gym and meeting Turner.
Turner who also trains Holyfield, a close friend of Grant was taken with Grant’s size and physical skills. He used Grant as a sparring partner for various fighters until Grant made his pro debut, stopping Ernest English in one round in July 1994.
Grant was on the fast track after that, with 10 fights in the final six months of 1994, and 12 more over the next two years. In 1997, with a record of 25-0, he stepped up in class and stopped former cruiserweight champion Al “Ice” Cole in 10 rounds to capture the little-known International Boxing Council heavyweight championship. He followed that by stopping Jorge Luis Gonzalez in one round, and posting two impressive wins in 1998 over top-10 contenders David Izon and Obed Sullivan.
His development slowed in 1999, though. He looked sluggish while scoring a 10th-round technical knockout over Ahmad Abdin and a decision over Lou Savarese. Then came his closest brush with defeat in the Golota fight.
Grant believes that his training for this fight will have him better prepared than at any time in his career, adding, “Everything has come together for me.”
It may have actually come together for Grant that November night in Atlantic City, when, bloody and beaten, he refused to lose. In the packaging of Michael Grant, his character outside of the ring has been a selling point. That night he proved his character in the ring, and Grant said he will prove it again Saturday night.
“To beat Lennox is going to take everything that makes a champion,” Grant said. “That means character, being able to outlive the individual. That’s what I’ve been focused on.
“This is the fight I’ve waited to show my talents,” Grant said. “I will go out there and make a big impact. It’s definitely going to be a great fight, and Michael Grant is going to prove he is the truth.”