Forgotten Legends: Michael Grant

By: Steve Gallegos 

Some fighters are groomed for the spotlight and appear to be heading for greatness, only to be put into a fight that they aren’t ready for which starts the beginning of the end of their career. That was the case with former heavyweight title challenger Michael Grant. Grant was a giant, standing at 6″7 and he had great technique and skill, which made him probably the most popular of the many young, up and coming heavyweights in the mid-late 90’s.
Grant was born and raised in Chicago and was an all around athlete that played basketball, football, and baseball; however his poor grades prevented him from getting a major athletic scholarship. In 1992, Grant went to Las Vegas to see the action-packed heavyweight championship fight between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe and while he was there, he met Las Vegas referee Richard Steele, who suggested he become a boxer; therefore he did. Grant had only 12 amatuer bouts before turning pro in July of 1994 and would go 22-0 with 16 KO’s in his first two years as a professional.
1997 would be a big year for Grant as he get some national exposure by going  4-0 with two KO’s, including big knockout wins over Al “Ice” Cole and Jorge Luis Gonzalez. All four bouts were nationally televised on ESPN and ABC. He was being trained by the famous Don Turner, who at the time also trained Evander Holyfield. Turner said that Michael Grant had the ability to be the greatest heavyweight champion of all time. 1998 would be another big year for Grant as he would make his HBO debut on 01/17/98 against David Izon. Izon was known for giving young David Tua, the toughest test of his young career and he was also coming off a huge upset KO win over Lou Savarese in the first boxing event ever held at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, NY.
Grant shined in his HBO debut, taking out Izon in five rounds. He would follow it up with another KO win four months later against another solid opponent in Obed Sullivan. The spotlight continued to get brighter for Grant in 1999 as he would begin the year with a 10th round stoppage of Ahmad Abdin and he would follow it five months later with a decisive unanimous decision win over Lou Savarese at the theater at Madison Square Garden. After the win over Savarese, serious talks began about Grant facing the winner of the Holyfield-Lewis heavyweight championship unificiation. All Grant had to do was win one more fight to get a shot at the heavyweight championship of the world and that fight was against the very tough, rugged, experienced and dirty Andrew Golota.
They met on 11/20/99 at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, NJ. Grant controlled much of the first round with his jab and right hand when all of a sudden, Golota landed a huge right hand that put Grant down. Golota would continue to attack Grant and would put him down again towards the end of the round. Golota would continue the attack round after round and it looked as though Grant’s title shot against Lennox Lewis was close to being scrapped.
Going into the 10th round, Grant knew he had to dig deep in order to secure his shot at a heavyweight title and he did by landing a huge right hand that hurt Golota. Grant smelled blood and attacked Golota with a good combination that would put him down. Golota got up, however elected not to continue; therefore referee Randy Neuman stopped the bout. It was a great come from behind win for Michael Grant and the stage was now set for Grant to face Lennox Lewis.
The event was called “Two Big” and it was the biggest fight to start off the new millenium. There were a lot of questions going into this fight as to whether Michael Grant was ready to handle the magnitude of the event and the pressure of fighting a superb boxer like Lennox Lewis. There were also questions as to whether or not Lewis had met his match as Grant posed a size advantage over him. Lewis was very confident that he picked Grant at the right time before he became too seasoned. Lewis said “Grant is like what I call hurry come up. He came up fast so he’s gonna go in a split second”.
They met on 04/29/00 at Madison Square Garden. There was no feeling out process in the first round. The two fighters started throwing bombs from the opening bell. Grant landed the first big shot less than 30 seconds into the bout when he caught Lewis holding his left hand low. Grant was getting into a rhythm when Lewis landed a left uppercut followed by a right hand that put Grant on the canvas. Grant got up but was on wobbly legs. Lewis continued the onslaught and landed four straight right hands, which caused Grant to wobble back towards the corner; therefore referee Arthur Mercante Jr. gave him a count. Lewis continued his pressure, landing hard shots to the body and head and with around 10 seconds to go in the first round, he landed another hard right hand right on the temple which put Grant down again.
Many thought the fight was over, but Grant showed tremendous heart and made it to his feet to make it out of the round. Grant came out for the second round, still on wobbly legs and Lewis was still coming forward trying to knock him out. With less than 30 seconds to go in the second, Lewis landed a huge right uppercut that put Grant down for the fourth and final time. It was a spirited and gutsy effort by Grant; however he was blasted by a much better fighter and possibly the best heavyweight of his era.
Grant took 15 months off due to a knee injury caused by the many knockdowns he received against Lennox Lewis. He took on relatively unknown Jameel McCline in his first bout back and the string of bad luck would continue. McCline landed a right hand in the first round that put Grant down and the knockdown would cause a broken ankle; therefore the fight was stopped. It was a crushing setback for Grant and his future was in question. HBO televised the fight that night and George Foreman said aftewards that Grant needs to avoid the big television spotlight for a while, that he needed to fight regularly and fight in small towns, small venues so he can build himself up again.
Grant would take “Big” George’s advice and he would rack up seven wins in a row over the next two years, all by knockout. After building himself back up, it was time for him to return to HBO and he did so on 06/07/03 when he faced unbeaten Dominick Guinn in Atlantic City. It was the co-feature for the third bout between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward. It was supposed to be a comeback celebration for Grant; however Guinn would crash the party by putting Grant down four times and stopping him within seven rounds. This loss would pretty much end Michael Grant’s career at the top.
He would continue to fight for another ten years going 10-2 with 6 KO’s. His record as a professional stands at 48-5 with 36 KO’s. He was another story of “What if”. He had all the goods to be a heavyweight great and his train was derailed by the greatest heavyweight champion of his era. He just couldn’t shake the ghost of Lennox Lewis. However short the glory was, it was 100% exciting the whole time because he gave it 100% and then some each and every time he stepped through those ropes.
Michael Grant

 

 

 

 

 

WBF Heavyweight Title Bout: Francois Botha (R) v Michael Grant (L)

Photo Credit: Gallo Images/Getty Images Europe

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