Lennox Lewis is a man who has always carried the weight of high expectations. If you are a talented athlete who hails from London, the city where the Queensberry rules were established, the country’s hopes of claiming boxing glory rest on you. He stands six feet tall, combined with his God-given musculature, making him a sync he would excel in whatever sport he focused on. He could easily have been a tight end of the roster who showed him his talents in the NFL every Sunday; Instead, he decided to make a name for himself in the ring and become one of boxing legends.
And then “The Lion” came out. He survived the Serengeti of professional boxing until he could finally claim the king of the jungle. How did a man whose aggression in the ring was questioned by his first amateur coaches to reach the pinnacle of the sport? To find the answer to this question, we need to take a journey through memory and explore the ups and downs along the way.
Moving to Metropolitan Toronto with his mother at the age of 12, Lewis represented Canada at the 1984 Olympics when he was only 18. After failing to medal at these games, he decided to remain an amateur and return to the Olympics four years later.
In 1988, now a seasoned amateur with a lot of experience, Lewis returned to the Olympics in Seoul, Korea, on a mission to win the gold medal. As a super heavyweight, he faced Riddick Bowe of the United States in the gold medal round. Lewis’ length and timing were a problem for Bowe, who was used to being the tallest man in the ring. Bowe was 6’4 “tall and Lewis was inches taller than him. The usual size advantage and strategy of keeping opponents away with a jab doesn’t work against Lewis.
In the second round, Lewis picked up the pace of the fight and started landing several nice combinations. This prompted the referee to give Bowe two counts of eight; after the second he decided that Bowe could not continue and Lewis was declared the winner. Immediately after the fight, and in every subsequent interview in his career, Bowe insisted that the hiatus was premature and that he had been denied the opportunity to compete for gold. However, for most casual observers, the referee’s decision was correct. Lewis was a superior fighter and the gold medal was well deserved.
Famous boxing announcer and historian Larry Merchant once said, “There are too many governing bodies. I think they’re all corrupt.” This quote, although uttered ironically after a post-fight interview, sheds light on boxing’s worst kept secret: Sometimes the commercial side of the sport interferes with the integrity of the sport.
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Regardless of what weight class he is in, every fighter faces this reality at some point while searching for him. In 1992, it was Lennox Lewis’ turn to address the unfair politics of boxing. These events would affect his entire career. In a play worthy of a Shakespeare play, the turmoil in Lennox’s quest for the heavyweight crown came to the fore through his old nemesis Riddick Bowe.
In 1992, Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe reached the pinnacle of his career when he defeated Evander Holyfield to become the undisputed heavyweight champion. Lennox Lewis, then also a professional, was named the WBC’s mandatory challenger. Thankfully, the WBC’s rationale for making Lewis the number one contender was rock solid. He not only had an impressive performance as a professional, but he was also the last man Bowe was in the ring, albeit as an amateur four years before the Olympics.
Bowe, however, wanted to take the victory lap. Instead of fighting a logical challenger who had earned a shot at the title and proved himself formidable, he wanted to take on less capable opponents who would be easily defeated and give him a chance to bask in the glory of the heavyweight champion. In a televised press conference, Bowe said: “The WBC is wrong and I will not be intimidated by them. Today I am the heavyweight champion of the world and I withdraw my WBC recognition.” However, he shamelessly threw away the championship belt. WBC Heavyweight Trashed Shortly thereafter, the WBC announced Lewis as the organization’s new heavyweight champion.
The pursuit of respect
While the way he got the belt wasn’t his fault, that didn’t stop some unwitting members of the media and casual boxing fans from criticizing Lewis. The ideal way to become champion is of course to dethrone the title holder in the ring; but what should a top contender do if the champion flatly refuses to fight him? Lennox Lewis was desperate for Riddick Bowe. Accurate historians should write that Lewis was a man to be avoided, not the other way around.
Lewis mustered the strength to get off the canvas before ten when McCall landed a big right hand; however, the referee ruled that Lewis was too upset to continue and McCall was declared the winner. Lewis would have argued stubbornly that he hadn’t been given a chance, but his arguments fell on deaf ears. He was no longer the champion.
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It would be two and a half years before Lewis got another shot at McCall. The WBC belt was on the line again; only this time the belt was free and the winner was declared the winner. Unfortunately, the timing would be disappointing. Lewis dominated the first five rounds of the fight, but McCall was strangely passive on rounds four and five. Before the start of the sixth lap, McCall was visibly upset and started to cry in his corner. The match was canceled and Lewis was declared the winner. He had recaptured his heavyweight title, but again an untimely subplot dominated the headlines.
In 1999, Lewis was once again in controversy when his match against Evander Holyfield was the subject of an extremely controversial jury decision. The game took place at Madison Square Garden and attracted the highest number of pay-per-view purchases in sports history. Most observers believed Lewis had won and the New York crowd waited with bated breath for him to be declared the winner by unanimous decision.
That same year, the two men met in a rematch in Las Vegas. This time Lewis would be more dominant than he was during their first meeting, leaving nothing to chance. Finally, the man questioned by the public since the 1984 Olympics was finally the undisputed world heavyweight champion!
Lennox Lewis’ career seemed to be more about self-fulfillment than money or results. While other fighters had incredible numbers, Lewis has always been widely recognized as the best heavyweight boxer in the world, nothing more, nothing less. However, having overcome noisy opponents and unexpected setbacks, he faced all obstacles with grace.
When an inferior boxer named Hasim Rahman knocked him down with a lucky punch, Lewis responded with a display of brute force in the rematch, leaving little or no doubt as to who the real champion was. When Mike Tyson went on a post-fight tirade during his interview in which he said he wanted to “eat his baby” and proclaimed himself the real champion.
Lewis’ last fight was in 2003 when he defeated future champion Vitali Klitschko. Lewis was 37 years old and it was clear that Klitschko was likely to win the rematch the crowds so desperately demanded. Some see recording as a convenient way to record.