Lewis, Lennox 1965–
Lennox Lewis 1965–
Lennox Lewis, the man who began the year 2000 as boxing’s undisputed heavyweight champion, has always been a contradiction. Boxing is a brutal sport, but the fighter is a soft-spoken and clever man. He is often criticized for being too cautious inside the ring, yet he is fully capable of demolishing an opponent. Lewis, who, as heavyweight champion, is supposed to be the fiercest man on the planet, has been given honorary degrees for his work with children in London.
Lewis was born in London England on the city’s tough East End on September 2, 1965. His Jamaican mother, Violet, moved her son to Canada at the age of nine. Lewis moved to England again for a short time when he was 12, but he soon settled back with his mother in Kitchener, Ontario. His mother explained to Sports Illustrated’s William Nack why she brought the young man back from England: “I brought him back to Canada because I thought someone would abuse or ill-treat him. He was very stubborn and hyperactive.” But Lewis’s older brother Dennis told Nack a different story: “He was a rogue. He’d jump on my (older) friends and have a go. Picked fights a lot as a kid.” When he moved to Canada for the second time, the transition was not as easy. Lewis told Sports Illustrated’s Pat Putnam that the fighting continued. “All the kids made fun of my accent,” Lewis said. “And I punched out the lot. After my third strapping with the belt, my teacher advised I take my aggressions out in sport.”
And that is exactly what he did. He discovered boxing soon after his return to Canada at the Kitchener Police Headquarters gym. By the age of 15 Lewis weighed 175 pounds and was fighting against 17-and 18-year-olds. In addition to boxing, Lewis played football, basketball, and threw the shot in track at Cameron Heights Collegiate. But the ring had taken hold of the young athlete. He quit all of the other sports to concentrate on boxing. After more than 100 amateur fights, Lewis won the gold medal as a super-heavyweight at the World Junior Championships in 1983.
The following year Lewis represented Canada at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles at the age of 18. He lost in the quarter finals to Tyrell Biggs. He reigned for the next four years as Canada’s top super-heavyweight and then ventured to Seoul, South Korea to take a real shot at amateur boxing’s top prize—an Olympic gold
At a Glance…
Born Lennox Lewis on September 2, 1965 in London, England to Violet Lewis of Jamaica. Education: Cameron Heights Collegiate in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.
Career: Began boxing at the gym at the Kitchener Police Headquarters as an early adolescent and by the age of 15 was one of the finest amateur boxers in Canada, 1983-88; turned professional and moved to London, 1988; first professional knockout against Razor Ruddock, 1992; won WBC Heavyweight Championship, 1993; lost the WBC title to Oliver McCall, 1993; won back the WBC belt, 1997; defeated Evander Holyfield to win the WBA and IBF Heavyweight titles, 1999.
Awards: Gold medal, World Junior Championships, 1983; gold medal, Olympics, 1988; undisputed Heavyweight Champion (holder of the WBA, IBO, IBF, and WBC titles), 1999.
Addresses: Home —London, England, Canada and Jamaica; Office— The Office of Lennox Lewis, Ground Floor, Shelana House, 31 Eastcastle Street, London, W1N 8NL, United Kingdom.
medal. The older and wiser English/Canadian fighter marched through the preliminary bouts to meet Riddick Bowe of the United States for the gold. Lewis stopped Bowe before the end of the second round after the second standing eight count. With the gold medal in his trophy case Lewis decided to turn professional.
Lewis signed with London-based manager Frank Maloney who brought the new professional along very slowly. Lewis explained the strategy guiding his first two years as a professional to Sports Illustrated’s Nack: “I fought a lot of stiffs, but Mike Tyson fought a lot of stiffs as well. We had a major commodity, and we didn’t want to take any chances with it. We went at a comfortable pace.” Lewis and his team received criticism for his slow development. After two full years as a professional he had fought less than 58 full rounds. His first 13 fights were eight rounds or less. His opponents provided little competition. Despite this lack of opposition, he signed a five-fight deal with HBO and Time Warner to televise his bouts on the cable station and through pay-per-view. He also became the darling of British boxing fans on sheer potential.
Finally, in early 1993 after Riddick Bowe was stripped of the WBC Heavyweight Championship belt, Lewis got his chance to compete on a legitimate level. He was awarded that title belt and became the first British heavyweight champion since Bob Fitzsimmons in 1897. Lewis defended his title against Tony Tucker and won a unanimous decision, but his real quarry was Riddick Bowe—the man who held the other three heavyweight titles. Bowe dodged Lewis preferring to fight inferior boxers rather than risk his titles and easy paychecks at the hands of Lewis. After Tucker, Lewis scored a Technical Knockout (TKO) over fellow Englishman Frank Bruno in seven rounds and another TKO over Phil Jackson in the eighth round.
On September 24, 1994 Lewis suffered his only loss as a professional to the WBC’s top-ranked contender, Oliver McCall. McCall caught Lewis with a right and knocked him down in the second round. Lewis got up, but the referee gave McCall a second round TKO. In the next two years, Lewis defeated Lionel Butler, Justin Fortune, Tommy Morrison, and Ray Mercer. After the Mercer fight, Lewis’s managers offered Mike Tyson $45 million for a WBC Championship fight. Instead of fighting Lewis, Tyson ducked out of the bout and surrendered this title.
To fill the vacant heavyweight championship Lewis would face the only man to beat him—Oliver McCall. On February 7, 1997 Lewis was part of one of the most bizarre fights in a sport noted for its oddities. During the bout McCall, who was said to be battling drug addiction, sat on his stool weeping openly between rounds. Lewis won his title back. With the WBC belt in his possession, Lewis blew through the competition for two years defeating Henry Akinwande, Andrew Golota, Shannon Briggs, and Zelijko Mavorovic. Finally, in 1999 Lewis would receive a chance to unify the heavyweight championship. After being ditched first by Riddick Bowe and then by Mike Tyson for seven years, Lewis would face the WBA/IBF Champion Evander Holyfield.
On March 13, 1999 WBA and IBF Champion Evander Holyfield stepped into the ring against Lewis, who held the WBC heavyweight title. For the first time since 1992 the title would be united—or so fight fans believed. Lewis used his superior size and reach to keep Holyfield at bay throughout the 12-round fight and solidly out-boxed the aging Holyfield. Lewis connected 348 times while Holyfield scored on 130 punches. Despite the lopsided statistics, one judge scored the fight for Holyfield, one called it a draw, and one scored the fight for Lewis. The fight ended in a draw. Lewis’s trainer, Emanuel Steward, told Richard Hoffer of Sports Illustrated that Lewis worked harder with “his sparring partner. It wasn’t even a close fight.” The decision was derided as another example of the corrupt nature of boxing, and the three sanctioning organizations (the WBA, IBF, & WBC) ordered a rematch within six months.
Six months to the day the two reunited. Holyfield and his management tried to bait their opponent who they felt was sensitive to the charge that he was too timid and slow. But Lewis maintained his game plan throughout the fight refusing to take any unnecessary risks. Though there was no knockout, Lewis was awarded a 12-round decision over Holyfield to become the WBA, IBO, IBF, and WBC heavyweight boxing champion.
Despite his unification of the four heavyweight titles, Lewis still received criticism for not knocking out Holyfield. Lewis was getting the reputation as a talented fighter who lacked the heart to really destroy opponents, as the heavyweight champion should. Even his trainer told Sports Illustrated that Lewis-Holyfield II “was not a super impressive fight.” Lewis was to remedy the situation quickly. First, he destroyed the 6-foot, 7-inch Michael Grant on April 29, 2000. Lewis put Grant to the canvas three times in the first round, finally knocking him out in the second round. Lewis told Jet, “This was an opportunity for me to show my aggressive side. There’s always been a question about my heart. I don’t know where they got that one.” Lewis continued, “I think this proves I’ve got awesome power and I can take you out with one punch.”
Lewis then fought Frans “The White Buffalo” Botha on July 15, 2000, and hit him so hard that Botha was blasted out of the ring. Lewis won his thirteenth straight fight with a TKO in the second round to remain atop the heavyweight division.
It seems ironic that the man who was ducked first by Riddick Bowe and then by Mike Tyson in his heyday now finds himself at the pinnacle of the boxing world able to pick and choose opponents from the sport’s four different sanctioning bodies. Despite Tyson’s bizarre antics, Lewis seems destined to finally fight the former champion for an enormous payday in the $30 million range. Tyson wants the fight also. His desire for a bout with Lewis became evident after making the infamous “cannibal” quote. Immediately following one of his bouts against another lightly regarded opponent, Tyson told the world media that he wanted “to eat Lewis’s children.” Tyson even made an appearance at one of Lewis’s training sessions that he opened to the public before the David Tua fight. After Tyson’s two-round fight with Andrew Golota, Lewis talked to Bill Pennington of The New York Times about the probability of a Lewis-Tyson fight, commenting, “People want this fight because they want me to beat him for the good of the sport.” One thing seems certain—after a parade of charlatans and pretenders at the top of boxing’s glamour division, the heavyweight belt finally belongs to a true champion.
Jet, May 15, 2000
The New York Times, October 22, 2000
Sports Illustrated, October 28, 1991; February 1, 1993; March 22, 1999.
Additional material for this essay was found on-line at http://www.lennox-lewis.com and
—Michael J. Watkins
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Lennox Lewis was the boxing heavyweight champion of the world. He was Great Britain's first heavyweight champion since 1897 when he became the World Boxing Council heavyweight champion in 1993. After not posting a loss in his 109 amateur bouts, Lewis had a professional record of 40-2-1 through 2002. While Lewis had a great right, he often played it safe in fights, which drew criticism from observers who believed that he never unleashed his full potential as a boxer.
Lewis was born on September 2, 1965 in the East End of London, the son of Violet Lewis and her then boyfriend Carlton Brooks. Both were natives of Jamaica. Lewis's father worked in an auto plant, but was not involved in the upbringing of Lewis or his older brother Dennis. Lewis was raised in tough, working class neighborhoods.
When he was nine years old, Lewis moved with his mother to Canada. After a year or so, he went back to England to live with an aunt. In the two years he spent in England, he began getting in trouble, picking fights, among other problems. His mother brought him back to Canada when he was twelve years old, where he spent the rest of his youth.
Introduced to Boxing
While Lewis's mother worked in a Styrofoam factory, he attended schools in Kitchener, Ontario. A hyperactive child, he began getting into fights in Canada as well. Lewis told Pat Putnam of Sports Illustrated, "That's when I became a fighter. All the kids made fun of my accent, and I punched out the lot. After my third strapping with the belt, my teacher advised I take my aggressions out in sport."
In 1978, Lewis had his first amateur bout. He calmed down, and learned to love boxing. He told William Nack of Sports Illustrated, "I liked it. It was ego against ego. Both looking at each other all the time. A chess game. The oneon-one is what appealed to me about boxing." Lewis was growing so large that he boxed against boys older than him.
In high school, however, Lewis did not just box. While attending Cameron Heights Collegiate High, he played fullback on football team, power forward on basketball team, and did track as a shot-putter. But boxing was his focus after a while, and Lewis was a big fan of Muhammad Ali.
Success as Amateur Boxer
Throughout his successful amateur career, Lewis was coached by Arnie Boehm and Adrian Teodorescu.
Boehm was particularly influential in Lewis's development as a boxer and a man. By the early 1980s, Lewis was gaining a reputation as an impressive boxer. In 1983, he won gold medals at both the Canada Winter Games and the World Junior Championships. That led to Lewis being named athlete of the year in Canada in 1983.
Lewis won a number of major tournaments. He captured gold at the National Senior Championships in 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1987, and at the Commonwealth Games in 1986 and the Pan Am games in 1987. He was the Canadian Super Heavyweight champion every year from 1984 to 1988. In 1988, Lewis represented Canada at the Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea, as a super heavyweight. He won the gold medal by defeating Riddick Bowe in the second round by knockout. At the end of his amateur career, Lewis had won all 109 of his bouts.
Turned Professional as a Boxer
In 1989, Lewis turned professional, but instead of remaining in Canada, he returned to Great Britain. He did this, in part, because a group of British backers, including manager Frank Maloney, gave him big signing bonus. There were also accusations that he was being used in Canada and his boxing career was not moving forward. Lewis also picked up a new trainer, American John Davenport, who emphasized the athleticism of the 6'5", 230 lbs boxer.
Lewis's first professional fight was against Al Malcolm on June 27, 1989, in London. Lewis won in the second round. He soon dominated the competition in Europe. In 1990, he became European heavyweight champion by defeating Jean Chanet. In 1991, he defeated Gary Mason by TKO to become British heavyweight champion. The fight ended Mason's career, though it was not much of a bout.
Many of Lewis's early fights were not unlike the Mason fight. Most of his first sixteen fights were with unworthy competition, like 39-year-old former WBA (World Boxing Association) champion Mike Weaver, whom Lewis knocked out in the sixth round. These fights brought Lewis little respect in the boxing community, but his handlers wanted to start him slowly.
Lewis had undeniable talent. He was not just a fighter, but a great boxer and great puncher. While his knockout punch was his right, he also had a strong jab. Though his competition had not been strong, Lewis had attracted enough attention to get a two-fight deal with HBO and three-fight pay per view deal with Time Warner in 1991.
In February 1992, Lewis was pushed to the full ten rounds in a fight against Levi Billups. This led to a change in trainers, as Lewis felt he had become a very mechanical fighter. He hired Sugar Ray Leonard 's trainer Pepe Correa. Correa was in Lewis's corner as Lewis was inching near to contending for a world heavyweight title.
Won First Professional Title
In 1992, Lewis defeated Donovan Ruddock, making him the best challenger for a world heavyweight champion. Lewis had been an underdog in the fight, but Lewis knocked Ruddock down once in the first round and twice in round two. While Lewis did become a champion, he did not have to fight for it.
|1965||Born September 2 in London, England|
|c. 1977||Moves to Canada|
|1978||Boxes in first amateur bout|
|1989||Becomes professional boxer; returns to Great Britain|
|1992||Awarded World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight championship|
|1994||Loses WBC title|
|1996||Regains WBC title|
|1999||Becomes undisputed heavyweight champion|
|2001||Loses undisputed titles; regains titles later in year|
In December 1992, World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe (who defeated Evander Holyfield to win the belt) refused to fight Lewis, except for what the Lewis camp considered an absurdly low amount of money, and had the WBC belt taken from him—Bowe did retain the WBA and IBF (International Boxing Federation) titles. Bowe literally threw the belt in the trash in a media spectacle. Though Lewis obtained the championship in an unconventional matter, he became a national hero in Great Britain. The last British heavyweight champion was Ruby Robert Fitzsimmons in 1897. Lewis then signed a four-fight deal with Time Warner Sports.
In May 1993, Lewis had his first fight in defense of his WBC tile. He defeated Tony Tucker by unanimous decision after knocking him down twice in twelve rounds. Later that year he also knocked out fellow Brit Frank Bruno in the seventh round in another defense of his title. In 1994, Lewis defeated Phil Jackson by technical knockout in the eighth round. Despite these victories, Lewis still did not have much professional respect among fighters, especially in the United States, and he found it hard to get Americans to fight him.
Lost WBC Title
Lewis's reputation as a boxer took a big hit in 1994 when he lost his WBC title to Oliver McCall in an upset. Lewis wanted the fight, but lost by technical knockout. McCall was the underdog, and a former sparring partner of heavyweight champion Mike Tyson . McCall got Lewis with his use of a quick overhand right.
For his next fights, Lewis looked to put himself in a position to be eligible at another shot at a heavyweight title and perhaps at a fight with Tyson. He again switched trainers, hiring the legendary Emanuel Steward, who trained a number of winning boxers, in 1995. Steward added more punches to Lewis's repertoire including a left hook, uppercuts, and the jab, but could not give Lewis the aggression many fight experts believed Lewis lacked.
To be eligible for a chance at the title, Lewis fought Ray Mercer in 1996. Though Lewis won by split decision, many who saw the fight did not believe that he deserved the victory. One judge scored it as a draw, while the other two gave it to Lewis by a small margin.
Lewis's next goal was WBC heavyweight champion Tyson. A deal could not be reached between the boxers, and Tyson gave up the belt rather than fight Lewis. Lewis sued him to force a fight, but it did not happen. Lewis then regained the WBC title by defeating McCall in 1996.
In 1997, Lewis defended his WBC title by defeating Andrew Golota. Lewis only took thirty-six punches in the first round to win. He knocked Golota down twice before knocking him out. This was one of his best fights, showing Lewis's power. Richard Hoffer wrote in Sports Illustrated, "Lewis's swarming knockout of challenger Golota was so swift and conclusive that it was impossible not to be encouraged by his emergence as a force in the sport." This fight gave Lewis the test that he needed and his British handlers had avoided. He also defended his WBC title by defeating Shannon Briggs and Zelijko Mavrovic in 1998.
Controversial Fight with Holyfield
In early 1999, Lewis faced the biggest challenge of his career to that point when he fought IBF and WBA titleholder Evander Holyfield in a title unification bout. Their March fight was extremely controversial. The judges ruled the twelve rounds a draw, though most observers believed that Lewis defeated Holyfield easily and cleanly with Lewis connecting on 348 punches while Holyfield only managed 130. The crowd at the Madison Square Garden match booed the decision, and the sanctioning bodies ordered a rematch within six months.
Won Unified Titles
Lewis fought Holyfield again in November 1999, and this time, he won the fight to become the undisputed heavyweight champion. Lewis won by decision over twelve rounds, and while many believed that he out-fought Holyfield, there was some division among ringside observers. Lewis used his tactical abilities to win, instead of fighting, and was criticized for not knocking Holyfield out. As Hoffer wrote in Sports Illustrated, "Lewis seems to be a guy who, above all, doesn't want to get knocked out. He's not a coward, or else he wouldn't have achieved what he has, and he has fought bravely when he has had to. He's just too particular, too fastidious to give into any unnecessary abandon."
Lewis defended his unified title a number of times, defeating Michael Grant, Francois Botha, and David Tua in 2000. Defeating Grant was a significant victory. It was the first time Lewis beat someone taller than himself, with Grant at 6'7". Lewis beat him by knockout in second round, after dropping him in three times in first round. The fight showed Lewis's greatness and ability to dominate, and improved his reputation as a boxer. Though over thirty-four, he had finally found his way.
Related Biography: Trainer Arnie Boehm
Arnie Boehm was Lennox Lewis's trainer during the whole of his amateur career. Boehm guided Lewis from childhood to his Olympic gold medal to the end of his amateur career, acting as a father figure to the young boxer. Boehm himself had been a boxer and trained with Jerome "Hook" McComb, a police officer who founded the Waterloo Regional Boxing Academy in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Boehm also learned how to train boxers from McComb, and later ran the Waterloo Academy himself after 1981. In addition to guiding his boxers in the ring, he also encouraged them to lead productive lives. Lewis was arguably the best fighter trained by Boehm, though he did train three other Olympians and twenty-four national champions. He died of a heart attack at his gym in October 2002.
Lost Unified Titles
Lewis suffered the second defeat of his professional career when he had a title defense fight against Hasam Rahman in South Africa in April 2001. Rahman was a 20-1 underdog in his second title fight ever. Lewis essentially
did not take the fight seriously enough. Lewis did not train that hard and came to the bout at his highest fighting weight ever. Rahman knocked out Lewis in the fifth round. This was a bad loss for Lewis, and negatively affected his reputation.
The rematch between Rahman and Lewis came seven months later, and Lewis had something to prove. He used his devastating right after a combination in the fourth round to knockout Rahman. Though he won, even his trainer Steward believed Lewis did not live up to his potential in this fight. Hoffer wrote in Sports Illustrated, "He is not a man who seems inclined to realize his immense potential, but past disappointments—his often overly cautious style in victories has been ever more damning than his knockout defeats—will dim in the reflection of this powerful win."
Lewis again showed his power as a fighter when he finally got the chance to fight Tyson in June 2002. Lewis had wanted this fight for years, but Tyson had avoided him. The pair even got into a scuffle at the press conference announcing the fight in February 2002. Tyson charged Lewis and bit him in the leg. The fight took place at the Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee, because Tyson had problems getting a license elsewhere. Lewis dominated the fight, the first in which Tyson was an underdog. He knocked Tyson out in the eighth round, though he could have done it earlier in the fight.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1983||Canada Winter Games, gold medal; World Junior Championships, gold medal; Named Athlete of the Year in Canada|
|1984||Stockholm Box-Open International Tournament, gold medal; National Senior Championships, gold medal; Canada Super Heavyweight champion|
|1985||National Senior Championships, gold medal; Albena Tournament, gold medal; World Cup, silver; Canada Super Heavyweight champion|
|1986||National Senior Championships, gold medal; Commonwealth Games, gold; Quebec Cup, gold medal; Canada Super Heavyweight champion|
|1987||Box Open Tournament, gold medal; National Senior Championships, gold medal; French International Tournament, gold medal; Pan Am Games, gold medal; North American Championships, gold medal; Felix Stamm Tournament, gold medal; Canada Super Heavyweight champion|
|1988||Won gold medal in the Olympics in boxing in super heavyweight division; Intercup, silver medal; Canada Cup, gold medal; Canada Super Heavyweight champion|
|1989||Won first professional fight against Al Malcolm on June 27|
|1990||Became European heavyweight champion defeating Jean Chanet|
|1991||Won British heavyweight title, defeating Gary Mason; retained European heavyweight champion|
|1992||Defeated Donovan "Razor" Ruddock; in December, awarded World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight championship when Riddick Bowe refused to fight him|
|1993||Defended WBC title by defeating Tony Tucker and Frank Bruno; named British Boxer of the Year, British Boxing Board of Control|
|1994||Defended WBC title by defeating Phil Jackson; lost WBC title to Oliver McCall|
|1996||Defeated Ray Mercer; regained WBC title by defeating Oliver McCall|
|1997||Defended WBC title by beating Andrew Golota|
|1998||Defended WBC title by defeating Shannon Briggs and Zelijko Mavrovic; awarded the MBE|
|1999||Fought to a draw with Evander Holyfield (the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and World Boxing Association (WBA) champion), then defeated him later in the year to become undisputed heavyweight champion; named BBC Sports Personality of the Year; awarded honorary doctorate by University of North London|
|2000||Defended undisputed title by defeating Michael Grant, Francois Botha, and David Tua|
|2001||Lost undisputed title by losing to Hasam Rahman; regained title later that year by defeating Rahman|
|2002||Defended title by defeating Mike Tyson; awarded the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire)|
After the victory, Lewis was left with a problem. He was arguably the best heavyweight fighter but had no real competition except to fight Tyson again and was an enigma who did not draw many boxing fans. He was forced to give up his IBF belt in September 2002 because the challenger they picked, Chris Byrd, would not be challenging. Lewis was scheduled to fight Vitali Klitschko, a Ukrainian, in the United States in April 2003, then Klitschko's brother, Wladimir, and perhaps Tyson again, then retire. After the Tyson fight in 2002, Hoffer wrote in Sports Illustrated, "He avenged those defeats [McCall and Rahman], his attention restored, and now with this fight he must be recognized as a pretty powerful performer. If Lewis retired now—and that's possible, as he seems at long last to have cleaned out the division—he need not apologize for his departure."
Address: c/o Office of Lennox Lewis, Gainsborough House, 81 Oxford St., London W1D 2EU England. Online: www.lennox-lewis.com.
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Sketch by A. Petruso