Lennox Lewis Should Follow Carson's Lead

BY Tim Graham ON January 23, 2005
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I learned two things Sunday, and each made me shake my head in dismay. The first bit of news merely reiterated that life is a bastard; the second reminded me people can be morons.

The day provided only a few moments of serenity. Like many folks, one of my first orders of business after waking up is to log onto the internet, and right there on my home page was the depressing report of Johnny Carson's death. He was 79 years old, but it always stings to lose such an institution.

I swallowed hard, but with a long day ahead of me I moved onward, clicking on my daily web staples in search of happier diversions.

There was more disappointment.

The Sunday Mirror reported Lennox Lewis has decided to come out of retirement. The London tabloid gained an exclusive audience with the former heavyweight champ, who revealed the lure of a large paycheck has convinced him to fight Vitali Klitschko again.

"I'm making a comeback later this year," Lewis told the Mirror. "The money's up to ($40 million) now, and I can't turn that down. I need the money like everyone else. It's just too good to be turned down."

Cue Ed McMahon, over on the couch:

"You are not correct, sir!"

Lewis would be wise to follow Carson's lead.

Carson did it right. He retired in 1992 at the top of his profession and faded off into the sunset, never to return. That's why he always will be remembered as he was in his prime, a master comic with Midwestern boyish charm, a sinewy build and a rapier's wit.

In retirement, Carson was repelled by the spotlight. There were no reunion specials. His guest appearances were rare. He turned down interview requests like they were high-interest credit card offers. He desperately guarded his privacy.

His legend grew as a result.

He wanted us always to think of him as he was -- the jovial host, Carnac the Magnificent, Floyd R. Turbo, Aunt Blabby or Art Fern -- not the bald, puffy, wheezing man who succumbed after a long battle with emphysema. One of his final wishes was that a memorial service not be held in his honor.

It's easy to respect a man who knows when to walk away and be humble enough to stay away.

Lewis apparently is struggling with that admirable concept.

By Sunday night Lewis might have had a change of heart -- at least publicly. He released a statement that read "I want to reiterate what I said when I retired in February 2004 that I was fortunate to leave the sport on my own terms and that I will be one of the few heavyweight champions in history to retire on top and stay retired."

That, of course, could be a negotiating ploy concocted by his management to extract more money out of HBO, the Klitschkos or the promoter. I have a hard time believing the Sunday Mirror, who supposedly interviewed Lewis face-to-face at his place in Jamaica, invented the quotes.

"I wanted to get in the ring and show Danny how to beat him," The Sunday Mirror also quoted Lewis as saying in reference to countryman Danny Williams' embarrassing loss to Klitschko in December. "I've had to listen to a lot of rubbish from Klitschko and he is starting to get on my nerves."

Lewis would be 40 and fighting for the first time in over two years by the time of the proposed match. He retired seven months after he escaped with what we hoped would be a legacy-preserving victory over Klitschko. Lewis, on unsteady pins and of heavy breath, looked rather flawed yet managed to gruesomely slice Klitschko's eyebrow with his stiletto jab and end the fight after six rounds.

If ever there was a time for Lewis to walk away with his reputation intact, that was it. There were insider reports his legs were so shot he couldn't even do his daily roadwork. He mulled retirement for several months before finally announcing it, much to the relief of those who wanted to see the classy British-Canadian-Jamaican leave gracefully.

He would join one of boxing's shortest lists if he can conquer the urge to come back. Only Gene Tunney and Rocky Marciano stepped down as heavyweight champion and stayed retired.

But the sad state of heavyweight affairs makes this match the most lucrative to be made in the division. Other purses have been relatively paltry. For instance, when Lamon Brewster defends his WBO title in February against Andrew Golota, their combined payday will be about $1 million.

"Vitali knows that the best fight for him is Lennox, and that is the one that the public wants to see," Klitschko's manager, Berndt Bonter, said in Monday's edition of The Guardian. "Boxing must be about making the biggest fight and that is the real test for Vitali in the heavyweight division. He believes he is the best in the world, but he knows he cannot truly say that until he has beaten Lewis. Now, perhaps, we can see."

Klitschko, 33, isn't a world-beater. But the WBC champ is the best we have for the foreseeable future.

Hey, Ed! If Lewis does return to the ring for a Klitschko rematch, what do you think the result will be?

"Kay-oooooooooooo!"

And it wouldn't take Carnac to predict rusty ole Lewis would be the one laid out.

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