With the recent passing of Heavyweight King Lennox Lewis from the pugilistic sweet science into the comfy pastimes of tea tippling and chess playing, it is time to reflect on the highs and lows in the career of an under-appreciated Champion.
There were certainly sufficient highs to make a case that Lewis belongs as one of the greats, certainly the best of his time, and a few lows that put a damper on what could have been an unblemished record.
High: Lewis became a recognized World Heavyweight Champion for the first time after defeating Razor Ruddock in London in 1992. Disposing of Ruddock inside of two rounds itself wasn't what earned him the WBC belt, the way he did it is what earned him the trinket. At the time Riddick Bowe held the WBC honor, but the way Lewis had been snot-rocking his opponents dampened Bowe's desire to fight Lennox Lewis. Bowe gave up the belt rather than face Lewis again, having previously been stopped by Lewis (fighting under the Canadian flag at the time) in the Seoul Olympics gold medal bout in 1988. If Bowe was stopped by Lewis while wearing head-gear, he certainly must have been tinkling in his trousers at the prospect of fighting Lennox unprotected.
Low: The Atomic Bull goes boom! Oliver McCall rocked the heavyweight world and gave hope to every heavy-handed heavyweight boxer by knocking out Lewis – “technically” at least – in two rounds in 1994. Lewis got caught, no doubt about it, but was perhaps victim of a short count. Still, from that day onward each time the Brit (?) entered the ring the prospect of him being knocked out was in the back of everyone's mind.
High: In the rematch with McCall, Lewis was able to regain his WBC title, although somewhat by default. While two boxers were in the ring, it was Lewis who came to fight while McCall chose not to. Despite the best efforts of Lennox Lewis, McCall had no interest in fighting that night and was literally brought to tears in the ring. Personal demons ruined the rematch as The Atomic Bull was nowhere to be found and by the fifth round the atomic disappointment was called to a halt. Lewis was crowned King once more, while McCall was taken for some well needed 'rest'.
Low: Perhaps it is the concussive power that Lennox carries in each hand which causes opponents to lose their mojo once face-to-face with the gentle giant. Whatever the reason, in Lewis' next fight the same thing happened. While Henry Akinwande didn't exactly break down in tears, he did embarrass himself by hugging Lewis at every opportunity possible. Finally someone had figured out a way to avoid the big bombs of the Briton. Unfortunately for Akinwande, it wasn't a 'bear hug' contest and after 5 rounds of getting close and personal with Lewis the fight was put to bed with Akinwande disqualified.
High: In one of the most anticipated fights of his career, Lewis took on fan favorite and true warrior Evander Holyfield. The bout was to unify the WBC belt held by Lewis with Holyfield's WBA and IBF belts, despite failing to do that. Clearly Lewis won the fight, and as such it falls under one of his highlights based on the magnitude of the bout.
Low: In the aforementioned bout Lewis was not crowned the unified champion as the judges ruined what should have been a great night for the sport. Lewis' elation from winning the fight turned to disbelief as the decision was read.
High: The manner in which Lewis truly destroyed Michael Grant in April of 2000 was another sweet victory for Lewis. While the press had been begging for someone to take the crown from Lewis, their savior appeared in the form of a muscular, ripped, bible-thumping super-athlete carrying the name of Grant. While we can't attest to how the God-fearing Grant had sinned in his past, he must have been a bad, bad boy. Lewis punished Grant from the opening bell as fans saw the aggressive Lewis they had been clamoring for.
Low: The carnival in Carnival City, South Africa. One shot wonder Hasim “The Rock” Rahman caught an under-prepared Lewis – actually “unprepared” would be better as “under-prepared” suggests that Lewis was at least partially prepped for his fight – right on the button and won the heavyweight prize. Lewis had been in Las Vegas filming a scene for the movie 'Ocean's Eleven' and arrived in South Africa underestimating the altitude and his opponent. Big blemish on the resume.
High: Possibly the most anticipated bout of Lewis' career came in Memphis, Tennessee, which was one of the few places where a rusted “Iron” Mike Tyson was allowed to fight. The refined Heavyweight King facing an all-time ring bad-ass made for great prefight drama. The power that Tyson carried in his fists mixed with the chin that had already failed Lewis on two occasions had people convincing themselves that Tyson would rein again. Instead they saw a near perfect performance by Lewis who picked Iron Mike apart round-by-round. The beating ended in the eighth as Tyson lay down, a bloodied and battered man. Finally, the name 'Mike Tyson' was added to the list of victims on Lewis' hit list.
High-Low: Lennox Lewis retires. From his perspective you have to consider his recent retirement announcement as a high. Lewis defeated the mighty Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Vitali Klitschko and avenged his two losses in convincing fashion. For boxing fans the announcement comes as a low point. The heavyweight division is rather bare right now, and Lennox was one of the few big attractions in the most popular weight class in the game. Boxing can always use the positive impression he had on the sport.
Both in and out of the ring Lennox Lewis was a class act and, in this era, in a class of his own.