By Paul Oltai @OltaiPaul
The first thing that springs to mind when I now think of Lennox Lewis is the fact I named my 2nd born child after the great man himself.
If you sat and wrote down what this man has actually achieved in boxing then not many can rival him especially in the heavyweight division.
He is regarded as one of the best British fighters to lace up the gloves and certainly one of the most decorated winning Olympic Gold (albeit for Canada), then as a pro winning Commonwealth, British and European honours before stepping up to world level and dominate; adding the WBC, IBF and WBA belts to his collection, along with the lineal and Ring magazine honours too. This lead to him being the last man to be undisputed champion within the heavyweight division.
Growing up in London, England and spending his youth here with his Jamaican parents, Lewis then moved to Canada aged 12 and spent the rest of his adolescence there, granting him dual citizenship which would in turn allow him to represent and compete for Canada on the Olympic stage.
Failing at the first attempt of Olympic glory in the 1984 games in Los Angeles and never one to give up, Lewis decided to stay amateur another four years and wait for the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea, to come around. This time though he would not be denied that top step on the podium, scoring a 2nd round stoppage against Riddick Bowe who he would famously go onto to have public spats with.
Achieving the highest honour within the amateur scene, Lewis decided it was time to turn professional. To do this though he knew he would have to move back to England having felt the infrastructure in Canada was not sufficient to support his goals.
Racking up the usual wins against more seasoned journey men that normally happens when turning pro, he would go on to win European against Jean Maurice Chanet, British against Gary Mason and Commonwealth against Derek Williams, all by his 20th fight he was well on his way to establishing his legacy.
Back then came his old foe from the Olympics… Riddick Bowe. With Lewis having defeated Donovan and Ruddock in an eliminator for Bowes’ WBC title you would have thought Lewis v Bowe was the next logical step. However, this fight would never materialise, with Bowe opting to instead vacate the belt and famously throw it in the trash. Probably not the ideal way to pick up your maiden World title win, Lewis was soon installed as champion.
After successfully defending the belt three times and beating the much loved Frank Bruno on the way, it was in his fourth defence of the belt that Lewis would suffer his first career defeat at the hands of Oliver McCall via 2nd round KO. He would then go on to avenge this loss 5 fights later in what can only be described as one of the most bizarre events inside a ring, with McCall breaking down crying and refusing to fight on. Again, not the ideal way to win a bout it did mean that once again Lewis was WBC world heavyweight champion of the world.
Fast forward three more fights and Lewis stepped into the ring with Lineal champion Shannon Briggs who had previously defeated George Foreman to gain this honour. In what can only be described as edge of your seat action Lewis would go on to win by 5th round stoppage with Briggs climbing off the canvas multiple times and both fighters being visibly hurt.
One of the most bizarre events inside a ring
Not one to rest on his laurels and wanting to prove he was the number one fighter in the division. Lewis went on to defend his belt one more time against Zeljko Mavrovic before stepping into the ring with former cruiserweight undisputed champion and then WBA and IBF heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield.
This would lead to the first of two mega bouts between the pair as the first fight ended controversially with many, including myself, feeling Lewis had done more than enough to take the victory in New York but only getting a draw.
Wanting to right this wrong Lewis instantly took the rematch and not wanting to leave any doubt who was number one, he won by unanimous decision and claimed the WBA and IBF belts to go with his WBC and become undisputed champion of the world, a feat that still has not been achieved since.
Sadly, the next time he entered the ring he would not technically hold this honour as shortly after victory against Holyfield he would be stripped of his WBA belt after choosing to not face mandatory challenger John Ruiz and instead facing the undefeated Michael Grant.
After defeating Grant in the 2nd round and making two more defences of his IBF and WBC titles against Frans Botha (TKO 2) and David Tua (UD), Lewis would then stumble upon Hasim Rahman. With Rahman never having defeated anyone near the level of Lewis, many did not expect the outcome, with Rahman shocking the world and knocking out Lewis in the 5th round of their contest and becoming unified heavyweight champion of the world. A title which would not last long as Lewis would, as he had done previously, go on to avenge his loss and that would be the last time he would taste defeat as a pro.
Lewis took an immediate rematch and left no doubt as to who was the best man on the night. With what I still describe as one of my favourite one two combinations not only visibly but audibly, with you being able to hear the blows land. Lewis knocked out Rahman to gain revenge, become heavyweight champion of the world again and interestingly, defeat every man to ever step in the ring with him as a pro.
His next fight even as a Lewis fan, was a bitter pill to swallow as he took on long time rival and nemesis Mike Tyson. Many feeling this fight come a little later than it maybe could have with both arguably past their prime, but due to boxing politics and Tyson’s known extended spell out of the ring, this was still one of the most anticipated bouts of the decade. With Lewis systematically breaking down the once labelled “baddest man on the planet” and eventually stopping him with an eighth round TKO leaving Tyson visibly battered and with a face cut to ribbons.
If you could choose a final bout to close the curtain on your career with many would not have have chosen the then once defeated Ukranian powerhouse Vitali Klitschko. But Lewis did, at short notice also and deciding to put his WBC title on the line. Going into the fight many felt that the older and less fresh Lewis was going to taste defeat for the 3rd time to the much fresher, more in his prime Klitschko.
Always one for proving doubters wrong, Lewis took the bull by the horns and engaged in a bloody and brutal war. Being outboxed and feeling he may be on the way to defeat, Lewis went toe-to-toe with Klitschko. Eventually stopping his foe via 6th round TKO with Klitschko unable to continue due to horrific eye injuries.
Knowing when to hang your gloves up is not often a fortune bestowed upon professional prize fighters but Lewis decided this was the time for him to call an end to a career than most fighters would be envious of. With a career spanning three decades and being one of few to have beaten everyone he ever faced and still to this day being the last man to be called undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, Lennox Lewis can hold his head high and know he will forever go down as Britain’s, Canad’s and possibly one of the worlds best ever champions. He is one of my favourite ever fighters to lace up the gloves.