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45 Greatest Fighters of the Last 45 Years – 8: Lennox Lewis

In the storied history of the heavyweight division, there haven’t been many who have had the offensive skills possessed by Lennox Lewis. Not only is Lewis one of the most skilled heavyweight boxers who ever lived, he also was that rare commodity in boxing; a man who avoided no one and took on all challengers. Lewis’ reign as the best heavyweight of a star studded 1990s roster of legendary heavyweights easily earns him the eighth greatest fighter of the last 45 years.

After winning the super heavyweight gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics for his adoptive country of Canada, Lewis went back to his native England to commence his pro career. Lewis, under the tutelage of trainer Pepe Correa, easily won his first 21 fights before engaging in a WBC title eliminator vs. his hard punching Canadian rival Donovan “Razor” Ruddock. Before a raucous hometown London crowd, Lewis dispatched Ruddock in the second round to earn a shot at the winner of the undisputed heavyweight title fight that was to take place two weeks later between champion Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe. After Bowe decisively defeated Holyfield to become undisputed champion, a month later he tossed his WBC belt in the garbage instead of signing to fight Lewis. Lewis was immediately installed by the WBC as their champion. It wouldn’t be the last time a heavyweight champion would avoid fighting Lewis.

After three successful defenses of his WBC crown, Lewis shockingly was stopped in the second round by journeyman Oliver McCall in Lewis’ London hometown. Immediately, McCall and his promoter Don King froze Lewis out of a rematch. Six weeks later, after 45-year-old George Foreman shocked the world with his knockout of Michael Moorer to win the IBF and WBA versions of the title, he also refused to give Lewis a shot at his titles. Lewis fired Correa and hired Emmanuel Steward to become his trainer. Steward rejuvenated Lewis’s career by fine tuning Lewis’s offense. Lewis refined his jab, which made him a heavyweight version of Steward’s greatest charge up to that point, Thomas Hearns.

After Steward took over the training duties, Lewis won his next four fights which positioned him to be the mandatory contender for the now WBC champion Mike Tyson. Instead of defending against Lewis, Don King gave Lewis 4 million dollars and then Tyson vacated the title to fight for the WBA version held by Bruce Seldon. On February 7, 1997, Lewis fought McCall in a rematch for the vacant WBC crown. McCall had a bizarre nervous breakdown which resulted in referee Mills Lane stopping the fight in the fifth round after McCall began crying and unwilling to defend himself. Now that Lewis was once again WBC champion, he set on the goal to become the undisputed heavyweight champion.

Two years later, Lewis, now 33 years old, finally got his chance to become the undisputed heavyweight champion. I took my father to see Lewis face Evander Holyfield on the evening of March 13, 1999 at Madison Square. Despite completely dominating and hurting Holyfield several times, Lewis was fleeced in the single worst robbery I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life as a boxing fan. Inexplicably, the fight was scored a draw. Exactly eight months later, Lewis defeated Holyfield in an immediate rematch to finally win that very elusive undisputed crown. It would be short lived as Lewis gave up the WBA crown a few months later in order not to fight the fringe contender John Ruiz who was undeservedly their number one contender. After three successful defenses of his WBC and IBF titles, Lewis ventured out to South Africa to fight in front of President Nelson Mandela.

On April 22, 2001, Lewis, in front of Mandela and thousands of South Africans, was horsing around in the fifth round when he got caught with a spectacular right cross by challenger Hasim Rahman. Once again, Lewis was shockingly knocked out by a fighter nowhere near his level. Luckily for Lewis, he had an immediate rematch clause. Seven months later, Lewis, now 36, was at his absolute best. In round four, Lewis landed a thudding left hook, right cross combination that put Rahman to sleep. Once again, Lewis was the recognized heavyweight champion of the world. He still had one last fighter to conquer; Mike Tyson.

After a wild press conference in which Tyson bit Lewis’ leg, Lewis and Tyson finally stepped into a Memphis, Tennessee ring to face each other on June 8, 2002. Although Tyson was a year younger than Lewis, he was no longer the fighter he was during his prime years of 1986-1990. Lewis, behind his battering ram of a left jab, had his way with a sluggish Tyson before lowering the boom in round eight with another jackhammer right cross that put Tyson away. Finally, Lennox Lewis showed the world what my father had felt after Tyson was released from prison in 1995; that he would be cannon fodder for a focused and in shape Lewis.

A year later, Lewis, who was very out of shape and looking every bit of 37 years old, struggled mightily before stopping Vitaly Klitschco in the sixth round due to a horrific cut he had opened above Klitschco’s left eye. A few months later, Lewis finally retired as the reigning lineal heavyweight champion. He would go down as one of only a handful of heavyweight champions who defeated every fighter he ever faced.

Lewis would retire with a record of 41-2-1 with 32 knockouts. In 18 heavyweight title fights, he was a phenomenal 16-2 and successfully defended his title 14 times. In an era which include hall of fame greats such as Tyson, Bowe, Foreman and Holyfield, Lewis stood heads and shoulders above all of these legends to not only lay claim to the greatest heavyweight of his era, but also as the eight greatest fighter of the last 45 years.

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