Place of Birth - London
Date of Birth - 2nd September 1965
Record - 41 wins (32 KO’s), 2 losses, 1 draw
Greatest Accomplishments - Winning an Olympic gold medal and becoming the lineal/universally recognized world heavyweight champion
Lewis was born in West Ham, east London, and at the age of 12 moved to Canada with his mother, settling in Kitchener. He shined at sports, particularly soccer and basketball, but ultimately focused on boxing, where he showed considerable potential. His amateur career skyrocketed and in 1983 he won the junior world amateur championships in the super heavyweight class. The following year he fought in the Olympic Games, which were held in Los Angeles, USA, again in the super heavyweight class. But he lost to the eventual gold medallist, Tyrell Biggs of the USA, in his second contest.
Celebrating his Olympic triumph in 1988
In 1986, he campaigned in the Commonwealth Games, which took place in Edinburgh, Scotland, and won the super heavyweight gold medal. The next Olympic Games, in 1988, were staged in Seoul, South Korea, and this time Lewis was victorious. Again in the super heavyweight class, he stopped the USA’s Riddick Bowe in the 2nd round of the final to win the gold medal. In all the aforementioned competitions Lewis represented his adopted country of Canada. However, when he decided to turn professional he relocated back to Great Britain.
He made steady progress through the ranks and won the European title from Jean Chanet of France in 1990, the British title from the previously undefeated Gary Mason in 1991 and the Commonwealth title from Derek Williams in 1992. He was criticised for some uninspired performances, notably those against Chanet and Ossie Ocasio (which was also in 1990) in which he failed to show any real drive.
Lewis with Muhammad Ali a.k.a. “The Greatest”
On 31st October 1992, he made the boxing world sit up and take notice when he blew away top contender Razor Ruddock in the 2nd round in London. Ruddock had previously lost two bouts to Mike Tyson but the awesome Tyson had not been able to dispose of him so swiftly. Entering 1993, his old Olympic rival Riddick Bowe was the lineal and undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, holding the WBC, WBA and IBF titles. Negotiations for a Bowe-Lewis showdown were hindered by squabbles over money and the WBC were pushing for the match. Bowe did not want to be dictated to, preferring to face Lewis on his own terms and when he wanted to, and he basically dumped the WBC belt.
Subsequently, the WBC awarded their title to Lewis without him ever having to win it in the ring and it was certainly an unsatisfactory outcome for him. Nevertheless, he defended it three times before being surprisingly knocked out in the 2nd round by the unheralded Oliver McCall on 24th September 1994 in London.
Lewis doing his roadwork
It was a devastating setback and his first loss as a professional. He began a slow, scrappy journey to recovery but always seemed to be on the outside looking in, struggling to secure big matches against the division’s elite. Meanwhile, the WBC title passed from McCall to Frank Bruno to Tyson, and Lewis earnestly clamoured for his shot. However, Tyson had been released from prison the previous year after serving a sentence for rape and at this time, the summer of 1996, he felt he was not quite ready to face Lewis. The WBC declared their title vacant and nominated Lewis and McCall to fight for it. Their rematch occurred on 7th February 1997 and it was a chance for Lewis to gain revenge. As it turned out, it was one of the most bizarre contests in history, with McCall breaking down and refusing to fight. The referee, Mills Lane, stopped it in the 5th round and declared Lewis the winner. It was revealed that McCall had been suffering from severe drug addiction problems and had actually been in rehab while training simultaneously. Clearly, he had been in no mental condition to engage in a boxing match.
Lewis became the lineal heavyweight champion when he stopped Shannon Briggs in 5 rounds on 28th March 1998 in Atlantic City (Briggs had beaten George Foreman, who had beaten Michael Moorer, who had beaten Evander Holyfield, who had beaten Bowe). It was a significant achievement as Lewis became the first British heavyweight since Bob Fitzsimmons (who reigned from 1897 to 1899) to hold the lineal crown.
The first fight between Lewis and Holyfield ended in an inconclusive draw
Going into 1999, the clash boxing fans were hollering for was between Lewis and Holyfield. This would be a unification bout as Holyfield had picked up the WBA and IBF titles, though Lewis was the legitimate world champion due to his win over Briggs. The face-off took place on 13th March 1999 at the prestigious Madison Square Garden in New York City but it ended in a draw. There was a rematch on 13th November the same year in Las Vegas and this time Lewis won a close decision. He now held the lineal, WBC, WBA and IBF titles, but not for long. In 2000, the WBA wanted him to defend against John Ruiz but Lewis preferred to square off with Michael Grant. Even though Grant was more deserving of a world title shot than Ruiz, the WBA absurdly stripped him of their belt. Incidentally, Lewis stopped Grant in two rounds on 29th April that year in Madison Square Garden.
The IBF later tried to cajole him into defending against Chris Byrd, who was a decent but not overly lucrative opponent, but he had no interest in such a bout and gave up their title. He was still the lineal champion, and that's what counted.
Lewis experienced another devastating KO loss on 21st April 2001 in Carnival City, South Africa. His opponent, Hasim Rahman, a huge underdog, nailed him with a single stunning shot in the 5th round. Many fans and much of the media thought that the now ex-champ would not be able to recover from this, but he insisted on an immediate rematch and this took place in Las Vegas on 17th November later that year. Unexpectedly aggressive, Lewis finished off a less-motivated Rahman in only four rounds. Once again with the lineal and WBC championships, the only match-up that grabbed his attention was against Tyson and this became the richest fight in history at the time, generating $106 million in revenue. The eagerly anticipated contest was originally set for 6th April 2002 but was postponed after a brawl erupted at a pre-fight press conference. It was re-scheduled for 8th June the same year and was held in Memphis, Tennessee. It did not equal the hype and in hindsight the result was inevitable. Tyson was noticeably faded and nowhere near the force he once was. He was stopped in the 8th round.
There appeared to be few challenges left for Lewis and he was certainly lackadaisical in what would turn out to be his last fight. In Los Angeles on 21st June 2003, he defended against Vitali Klitschko from the Ukraine. Originally, he had been slated to face Canada’s Kirk Johnson, but Johnson had to pull out when he was injured during training. Klitschko stepped in as a substitute and very nearly toppled Lewis. In a difficult struggle, Lewis managed to prevail when Klitschko developed a nasty cut and the fight was stopped in the 6th round. Klitschko was ahead on points at the time of the stoppage and many observers thought Lewis was lucky to win. There was a strong case for a rematch but despite the demand, Lewis announced his retirement eight months later. Wisely, a comeback was not attempted.
Lewis announced his retirement at a press conference in London
It has to be said that he encountered criticism due to his somewhat safe and steady approach and there were question marks over his stamina and durability. Furthermore, the losses to McCall and Rahman hurt his legacy as both opponents were ordinary, beatable contenders whom he should never really have lost to in the first place. And when the losses occurred, he was not a novice nor over the hill; they were during his peak years. In addition, the best names on his record are Holyfield and Tyson, and both were past their primes when he fought them, especially Tyson. It was a shame that a “superfight” with Riddick Bowe never materialized. That could have been his signature bout and an impressive victory could have pushed his career into the stratosphere. On the flipside, Lewis won an Olympic gold medal as well as every professional title worth winning; the British, Commonwealth, European and world championships. He avenged his two defeats and beat most of the leading heavyweights of his era, including Tony Tucker, Tommy Morrison, Ray Mercer, Andrew Golota, Henry Akinwande and David Tua. He had an excellent jab, sound defensive skills and incredible power in his right cross. After losing to McCall, he hooked up with renowned trainer Emmanuel Steward and benefited greatly. His training camps at the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania paid off for him.
It should also be highlighted that Lewis was a fine sportsman and role model. A keen chess player, he was polite, smart and refined, and was never involved in any scandals involving women or drugs. He guarded his private life carefully and preferred to stay out of the limelight. Since retirement, he has married his long-term sweetheart, Violet Chang, a former Miss Jamaica beauty contestant (they had met in a gym while he was on holiday in Jamaica). They have a son, Landon, and a daughter, Ling, and settled in Miami, Florida.
He has worked as a commentator for American cable network HBO and has also dabbled in acting. In 2001, he had played himself in Ocean’s Eleven, which starred George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, and in 2006, he played a radio DJ in Johnny Was, which starred Vinnie Jones and Roger Daltrey. He is almost certainly the best heavyweight ever from Great Britain and should be rightly proud of his impressive achievements.
Lennox Lewis, pictured here with his wife, Violet, at the ‘Kentucky Derby’ horse race in 2008