There was a roar earlier this month when a special 50th pugilistic birthday was marked, stemming from the east end of London all the way back in 1965.
Growing up and starting out as a fighter
It was of course the great Lennox Lewis’ 50th birthday and we thought it would be as good a time as ever to remember the great man.
His birth all those years ago heralded the arrival of a future world champion, that would deserve the respect from all his peers for his sheer determination, tenacity and power.
Weighing 10lb 10oz (4.8kg) at birth, this was an indication that this infant would grow up to become a force to be reckoned with, yet he did not know it until he moved to Kitchener, Ontario in Canada.
As a young adolescent, he excelled in football, basketball but was a disruptive youngster who got into fracas due to his size and temperament. His teacher decided to steer him towards the boxing gym in 1978 and from there, the journey began to develop one of the greatest heavyweights (and pound for pound boxers) Britain has ever produced.
As he developed his pugilistic skills and acumen, he entered amateur bouts and would catch the attention of Arnie Boehm and Adrian Teodorescu, who would take a close interest in his development and nurture his power as a young man.
In 1980, he entered the ring in his first notable amateur fight and would lose on to a decision to an opponent that would later suffer a defeat to him, but I will get to that.
As his reputation grew, he represented Canada in the Winter Games and World Junior Championships and under the watchful eye of Boehm and Teodorescu, he won gold medals and was named as Canadian Athlete of the Year in 1983.
From then until 1987, he went on to win a number of major tournaments including the Commonwealth Games. By now, he had grown into a super-heavyweight stature and at 6ft 5 inches, he was becoming a force to be reckoned with, but he chose not to turn professional.
Olympic gold and rise to the top of world boxing
Instead, he represented Canada in the 1988 Seoul Olympics where he won the Gold medal by defeating one Riddick Bowe via a 2nd round KO.
From here, the writing was on the wall.
After 109 amateur bouts, he turned professional and in 1989, he returned to the sounds of the Bow Bells and was taken under the wing of Frank Maloney and trained by John Davenport.
It took 15 bouts for Lewis to become European Super Heavyweight champion and to take the British Heavyweight Championship belt from Gary Mason, sadly and unfortunately ending his career at the same time.
He was becoming a dominant force by this point and with the European and British titles to his name, yet he was still not getting the recognition he truly deserved but that would not stop this warrior from West Ham.
In 1992, he met an old adversary who was the Commonwealth Super Heavyweight Champion and after 2 rounds in the ring at Earl’s Court, he ripped the belt off Donovan Ruddock, who he had lost to when making his bones as an amateur 12 years prior on a 3-2 decision.
The Lion had now awakened and everyone heard his roar.
The boxing governing bodies had now made him Number 1 contender with the WBC, stating that he had to fight the champion at the time – Riddick Bowe.
No one knows the exact story, but the end result was that Bowe relinquished his WBC belt therefore making Lewis the 1st British Heavyweight champion since 1897. It was a hollow victory that would prove fatal to Lewis’s rise.
After 3 successful defences of his title which includes a great fight at Cardiff Arms Park against Frank Bruno, he stepped into the ring of Wembley Arena and in the 2nd round, Lewis was TKO’d by an old sparring partner of Mike Tyson- one Oliver McCall.
After 25 wins this was his 1st loss as a professional, but that did not put him off. He went back, licked his wounds, regrouped and switched trainers appointing the great Manny Stewart on board.
Overcoming adversity and cementing a legacy forever in boxing
Head down and determination in his veins, Lewis persevered against Butler, Morrison (RIP) and Mercer before been given another opportunity to face McCall once again.
This time, it wasn’t about the purse; it was about taking back what belonged to him – the WBC belt, which he ripped back in the most unusual of fashion.
McCall had a breakdown in the ring and his mental state was questioned, so this appeared like another hollow victory (which frustrated Lewis).
He wanted to face a worthy opponent and would even travel to USA which is considered the Mecca of boxing, but all opponents placed in front of him were obliterated in such a fashion.
It seemed easy.
Step forward Evander Holyfield who moved up in weight and credit to him, he took a draw before been defeated on points showing that he was a worthy opponent with Lewis becoming the IBF, IBO, WBA and WBC heavyweight champion.
Having obtained these belts successfully, circumstances unknown to myself, he was stripped of the WBA belt for not fighting John Ruiz which seems unbelievable; no disrespect to Ruiz.
He went on to successfully defend his remaining belts (still undisputed) until he took his eye slightly off the ball (filming commitments) and met American Hasim Rahman in South Africa, where he was KO’d with a thunderous right to the chin in the 5th round.
This was to be his 2nd loss in his illustrious career, but again, this did not subdue him.
He went back to basics, focused – he took his belts back in emphatic fashion in a rematch with Rahman showing that a man’s character is what makes him great.
His reputation preceded him and to lose and come back better, showed the fierce, tenacious warrior like attribute of a gladiator within his soul, despite many that said he was a heavyweight chess player at the time.
He went then of course went on to face Mike Tyson, going 8 rounds before a KO put rest to Tyson, ending a debate in boxing circles that had went on for over a decade.
His last notable scalp came in finally facing Vitali Klitchko, (who’s only 1 of 2 losses come from this fight) with Lewis stopping the Ukranian boxing legend in the 6th round. It was a fight to be remembered because both men went at it quite literally, with no fear.
Lewis went out on top of his game shortly after, retiring from the sport. His standing and respect within the game now speaks for itself.
We would like to wish the former World Heavyweight Champion a happy 50th (that he celebrated earlier this month) and would like to think he had a plate of pie and mash with some liquor to celebrate!
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