- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2004

The heavyweight champion of the world retired, and the world responded with a big yawn.

Don’t blame boxing, a sport that has enough problems as it is.

Blame Lennox Lewis, who wanted fans to embrace him but never gave them a chance.

At a London hotel Feb. 6, Lewis bid the sport goodbye, turning down a lucrative rematch with Vitali Klitschko to become the first heavyweight champion in nearly a half-century to retire for good while still holding the title.

In 14 years in the ring, through three heavyweight championship reigns, he largely succeeded. By doing so, though, Lewis paid a price that could wear on him as the years go by and his accomplishments are finally tallied.

Lewis had the size and talent to go down as one of the greatest ever, but when the history books are written he likely will be remembered most for being the first British heavyweight champion in more than a century.

He was often overly cautious in the ring, never more evident than when Oliver McCall began crying in front of him in the ring and Lewis, suspecting a trick, didn’t go after him. He also was knocked out twice by single punches to the head.

Even his two biggest wins were somewhat suspect, with Mike Tyson a shell of his former self and Evander Holyfield past his prime.

But it’s what Lewis did — or failed to do — outside the ring that always will tarnish his reign.

Heavyweight champions are supposed to be larger than life, and at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Lewis was larger than most. But he never seemed to embrace the sport that made him rich or the fans who wanted to cheer him on.

Lewis also had a role model of sorts when he turned pro after winning the 1988 Olympic gold.

The trouble is boxing likes its heavyweight champions to be a bit bad, and Lewis never fit in. He doted on his mother, played chess, kept out of nightclubs and out of trouble.

When Tyson bit him during a melee at the news conference in New York to promote their 2002 fight, Lewis chose to analyze the moment.

“When he attacked me, I was mortified in a sense. I thought, ‘Why is he biting me? Is there something mentally wrong with him?’” Lewis said. “I thought about it a minute, and then decided if I was going to pay him back, I was going to do it in the ring.”

Lewis would go on to stop Tyson in the eighth round in Memphis, Tenn., in what turned out to be the defining moment of his career. Though Tyson was no match by that time, Lewis finally had his biggest win.

“There was more fire under me for that fight,” he said.

You can only wonder what might have been had that fire always been there. Lewis might have fought Tyson earlier, met Riddick Bowe in his prime and secured his place in boxing history.

He didn’t and left boxing the worse for it.

— Tim Dahlberg

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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