- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 7, 2004

Heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis accomplished many things during his 14-year boxing career, which supposedly ended yesterday with his announcement that he is retiring.

He held the World Boxing Council title and other versions of the heavyweight championship three different times and successfully defended his championship 13 times. He is calling it quits with a 41-2-1 record, 32 knockouts.

On paper, it is an impressive record. But if you watched Lennox Lewis during his career, you know that his mark in boxing is not as impressive.

He reigned over the division during the one of its weakest eras. The best fighter he faced was Evander Holyfield, and that didn’t take place until 1999 — long past Holyfield’s prime and three years from Holyfield’s last hurrah, his upset knockout of Mike Tyson.

Lennox struggled with Holyfield. OK, Lewis was robbed of a win in their first fight in March 1999 at Madison Square Garden when the fight was declared a draw. But if he was truly a great heavyweight champion, Lewis should have decisively defeated Holyfield. Worse, in the rematch in November, in which Lewis was declared the winner in a decision, it was a much closer fight. A number of observers believed that Holyfield actually won.

Lewis also met Tyson way past his prime. When Lewis met Tyson in June 2002, he fought a disinterested and out-of-shape fighter who had already taken a beating from Holyfield six years earlier and arguably had reached his peak 14 years before, when he stopped Michael Spinks in one round in 1988. Trainer Emanuel Steward had to scream at Lewis in the corner to get him to finish off a pathetic Tyson in the eighth round.

The list of Lewis’ conquests is hardly a Hall of Fame roster: Phil Jackson, Zeljko Mavrovic, Shannon Briggs (who almost knocked Lewis out in the first round), Michael Grant, Frans Botha and David Tua among them.

How Lewis held the title three times is not a Rocky story. He won the vacant WBC belt the first time in May 1993 with a lackluster decision over Tony Tucker. He lost it a year later when Oliver McCall — a former Tyson sparring partner — knocked him out in two rounds.

Lewis won it back three years later in a rematch when McCall walked around the ring crying and refusing to fight for five rounds until finally the bout was called and Lewis declared the winner. In his next title defense against Henry Akinwande, Lewis was declared the winner when Akinwande was disqualified for holding.

Stop me when I get to a legendary Lewis fight.

The third time Lewis won the belt was probably the most impressive of his career. Like the McCall fight, Lewis got sloppy and was tagged with a right hand by Hasim Rahman in their South African fight in April 2001, knocked out in the fifth round. He came back in November and knocked out Rahman in four rounds, the way a champion would.

Lewis’ career may be marked by who he didn’t fight rather than who he did. What is remarkably disappointing is that Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe never fought each other. I can’t recall another time in boxing when two of the best fighters in the heavyweight class who came up at the same time went through their entire careers without having fought each other.

The blame seems to be with Bowe. He was supposed to fight Lewis in a mandatory challenge of the WBC belt after Bowe first won the title in November 1992 when he defeated Holyfield.

But Bowe and his manager, Rock Newman, opted to give up that version of the belt (at the time, Bowe still held the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation titles), making a show of it going to England — Lewis’ home — and dumping the belt into a garbage bag.

There was no denying that a fight with Lewis, who had beaten Bowe in the 1988 Olympics to win the gold medal and who had earned the No.1 ranking by knocking out Razor Ruddock in two rounds in October 1991, would be a tough fight for Bowe. But he took the champion’s prerogative and opted for an easy title defense against a terribly out-of-shape Michael Dokes. It seemed as if there would be plenty of time eventually for a Bowe-Lewis fight.

But it never came to pass. Bowe lost in a rematch with Holyfield in November 1993. It appeared there was a deal for a Bowe-Lewis fight in the fall of 1994, but Lewis lost to McCall. By the time Lewis became champion again, Bowe was out of boxing after two severe beatings from Andrew Golota although winning both fights on disqualifications.

Give Lewis his due for being able to stay on or near the top of the division for 14 years. He was able to do what Bowe was not — dedicate himself to the training it would take to have a long career.

But in the ring — the ultimate stage for a fighter — Riddick Bowe left more of a mark on heavyweight boxing than Lewis did. Bowe’s three fights with Holyfield were only second to the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier trifecta for excitement and toughness. They were the last great heavyweight title fights of our time. And nothing Lewis did in the ring measures up.

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