Legacy: Lennox Lewis
15.03.07 – By Geoffrey Ciani: When considering the legacy of former heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis, two pairs of names usually come to the forefront. Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson represent one pair while Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman make up the other. In my mind, this simplification undermines the greatness which defines his true legacy.
Article posted on 16.03.2007
No doubt these names do play a big part in the bigger picture. Wins over Tyson and Holyfield certainly helped solidify Lewis as the best from his era. It’s unfortunate that Lewis faced faded versions of these two former champions, but it’s better to have faced them late than never at all—case in point, Riddick Bowe and the mega-bout that never was. In any event, wins over Tyson and Holyfield helped cement his legacy, but surely, they ought not define it. With regards to McCall and Rahman, there are two ways of looking at things. One way is that McCall and Rahman each knocked Lewis out in upset victories.
Lewis detractors love pointing out that being knocked out twice by a single punch is a unique ‘feat’ amongst historical greats. This is a fair point. On the other hand, Lewis avenged each of those losses with stoppage victories of his own. Overcoming these previous defeats enabled Lewis to do something few others have accomplished in boxing history—he defeated every man he’d ever faced in the ring.
It is a shame that all too often Lewis’s legacy is exclusively defined by those four fighters. In fact, there were four other fighters who crossed paths with Lewis that I believe better represent his true legacy—especially when taken into proper context of when their paths crossed. These four are often overlooked when reflecting upon this extraordinary career.
For starters, there’s Donovan “Razor” Ruddock. When Lewis squared off against Ruddock on Halloween night 1992 it was part of a four-man tournament designed to crown the “true” champion in the post-Tyson era. At the time, this tournament was largely viewed as a coronation ceremony for Ruddock. He was the favorite to win the tournament following his two losses against Tyson, and few were giving Lewis any chance to beat him, let alone Holyfield or Bowe. Ultimately, however, Lewis destroyed Ruddock in two rounds and made it look easy.
Then there was the intriguing bout five years later when Lewis would defend his WBC crown against the foul-prone Andrew Golota. At that time, many considered Golota to be the best talent in the division. After all, he had just twice mercilessly battered uncrowned king Riddick Bowe. Although Golota lost both bouts against Bowe due to his inability to keep his punches above the beltline, anyone who saw those fights easily recognized that Golota represented the superior talent and the greater challenge. This was a pick’em fight that ultimately saw Lewis destroy Golota in a mere 95 seconds.
The third fighter I’d put on the list would be Michael Grant. Grant was an undefeated challenger who was coming off a sensational comeback victory against the aforementioned Golota. He was universally recognized as the top challenger in the world, and aside from Holyfield and Lewis, was considered the best of the rest. The card was dubbed “Two Big” in reference to the enormous combined size of the two combatants. Ring magazine even predicted that Grant, being younger and hungrier, would dethrone the aging champ. Once again the fight did not live up the hype, and Lewis stopped Grant in the second having knocked him down four times in the process.
The last fighter that comes to mind is David Tua. When this fight happened, Tua had only suffered one defeat and that was at the hands of Ike Ibeabucchi in a bout many felt Tua deserved to win. Tua, best known for his granite chin and outstanding left hook, was considered Lewis’s best challenge at that time. This was expected to be a competitive bout. It wound up being anything but competitive as Lewis easily cruised to a one-sided decision. To quote the former champion, it takes more than “a left hook and a haircut” to beat Lennox Lewis.
Unfortunately for Lewis, these sensational victories usually aren’t given proper consideration when evaluating Lewis’s brilliant career. Part of the reason this holds true is because these fighters were never quite the same after Lewis was finished with them. Therefore, it’s easy to forget the circumstances surrounding the heavyweight landscape at the time Lewis fought them. What should be viewed as stellar victories in a sensational career are often overlooked as nothing more than ‘typical’ title defenses; sad, but true.
In the end, as more time passes, I suspect Lewis will get less and less credit for the aforementioned victories. Even worse, it’s probable that the names Tyson, Holyfield, McCall, and Rahman will become the ‘whole story’ when defining his place in history. This does his career a great injustice!
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