Lennox Lewis: Was He Really Chinny?

30.05.06 – By Jim Dorney: Lennox Lewis is one of those fighters that people tend to have polar opposite opinions on. Not that many people I’ve heard talking about him thinks he was Okay. There either seems to be reverence or wrath.

Since his retirement not so long ago, his place in boxing history has been the subject of much debate. One of the most common comments from his detractors that I’ve read in posts on this and other sites concerns his (alleged lack of) chin. The obvious
evidence offered in support of this opinion is his two losses by knockout, to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman, respectively.

The McCall knockout was caused by a short, devastating right hand that McCall threw with his eyes shut. Lewis didn’t see it, and it’s generally accepted as a given that the blows that knock you out are the ones you don’t see.

Lennox was counted out on his feet by the referee, and has always maintained that he would have been OK to continue. Having seen the fight several times, I’m not so sure that I’d agree. Lewis’ eyes looked glassy and he looked unsteady on his legs. Suffice to say that it’s a point of some contention nonetheless.

The Rahman knockout was a huge shot. Every time I see it, it makes me chuckle to see that Rahman had a running skip and jump before landing the punch, which crashed straight through Lewis’ guard. That knockout was, without a doubt, the most foolish and idiotic moment of Lennox’s career. He was quite handily winning the fight up to that point, and probably would
have done so far easier had he acclimatised himself properly as opposed to galivanting around in Hollywood on the set of Oceans 11.

Lewis emphatically beat both Rahman & McCall in return matches.

I suppose part of the reason why his chin was considered to be suspect is that Lennox easily beat fighters that was of a far higher calibre than Rahman or McCall. But that, I’d argue, isn’t entirely the point. Irrespective of their overall skills, (and both fighters, particularly Rahman, demonstrated they have quite a lot of ability) they are considered to be punchers and always look for the knockout. Some may say that they got lucky with Lewis. I’m not sure if that’s entirely fair in McCall’s case, perhaps moreso Rahman, but Oliver caught him clean with a great shot that Manny Steward had rehearsed with him a thousand times, having the strategic insight to realise that it would prove to be Lewis’ undoing.

What I don’t think people consider when saying that Lewis had no chin is the fighters he beat, and got clocked with in the process. There are a number of punchers that he beat without getting his whiskers unduly checked (examples include David Tua, Andrew Golota and Razor Ruddock) but often in victory, he had to eat quite a bit of leather against some guys that could really bang a bit.

One of the best examples of this was his fight against Ray Mercer, which Lewis won by mandatory decision. It was a close,
punishing battle throughout, and Mercer had plenty of moments where he had Lewis hurt. Maybe Lewis had a bit of an off night that night, or maybe Mercer just had the right style to give him fits, but whilst I wouldn’t have thought it fair to call it a victory for Ray, I could have certainly accepted a draw as the result.

Lewis also fought a bruising encounter with Frank Bruno relatively early on in his first reign as champion. I’m not going to try and argue that Bruno is one of the greatest boxers ever. No doubt, he clearly wasn’t, but he did have some pop. He staggered Tyson a few times in his first fight with Iron Mike, as had only Tony Tucker up to that point. In the Bruno fight,
Lewis was covered with a blanket between rounds, again suggesting that perhaps he wasn’t completely at his best, but he had to come back from behind in that fight to pull it out of the bag.

Another big puncher that Lewis survived a scare against was Shannon Briggs. Fighting the round of his life, Briggs had Lewis reeling and in all sorts of trouble at the end of the first, yet Lewis didn’t go down. Instead, he came back and put a crazy-brave Briggs on the canvas a number of times before the referee did the right thing and stopped it.

Perhaps the best example to prove that Lewis didn’t have a glass jaw was his final fight against Vitali Klitschko. With arguably suspect judgement, Lewis decided the way to win against Vitali was to out-gut him in a dogfight. Klitschko had him in serious trouble in the second round, surprising Lewis with his handspeed and angles. Lewis, however, did not quit and
(legitimately, I might add) cut Klitschko’s face to ribbons, leaving his visage looking like hamburger meat by the end of the sixth round. Maybe Lennox was quite lucky in getting that verdict, or maybe he had the right tactics all along and just went about it in a more laboured fashion than he’d hoped. Predictably, Lennox claims the latter.

Two stoppage losses suddenly doesn’t seem quite as bad when put into the proper context – That he won fights against big hitters, and had to ship some bombs to do it. The way I see it, either Lennox had a reasonable chin, or these supposed knockout artists couldn’t punch (which their records suggest otherwise) – You can’t have it both ways.

Other big hitters Lewis prevailed against include Tommy Morrison, Mike Weaver, Gary Mason, Lionel Butler & Derek Williams. They may not have all been world-beaters, but they could punch, and surely the point has to be that by the rationale that Lewis couldn’t take a shot then they should have stood a good chance with him.

In closing, I believe Lennox Lewis was one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, and I suspect that he will eventually go down as such. George Foreman said that he was without doubt the greatest of all time after he beat Tyson, and in a newspaper column claimed that there was no way he’d ever have been able to beat Lewis. Something tells me Big George knows a thing or two about great heavyweights.

I welcome your comments.