November 29, 1999
Finally boxing has a unified, undisputed, and linear heavyweight champion in Britan's Lennox Lewis. The first Englishman to hold the World Heavyweight Championship since Bob Fitzsimmons lost the title in 1899 to Jim Jeffries. Now 100 years later Lennox Lewis has returned the title to Britain. Lennox is the first non-american to win the title since 1959 when Sweden's Ingemar Johnannson won the title forty years ago. Lennox was the 1988 Olympic Gold Medalist as an amatuer when he defeated another future heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe in the finals at Seoul, Korea. On the way up to the roman road of championship glory Lennox defeated Razor Ruddock (Ko2), Tony Tucker (W12), Frank Bruno (Tko7), Tommy Morrison (Ko6), Ray Mercer (W10) and Andrew Golota (Ko1). He won the linear and WBC championship by kayoing Shannon Briggs in five, and won acclaim as champion by winning a "draw" against Evander Holyfield in their first meeting last March 13th, and decisioning him for the other recognized belts last November 13.
Lennox Lewis is the champion, but how good of a champion, how long his reign will last, and how popular he will be with the fans remains a question. At times Lennox has shown to be an exciting and explosive puncher as in his fights with Ruddock, Morrison, Golota, and Briggs. At other times he has appeared lazy, cautious, and unwilling to take risks as in his fights with Holyfield. His trainer Emmanuel Steward has said, "we havn't seen the best of Lennox Lewis yet." Hmmmm. We havn't? He's 34 years old. A fighters physical prime is generally between the age of 25 and 28. Experience counts for a lot as one gets older and Lennox does have a big amateur background and has had solid quality of opposition as a pro, but I can't see him improving drastically as a fighter over the next two years. The problem with Lennox is he is erratic, on one night he blows out big, strong guys like Ruddock and Golota, and the next he holds, clinches, and is content to box and jab from the outside as he did against Mavrovic and Holyfield.
Lennox has size, 6' 5", 242 pounds, reach 84" (tied for second all time with Sonny Liston, and Buster Douglas, behind Primo Carnera), power, and skills. His jab is one of the best in the division, his right hand also one of the strongest, he has improved his defense on the inside, though like Ali, he primarily uses the clinch to neutralize an aggressive opponent. Lennox Lewis has the ability to remain champion in a not real strong heavyweight division. Let's take a look at some of his potential opposition to see what might be next for Lennox:
Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson remains, despite his controversial air, the most exciting fighter in the division because of his one punch knockout power. The right hand that knocked out Francois Botha would probably have accounted for any heavyweight in the world had it landed. Lennox has a nice jab, but he gets lazy with it and drops his left hand after jabbing instead of pulling it straight back. This is a serious technical weakness which can be exploited. Such a weakness cost the great Joe Louis in his first fight against Max Schmeling in 1936. This same error nearly caused Larry Holmes to be knocked out by both Earnie Shavers and Renaldo Snipes, a mistake Larry never corrected his entire career. Indeed Oliver McCall handed Lennox Lewis his first and only loss with a powerful right hand over a lazy Lewis left in 1994. That fight ended in a second round kayo loss for the current heavyweight champion. There is little doubt that if Tyson could land the same punch the fight would end just as dramatically. It should be noted, however that Iron Mike's overall skills have faded, his footwork is not very good, he gets wild and leaves himself open, and Lewis has the ability to outbox Tyson on the outside as did Douglas and the power to knock him out. This is one of the most intriguing fights out there.
The "heir apparent" Michael Grant was nearly destroyed by Andrew Golota a week after Lewis gained universal recognition as champion by beating Holyfield. Guess what happened in that fight? Grant, a fighter similar to Lewis in several repects ( bigger, but with less experience), got nailed over a low hanging left by Golota who smashed him with a straight right hand. Grant came ever so close to being knocked out in the very first round, survived a pummeling the first few rounds and came back to stop Golota in the tenth with a big right hand of his own. Grant at least showed heart and the ability to come back from the brink of destruction to win. This is the quality of a true champion, something that all of the greats from Dempsey, Joe Louis, Marciano, Ali, and Holyfield have demonstrated at some point in their careers. It is also something we have never really seen from Lennox Lewis. On the other hand Grant sometimes acts as if he doesn't really like boxing, does he really have the desire? Both of these fighters like to clinch and bide their time so it may not be an exciting fight. However, at some point, one of these men can be counted on to land their big right over their opponents left and then the fireworks will erupt. Will Lennox prove he has a big heart as he seemed to show against Ray Mercer? It may come down to who wants it the most.
David Tua is one of the most exciting sluggers in the division. His left hook is one of the best I've seen. He is aggressive and a strong body puncher. He can take a big punch as his fights with Ike Ibeabuchi and Hasim Rahman have shown. If he had the in-fighting skills of Joe Frazier I would make him a favorite over just about anybody in the division. Unfortunately, he does not. He does not work to free his hands on the inside as Frazier did, he does not bob and weave to avoid punches, and he does not work consistently to the body. Lewis is more vulnerable to the right hand than he is the left hook. In 24 rounds with Holyfield Lennox did a good job of blocking Evander's left hook, his strongest punch. Tua has shown some improvement with his right hand, but unless he can make Lennox fight on the inside I would have to pick Lewis on a decision.
The Worthless Boxing Organization (WBO) champion is Vitaly Klitschko. At 6' 8" he is even bigger than Michael Grant. We seem to be living in the age of giants. However, most of these guys when they get real big lack speed, and co-ordination. Grant has skills and power, but isn't very quick. Klitschko is still a mystery. He has massacred a number of lesser opponents in a couple of rounds. His biggest wins over Herbie Hide (Ko2) and Ed Mahone (Ko3) were impressive. His brother Wladimir is also a 6'8" giant who had such a streak but the first time he was extended he collapsed in the 11th round against journeyman Ross Purity (koby 11). Vitaly has remained unbeaten so far. It remains to be seen whether he is an over-sized George Foreman or an over-sized Gerry Cooney. Or maybe something totally different. The only thing we can be certain of is his immense size. He is certainly a fighter that I would like to see tested.
Perhaps the one man who could beat Lennox right now is apparently going up the river, and not the Thames either. That is one Ike Ibeabuchi. He has size, strength, power, stamina, skills, and the attitude to match. What a loss for boxing. I liked Ike, but he probably won't be fighting for a long time. It is a travesty when fighters cannot control themselves outside of the ring. He lost not only millions of dollars, fame, and a possible shot at the championship, but his freedom as well.
Whats' next for Lennox Lewis? There are some good opponents out there and some not so good ones. There is still a possible mandatory against Henry Akinwande, a fighter who was already dis-qualified agaisnt Lewis for doing a better impression of Bonehugger Smith, than the Bonehugger ever did. No-one wants this fight, not Lewis, not HBO, not the fans. Only Don King who has Akinwande under contract, and the hapless WBA who somehow have managed to rate him as their top contender?? Since both Lewis and Akinwande are from England it is not unreasonable that such a fight could take place. Perhaps Mike Tyson, Michael Grant, David Tua, or even Vitaly Klitschko will get the next title shot? All of these are interesting match-ups. No matter who Lennox fights next, at least we have a universally recognized heavyweight champion again!