Lennox Claudius Lewis CM, CBE (born 2 September 1965) is a retired professional boxer who competed from 1989 to 2003. He is a three-time world heavyweight champion, a two-time lineal champion, and remains the last heavyweight to hold the undisputed title. Holding dual British and Canadian citizenship, Lewis represented Canada as an amateur at the 1988 Summer Olympics, winning a gold medal in the super-heavyweight division after defeating Riddick Bowe in the final.
In his first three years as a professional, Lewis won several regional heavyweight championships, including the European, British, and Commonwealth titles. After winning his first 21 fights, he defeated Donovan Ruddock in 1992 to take over the number one position in the WBC rankings. He was declared WBC heavyweight champion later that year after Riddick Bowe gave up the title to avoid defending it against Lewis. He defended the title three times before an upset knockout loss to Oliver McCall in 1994. Lewis avenged the loss in a 1997 rematch to win back the vacant WBC title.
Lewis won the title by defeating Shannon Briggs in 1998. Two fights against Evander Holyfield in 1999 (the first ending in a controversial draw) saw Lewis become undisputed heavyweight champion by unifying his WBC title with Holyfield's WBA and IBF titles, as well as the vacant IBO title. In 2000, the WBA stripped Lewis of their title when he chose to face Michael Grant instead of mandatory challenger John Ruiz.
Lewis was knocked out by Hasim Rahman in a 2001 upset, but this defeat was avenged later in the year. In 2002, Lewis defeated Mike Tyson in one of the most highly anticipated fights in boxing history. Prior to the event, Lewis was awarded the Ring magazine heavyweight title, which had been discontinued in the late 1980s. In what would be his final fight, in 2003, Lewis defeated Vitali Klitschko in a bloody encounter. He vacated his remaining titles and retired from boxing in 2004.
Lewis often refers to himself as "the pugilist specialist". He is 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) tall, with an 84 in (213 cm) reach, and weighed about 245 lb (111 kg) during his boxing prime. He is regarded by many as one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time, and certainly one of the greatest British fighters of all time. He has the fourth longest combined title streak in post-war heavyweight history at 15 title bouts. In 1999 he was named Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America, and BBC Sports Personality of the Year. BoxRec currently ranks Lewis as the 16th best heavyweight boxer of all time.
Lewis was born on 2 September 1965, in London, England, to parents from Jamaica. At birth he weighed 4.8 kg (10 lb 10 oz), and was given the name Lennox by the doctor, who said he "looked like a Lennox." Lewis moved to Kitchener, Ontario, Canada in 1977 at the age of 12. He attended Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute for high school, where he excelled in Canadian football, soccer and basketball. In the 1982–83 school year, he helped the school's AAA basketball team win the Ontario provincial championship.
Lewis eventually decided that his favourite sport was boxing. He took up boxing circa 1978. He became a dominant amateur boxer and won the gold medal at the Junior World Championships in 1983. At age 18, Lewis represented Canada in the super-heavyweight division at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. By that time he was ranked #6 in the world by the AIBA. He advanced to the quarter-finals, where he lost by decision to Tyrell Biggs of the US, who went on to win the gold medal. Despite being 6'5" tall, and having a very strong punch, his coaches admitted they had to light a fire under him to convert size and raw talent into aggression.
Lewis chose not to turn professional after the Olympics, and instead fought four more years as an amateur, hoping for a second chance to win a gold medal. At the 1986 World Championships, he lost in the preliminary round to Petar Stoimenov of Bulgaria. Later that year, Lewis won gold at the Commonwealth Games. He gave a very close fight to Cuban Jorge Luis González at the 1987 Pan American Games super-heavyweight finals, the American judge scored the bout in favour of Lewis 60–57, while the judges from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Uruguay scored the bout nearly even 59–58 for González. He avenged the loss shortly thereafter, boxing for the North American amateur title eight days later.
After winning several more amateur titles in the following years, he traveled to Seoul, South Korea, for the 1988 Summer Olympics and achieved his goal. In the gold medal final, Lewis defeated Riddick Bowe with a second-round referee stopped contest (RSC). Lewis would become the first super-heavyweight gold medallist to become world heavyweight champion as a professional. In the Games' closing ceremony, Lewis was Canada's flag bearer. Lewis became the first Canadian to win boxing gold in 56 years.
His late amateur boxing coaches, Arnie Boehm and Adrian Teodorescu, guided Lewis to the Olympic title in 1988.
Lewis, upon turning professional, registered an amateur record of 85–9. HBO Boxing credited him with a shorter amateur record of 75 wins (58 by knockout) and 7 losses. Of all losses on the record, Valeriy Abadzhyan of the Soviet Union was the only opponent to stop Lewis in amateurs, in October 1986.
After winning the Olympic gold, Lewis was approached on the spot by big-time American boxing promoters, including Bob Arum, but hadn't been overly impressed by contract offers from them, and thought about signing a contract with a Toronto-based promotion group to turn pro. "I feel like a basketball player being scouted by scouts down in the States. I don't want anyone controlling me. These (offers) coming to me after the Olympics are mainly because I won the gold."
Having achieved his goal, Lewis declared himself a professional and moved back to his native England. He claimed he had always considered himself British, but many British fans regarded him as "a Canadian at heart and a Briton for convenience." In 2015 Lewis explained "When I turned pro, I had to go to the United Kingdom in order to pursue my career. The infrastructure to develop boxers wasn't in Canada then."
Lewis signed with boxing promoter Frank Maloney and his early professional career was filled with knockouts of journeymen, as well as fighters such as Osvaldo Ocasio. After he signed with American promoter Main Events, he won the European heavyweight title in 1990 against Frenchman Jean Maurice Chanet. In his next fight in March 1991, Lewis won the British title against undefeated, world-ranked Gary Mason, and in April 1992 won the Commonwealth title against Derek Williams. Lewis was a top-five world heavyweight, and during this period he also defeated former WBA heavyweight champion Mike Weaver, 1984 Olympic Gold medalist Tyrell Biggs, former world cruiserweight title holders Glenn McCrory and trial horses Levi Billups and Mike Dixon.
On 31 October 1992, Lewis knocked out Canadian Donovan "Razor" Ruddock in two rounds for the number one contender's position in the WBC rankings. It was Lewis' most impressive win to date, and established him as one of the world's best heavyweights. Sportscaster Larry Merchant declared, "We have a great new heavyweight."
The win over Ruddock made Lewis the number one contender for Riddick Bowe's heavyweight championship. Bowe held a press conference to dump his WBC title into a trash can and relinquished it to avoid a mandatory defence against Lewis. On 14 December 1992, the WBC declared Lewis its champion, making him the first world heavyweight titleholder from Britain in the 20th century.
Lewis defended the belt three times, defeating Tony Tucker, whom he knocked down for the first time in Tucker's career, and Frank Bruno and Phil Jackson by knockout. The Lennox Lewis vs. Frank Bruno fight was the first time two British-born boxers fought for a version of the world heavyweight title in the modern era.
Lewis lost his WBC title to Oliver McCall on 24 September 1994 in a huge upset at the Wembley Arena in London. In the second round, McCall landed a powerful right cross, putting Lewis on his back. Lewis returned to his feet at the count of six, but stumbled forward into the referee in a daze. Referee Jose Guadalupe Garcia felt Lewis was unable to continue and ended the fight, giving McCall the title by technical knockout. Lewis and others argued the stoppage was premature and that a champion should be given the benefit of the doubt. In spite of the Lewis camp protests, Boxing Monthly editor Glynn Leach pointed out that Lewis "only seemed to recover his senses once the fight was waved off", and that "in the opinions of everyone I spoke to at ringside, the decision was correct."
After the fight, Lewis decided he needed a new trainer to replace Pepe Correa, who had become increasingly difficult to work with. Correa denounced Lewis in public after being fired. Renowned trainer Emanuel Steward, who had been McCall's trainer during their fight, was Lewis' choice. Even before the fight with McCall, Steward had seen much potential in Lewis and immediately expressed a desire to work with him. He corrected several of Lewis' technical flaws, which included maintaining a more balanced stance, less reliance on his straight right hand, and a focus on using a strong, authoritative jab; the latter of which would become a hallmark of Lewis' style throughout the rest of his career. Their partnership lasted until Lewis' retirement.
In his first comeback fight, Lewis was given a chance to fight for the mandatory challenger position within the WBC and won it by knocking out American contender Lionel Butler. However, at the behest of promoter Don King, the WBC bypassed him and gave Mike Tyson the first chance at the title recently won by Briton Frank Bruno from Oliver McCall. Bruno had previously lost to both Lewis and Tyson.
Lewis had the number 1 contender's slot in the WBC rankings when he knocked out Australian Justin Fortune, then defeated former WBO Champion Tommy Morrison in October 1995, followed by Olympic gold medalist and former WBO champion Ray Mercer in a close majority decision in May 1996. Lewis successfully sued to force Tyson to make a mandatory defence of the WBC title against him. Lewis was offered a $13.5 million guarantee to fight Tyson to settle the lawsuit, but turned it down. This would have been Lewis' highest fight purse to date. Lewis accepted $4 million from Don King to step aside and allow Tyson to fight Bruce Seldon instead, with a guarantee that if Tyson defeated Seldon, he would fight Lewis next. After winning the WBA title from Seldon, Tyson relinquished the WBC title to fight Evander Holyfield instead. The WBC title was declared vacant. This set up a rematch between Lewis and McCall, who met on 7 February 1997 in Las Vegas for the WBC title.
In one of the strangest fights in boxing history, McCall, who had lost the first three rounds, refused to box in the fourth and fifth rounds. He then began crying in the ring, forcing the referee to stop the fight and award Lewis the victory and the title. As newly re-crowned WBC champion, Lewis successfully defended the title in 1997 against fellow Briton and former WBO world champion Henry Akinwande, who was disqualified after five rounds for excessive clinching. Lewis then met Poland's Andrew Golota, whom he knocked out in the first round. Lewis retained the WBC world title in 1998 when he knocked out lineal champion Shannon Briggs, who had recently outpointed George Foreman in a controversial fight to win the lineal title in five rounds, and beat formerly-undefeated European champion Željko Mavrović from Croatia in a 12-round unanimous decision. Lewis stated in 2006 that his fight with Mavrovic was the most awkward win of his career.
On 13 March 1999, Lewis faced WBA and IBF title holder Evander Holyfield in New York City in what was supposed to be a heavyweight unification bout. Lewis fought a tactical fight, keeping Holyfield off balance with a long jab and peppering him with combinations almost at will. Although most observers believed Lewis had clearly won the fight, the bout was declared a draw, to much controversy. The raw statistics of the fight suggested the bout belonged to Lewis, who landed 348 punches compared to Holyfield's 130. Lewis also out-jabbed Holyfield 137 to 52. Judge Eugenia Williams, who scored the fight in Holyfield's favour, said she saw Lewis land fewer punches than Holyfield.
The sanctioning bodies ordered a rematch. Eight months later in Las Vegas (13 November 1999), the two men fought again in a more open and entertaining contest than the original fight, with the two boxers having some heavy exchanges from rounds six to nine. The punch stats however still clearly favoured Lewis, who landed 195 punches to Holyfield's 137, although Lewis landed 119 power shots and 76 jabs, showing a definite shift in his tactics from the first fight, when he focused more on the jab. This time the three judges scored the fight unanimously (115–113, 116–112 & 117–111) in favour of Lewis, who became undisputed heavyweight champion of the World. The British public voted Lewis the 1999 BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
After Lewis defeated Holyfield the WBA ordered Lewis to defend the title against John Ruiz of Puerto Rico, who was then an obscure Don King fighter who had been made the WBA's number one-ranked contender. The WBA gave permission for Lewis to fight his WBC mandatory Michael Grant first if he would fight Ruiz next, to which Lewis agreed. Opposed to this, King challenged this decision in court on the basis of a clause in the Lewis-Holyfield rematch contract that said Lewis's first bout as undisputed champion would be against the WBA's number one contender. Lewis was therefore to be stripped of his WBA belt if he fought Grant first. It was because of this that the WBA instated its "Super Champion" title, giving unified titleholders who also hold a WBA belt more time to defend against mandatory challengers.
Lewis proceeded to fight the 203 cm (6 foot 7 inch) American Michael Grant, whom he considered the best contender available. He successfully defended his WBC, IBO and IBF titles against Grant with a second-round knockout victory in Madison Square Garden in April 2000.
Later that same year, Lewis knocked out South African Francois Botha in two rounds in London, before winning a 12-round decision against New Zealander and IBF mandatory opponent, David Tua in Las Vegas.
On 21 April 2001, Lewis was knocked out by 15-to-1 underdog Hasim Rahman in a bout in South Africa. Before the bout, Lewis had a role in the film Ocean's Eleven in which he "boxed" against Wladimir Klitschko.
Lewis immediately sought a rematch with the new champion; Rahman, however, now being promoted by Don King, tried to secure another opponent for his inaugural title defence. Lewis took Rahman to court to honour the rematch clause in their contract. Rahman was ordered to honour the clause and give Lewis a rematch in his first title defence. While promoting the rematch with Rahman on ESPN's Up Close, the fighters got into a brawl similar to the one between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in front of Howard Cosell on Wide World of Sports. Lewis regained the title on 17 November by outclassing and then knocking out Hasim Rahman in the fourth round of their rematch.
On 8 June 2002, Lewis defended his title against Mike Tyson. Ticket sales were slow because they were priced as high as US $2,400, but a crowd of 15,327 turned up to see boxing's then biggest event at the Pyramid Arena in Memphis, Tennessee. Tyson also had to pay Lewis $335,000 out of his purse for biting him at the news conference announcing the fight, which was originally scheduled for 6 April 2002 in Las Vegas. Las Vegas, however, rejected the fight because of Tyson's licensing problems and several other states refused Tyson a licence before Memphis finally bid US $12 million to land it.
By the end of the seventh round Tyson was tired and sluggish, his face swollen and his eyes cut. He was knocked out in the eighth by a right cross. After the fight, George Foreman declared, "He [Lewis] is, no doubt, the best heavyweight of all time. What he's done clearly puts him on top of the heap." This was the highest-grossing event in pay-per-view history, generating US $106.9 million from 1.95 million buys in the US, until it was surpassed by De La Hoya-Mayweather in 2007. Both fighters were guaranteed US $17.5 million.
Lewis was forced to vacate the IBF title in 2002 after refusing to face mandatory challenger Chris Byrd. In May 2003, Lewis sued boxing promoter Don King for US $385 million, claiming that King used threats and bribery to have Tyson pull out of a rematch with Lewis and a fight on the card of a Lewis title defence.
Lewis scheduled a fight with Kirk Johnson for June, but when Johnson suffered an injury in training, Lewis fought Vitali Klitschko, the WBC's No. 1 contender and former WBO champion. Lewis had planned to fight him in December, but since Klitschko had been on the undercard of the Johnson fight anyway, they agreed to square off on 21 June. Lewis entered the ring at a career high 116 kg (256½ pounds). Lewis was dominated in the early rounds and was wobbled in round two by solid Klitschko punches. Lewis opened a cut above Klitschko's eye with a right cross in the third round and gave a better showing from the fourth round onwards. With both fighters looking tired before the start of round seven, the doctor advised that the fight should be stopped because of a severe cut above Klitschko's left eye, awarding Lewis victory by TKO. Klitschko was leading 58–56 on all three judges' scorecards when the fight was stopped. Lewis was guaranteed US $7 million and Klitschko US $1.4 million. The gate was US $2,523,384 from an attendance of 15,939 at the Staples Center in California. The fight aired live on HBO's World Championship Boxing and was watched in 4.6 million homes.
Interviewed about the fight by HBO, doctor Paul Wallace explained his decision:
Klitschko's face required sixty stitches.
Because Klitschko had fought so bravely against Lewis, boxing fans soon began calling for a rematch. The WBC agreed, and kept the Ukrainian as its No. 1 contender. Lewis initially was in favour of a rematch:
Negotiations for the rematch followed but Lewis changed his mind. Instead, Klitschko fought and defeated Kirk Johnson on 6 December in WBC Eliminator, setting up a mandatory rematch with Lewis. Lewis announced his retirement shortly thereafter in February 2004, to pursue other interests, including sports management and music promotion, and vacated the title. Lewis said he would not return to the ring. At his retirement, Lewis's record was 41 wins, two losses and one draw, with 32 wins by knockout.
Though it was rumoured in an article published by the Daily Mail on 24 February that he would return to fight Klitschko once again, Lewis quickly shot down those rumours on his personal website. In 2008 Lewis commented on a possible match up with Riddick Bowe. "He waits until I am in retirement to call out my name", said Lewis. "I will come out of retirement to beat up that guy. I'll beat him up for free." In 2011, in response to a demand on Twitter from Bowe that he "put [his] gold medal on and let's fight for that!!", Lewis replied "I thought we already did."
Lewis worked as a boxing analyst for HBO on Boxing After Dark from 2006 until 2010.
Lewis was a classic upright boxer, who beat opponents from the outside with his dominant 84" reach. His jab, which was often a pawing shot early in his career, became a formidable weapon under the tutelage of Emmanuel Steward, which Lewis used to set up his signature punch, the straight right hand. Under Steward, Lewis became less reliant on his right hand and displayed a more complete skill-set. Criticised at times for being too patient and for his lack of in-fighting skills, Lewis was at his most effective when boxing from range. Known for his physical strength, Lewis was able to manoeuvre opponents into punching range and was especially effective against taller opponents. Lewis eventually developed into one of the most complete heavyweights in history: able to box at range or fight aggressively when necessary, as well as being considered one of the hardest punchers of all time.
Legacy and historical standing
Lewis was the seventh Olympic gold medalist to become world heavyweight champion after Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Leon Spinks and Michael Spinks. He holds the distinction of being the first professional heavyweight champion to win a gold medal in the super-heavyweight category, which was not created until the 1984 Summer Olympics. He is also the only boxer to represent Canada at the Summer Olympics and subsequently win a professional world title. Lewis is the only British heavyweight to have won both a Lonsdale belt outright and the world title.
While struggling to achieve popularity and respect earlier in his professional career, Lewis' standing has increased since his retirement in 2003, and he is now considered one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. Struggling to win the affection of the British public and facing indifference from an American audience, Lewis' body of work eventually established him as the dominant heavyweight of his time. He is the last undisputed heavyweight champion.
At four years, two months and fifteen days, Lewis has the twelfth longest reign in heavyweight championship history. His combined three reigns tally 2346 days, which ranks as the eighth longest cumulative time spent as heavyweight champion. His total of fourteen successful defenses ranks as the fifth highest in heavyweight history.
Lewis became one of only two boxers in history, and the first since Ken Norton in 1978, to have been awarded the heavyweight championship without actually winning a championship bout when the WBC awarded him their title in 1992. This was due to Riddick Bowe relinquishing the title after failing to agree to defend the title against Lewis, who had become the mandatory challenger by defeating Donovan Ruddock a few weeks earlier.
In 2001, Lewis became the fourth boxer (after Muhammad Ali, Evander Holyfield and Michael Moorer) to have held the world heavyweight championship on three separate occasions.
BoxRec ranks Lewis as the twelfth-greatest heavyweight of all time, as well as the third-greatest British fighter.
In 2018, Boxing News ranked Lewis as the third greatest heavyweight of all-time, behind Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis. While acknowledging that he could occasionally be vulnerable, the magazine stated that at his best, Lewis was as unbeatable as any heavyweight in history. In 2017, Boxing News also ranked Lewis as the second best British fighter of all time, after Jimmy Wilde. In the same year, The Ring magazine ranked Lewis as both the greatest heavyweight of the last thirty years and the joint-eleventh greatest heavyweight of all time (alongside Evander Holyfield), describing him as "a giant who fought with finesse" who beat every available contender. Thomas Hauser stated that the idea of Lewis having no chin was a myth, citing his rising from the powerful punch from Oliver McCall which floored Lewis for the first knockdown of his career, and suggesting that he was perhaps stopped prematurely. He also contended that the knockout punch from Hasim Rahman in their first fight would have knocked out anyone. In 2003, The Ring ranked Lewis as the 33rd greatest puncher of all time.
Along with Ingemar Johansson and Rocky Marciano, Lewis is one of three world heavyweight champions to have retired with victories over every opponent he faced as a professional. He is also, along with Tunney, Marciano and Vitali Klitschko, one of four heavyweight champions to have ended his career as world champion, and with a world title fight victory in his final fight.
In 2008, Lewis was inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. In 2009, in his first year of eligibility, Lewis was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.
Life outside boxing
In 2000, Lewis appeared on Reflection Eternal's debut album Train of Thought, giving a shout out on the track "Down for the Count."
In 2001, Lewis had a role in the film Ocean's Eleven in which he "boxed" against Wladimir Klitschko.
In 2002, Lewis was reportedly offered £5m by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) chairman Vince McMahon to take up professional wrestling in his industry. His camp held discussions over a possible match with Brock Lesnar in February 2003, at the No Way Out pay-per-view event. Prior to the offer Lewis was familiar with wrestling; he was part of the famous match held in the old Wembley Stadium between The British Bulldog and Bret "The Hitman" Hart for the Intercontinental Championship at SummerSlam in 1992, representing the Bulldog during his entrance while bearing a Union Flag.
In 2002, Lewis played himself on an episode of The Jersey called "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad Jersey".
In 2003, Lewis made a brief cameo appearance in the Jennifer Lopez and LL Cool J video "All I Have".
In 2006 he appeared in the movie Johnny Was with Vinnie Jones.
Lewis played in the World Series of Poker in both 2006 and 2007, and was knocked out without winning any money.
Lewis appeared on NBC's Celebrity Apprentice in 2008. He came in fourth place (out of 14).
Lewis made a public service announcement against domestic violence for Do Something.
In 2011 he was awarded an honorary Doctorate from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.
Lewis is a supporter of his home town football club, West Ham United.
On May 24, 2018, Lewis was part of an Oval Office ceremony to announce the pardon of boxer Jack Johnson.
Upon retiring from boxing, Lewis moved to Miami Beach with his wife, Violet Chang, a former Miss Jamaica runner-up. They have three children. Lewis told AventuraUSA.com in 2007 that he is contemplating opening an "international boxing academy" and perhaps one day starting a record label, but he has yet to embark on either endeavour. Lewis has a villa at the Tryall Golf Club in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Lewis is an avid amateur chess player, and funded an after-school chess programme for disadvantaged youths, one of whom earned a university chess scholarship at Tennessee Tech.
Professional boxing record
- Lennox Lewis, CM (1988–1998)
- Lennox Lewis, CM, MBE (1998–2002)
- Lennox Lewis, CM, CBE (2002–present)
- List of heavyweight boxing champions
- List of WBA world champions
- List of WBC world champions
- List of IBF world champions
- List of IBO world champions
- List of The Ring world champions
- List of British heavyweight boxing champions
- List of European Boxing Union heavyweight champions
- List of undisputed boxing champions
- List of lineal boxing world champions
- List of Canadian sports personalities