TALES OF OLYMPIC GLORY: LENNOX LEWIS


With London 2012 entering its final stages, FightHype UK continues its “Tales Of Olympic Glory” series.  We’re focusing on a number of boxers from all over the world who have represented their countries at the Olympic games, before progressing to the professional ranks.

Understandably, not all boxing legends went to the Olympic games, but they still went on to have a successful career within the sport. For many, however, the Olympic games proved to be a platform to maximize the exposure of individuals, which ultimately translated to success in the pro ranks. While fight fans have had their eyes firmly fixed on the Olympic Games to see if they can identify a superstar in the making, it is important to note that the success of previous athletes is part of what inspires most of the young prospects today.  Names like Muhammad Ali, Floyd Mayweather, Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr, Lennox Lewis, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Amir Khan, are just a few of the successful Olympians from both the past and present. You will notice not all of them won Olympic gold, but all went on to have to successful careers as world champions and beyond.

Part seven of the “Tales of Olympic Glory” series focuses on the man whom most would consider the greatest British heavyweight, Lennox ’the Lion’ Lewis (sorry Frank…).

The phrase, “actions speak louder than words” is personified by the career of Lennox Lewis.  He was a true great with a sterling amateur career that was parlayed into a phenomenal professional campaign.  ‘The Lion’ was a dominant heavyweight champion who had boxing ability and undeniable K.O power.  The words of his critics and we all have critics, ring hollow when looking back at his career.

OLYMPIC GAMES 1988 – GOLD MEDAL

Lennox Lewis might have dual British and Canadian citizenship, but he’s a born Londoner.   Like many other Britons, Lewis parents emigrated from Jamaica (belated Happy 50th Independence Day, Jamaica).  Due to life’s twists and turns, Lewis was raised by his mother.  The financial challenges facing the family forced his mother to seek a more secure future for her and Lennox.  Pursuing this, she initially moved to Canada alone and brought Lennox over about a year or so afterwards, when he was 12.  While there, he became interested in boxing and started his very accomplished amateur career a few years later.   This period saw him winning a world junior championship at the age of 17 (1983) and a senior championship afterwards.   Lewis was also a super-heavyweight gold medalist at the 1986 Commonwealth Games and the 1987 North American Championships.  Part of his amateur success included being a Canadian Amateur Champion a total of 6 times.

Not everything came up roses though.  His first attempt at an Olympic medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Games was unsuccessful.  In the quarterfinals, Lewis lost via decision to the man who took gold that year, Tyrell Biggs.  Lewis and Biggs would meet again in the pros. with very different results.  Firmly focused on an Olympic medal, Lennox Lewis remained as an amateur and qualified for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.  As he did in previous competitions, he represented Canada.  Reaching the quarter finals after scoring a seond round stoppage, he defeated Ulli Kaden of East Germany, via a first round TKO.   The semi-final was supposed to be against Janus Zarenkiewicz, but the Polish boxer forfeited.   This left Lewis to face his opponent and another future heavyweight great, Riddick Bowe.

Lewis and Bowe’s Olympic boxing match was the last time that they would fight each other, even though they would have the opportunity to rumble as pros.  The first round, was a close round, but was won by Bowe who was the busier boxer.  Lewis’ lack of activity in the first round was in complete contrast to the second.  He immediately jumped all over Bowe in the second and moments later landed a big left hook that was followed up by several punches.   Bowe was hurt and the referee administered his first eight count.  After the count, Lewis picked up where he left off and pressed the attack.  This ended up with him landing a big right hand that rocked Riddick Bowe.  The referee counted to eight again and somewhat surprisingly stopped the bout.  Nonetheless, Lewis was definitely beating up Bowe in the second round and had the upper hand.

With his victory over Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis won the ultimate amateur prize, a gold medal at the Olympics.

Lewis makes no bones about it; his Olympic achievement was greater than the other amateur accolades.  He recently told the Calgary Herald that “winning a gold in Seoul was an unbelievable situation for me, something I’d always wanted to do.”  ”Once you’ve won it, it’s like, ‘Yo, this is the gold ticket to be a professional.’ You’re leaving the amateurs behind and all of a sudden, you’ve become a man.”

Lennox Lewis turned professional the following year, in the U.K and rattled off 22 victories in a row.   This included a rematch with the man that he had lost to in the 1984 Olympics, Tyrell Biggs.  This time around Lewis stopped Briggs via a third round TKO.  Other bouts during this period included stoppages of fellow British stars Frank Bruno and Gary Mason.   Lennox Lewis also scored an impressive stoppage over Donovan “Razor” Ruddock.    Riding high, Lennox was matched against American Oliver McCall.  For this bout, Oliver McCall changed his trainer and worked with Emmanuel Steward.  According to Emmanuel Steward the manner in which Lewis had been winning prior to the McCall bout, was “…good, and in a way it was bad for Lennox, because at that time his whole camp just got totally dependent on the big right hand. Then they fought I think Phil Jackson before he fought Oliver McCall, and I was not that impressed in that fight because it was another fight where everything was about that big right hand.”  In the same article that he wrote for EastsideBoxing.com, Steward goes on to say that he trained McCall to catch Lewis while he was unleashing one of those right-handed bombs.  It worked, resulting in a 2nd round TKO victory for McCall.  It should be noted that the referee’s decision to stop the fight was considered somewhat controversial as Lewis said that he could’ve continued.

Having now joined forces with the legendary Steward, Lewis faced McCall again 3 years later.  Even though the fight was marred by McCall’s bizarre behavior, Lewis clearly won the non-bizarre moments.   McCall’s apparently self-destructive eccentricity during the bout and Lewis’ dominance forced referee Mills Lane to rule it a T.K.O.  Before Lewis fought McCall for a second time, he was the mandatory challenger for Mike Tyson’s WBC belt.  Tyson refused the match against Lewis and even turned down the massive payday that went with it.

Lennox Lewis only other loss was to the overlooked Hasim Rahman.   Lewis’ preparation for this match fell victim to the life of a superstar, making films and hobnobbing with the famous.  Even though he was arguably ahead in the earlier rounds, he paid the price and was knocked out in the 5th.  Knowing that he had let himself down, Lennox Lewis exercised the rematch clause and fought Rahman 7 months later.  He destroyed him with a murderous right hand in the fourth round after controlling the first three behind a crisp jab.

Lennox Lewis ended up with a record of 41-2-1.  His record should have been 42-2-0, as the draw to Evander Holyfield was rightfully and widely derided as a ridiculous decision. The consensus among those with functioning eyesight was that Lewis dominated.  ‘The Lion’ beat top heavyweights like David Tua, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Michael Grant, Andrew Golota and Vitali Klitschko.  His opponent from the Olympics, Riddick Bowe refused to face Lewis in a title bout.

Everyone has an opinion.  Some are kind and some not so kind.  The facts are that Lennox Lewis avenged his two losses, was dominant and boasts a C.V. that is superior to most of the marquee heavyweights of the ‘90s to early ‘00s.   He left the amateurs on top and did the same as a pro.  Nice one Lennox.

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