HISTORY can be contested. But Lennox Lewis won’t let his legacy be disregarded, even if it meant confronting US broadcaster Showtime to remind them that he was the last undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.
“Can you believe that? Can you believe they actually tried to come out with that? I gave it to them though. They heard from me and they apologised so it’s all good,” Lewis tells Boxing News. “The main people who were saying that type of thing, they had to be woken up.
“History’s been rewritten a few times, I just couldn’t allow it to be rewritten this time when I’m involved.”
Becoming undisputed was a monumental achievement. “It was a journey. It was an emotional journey. It was a dream that came true. You could say it was something that very few men hold and I was one of them. That’s why I always said I walk in a room filled with great men,” he said.
He remains unsurprised that no one has managed to become the undisputed heavyweight champion since his era. “It really doesn’t surprise me. It’s not easy to be undisputed heavyweight champion, as you know because obviously the heavyweights that are there now are trying to do the same, when it comes to negotiations and different things and different barriers that step in front of the way, managers, promoters whatever. It’s not an easy task for that to happen. But when it does happen, it only happens once in a blue moon. It’s a big challenge to get there and once you get there you realise all the different challenges and boundaries you had to cross to accomplish it. Even the politics of the sport you have to look at, governing bodies, all the different things that you have to go through to become undisputed champion. When I was undisputed champion, I had five different guys coming at me saying they want to fight me, then all the different governing bodies saying if you don’t fight this man then we’re going to take it away. I must have had a letter every week accusing me or saying we’re going to take your belts away unless you fight this guy. But when you reach that position you can only fight one guy at a time,” he said.
A key part of his legacy is also “that I did it my way, that I was my own boss, that I promoted myself early and all the rest of the accolades that come along with it”. But also that he chose to retire from the sport at the right time, finishing after beating Vitali Klitschko. “For me it was time to call it a day because I accomplished all my goals. The main goal was becoming the last undisputed champion and that’s what I accomplished so that was my main goal and making sure I got rid of all the misfits out of boxing, that was another goal of mine,” Lewis said.
He resisted the urge to stage a comeback, and does so even now. “I woke up, I washed my face and I talked myself out of it,” he recalled. “I was tempted a couple of times. I said to myself I wanted to be one of these fighters that didn’t come back, had no need to come back. I [almost] had to step in there a couple of times when I seen a couple of heavyweight fights and I said to myself, these guys need help. I need to go in there and jump in and show them how it’s really done.”
He continued, “I looked at past fighters and said to myself, ‘Well, what is the reason why all these guys come back?’ A lot of the reason is because they had no choice. They didn’t really make a life for them after fighting. They lived as fighters their whole life. Then there’s a situation if they lost, in their whole career, they have a manager or promoter saying that was a lucky fight for the other guy, you can win, if you come back and fight again, just train a little more. And they get you training again, and fighting again when you shouldn’t really be doing that and the boxers are doing it because they have no choice because they have no money and that’s all they know. I understood that in history.”
He remains involved in the sport, not just as a venerable statesman but through philanthropic ventures. “Boxing’s been a part of my life for a very long time. I’m in love with boxing in that sense,” he says.
He runs the Lennox Lewis League of Champions foundation, a busy charity. “We run a boxing camp for young kids. Boxing is not the only thing, life skills as well, which we teach. It’s great actually communicating with kids because kids are an open vessel. I say every kid’s not going to be a soccer player, every kid’s not going to be a boxer, there’s some that will excel at boxing, there’s some that we will be able to get to and save in one sense and help. Being around boxing and my foundation this is what we want to do for young kids out there, we want to show that with dedication and hard work you can be anything you want to be,” Lewis said.
“We’re saying we can help you achieve your goals no matter what it is and all you need to do is sacrifice, dedicate, work hard, look at life and deal with people with respect and learn a lot of different life skills.”