WHEN journalist extraordinaire Ron Lewis passed away on Friday morning, at the age of just 54, the reaction from within the boxing industry was akin to what follows the death of a great fighter. One of the tragedies of sudden death is that the departed never fully understand the impact they made in life, and Lewis, while ego-free and far happier in the shadows than the limelight, would unquestionably have been proud to realise the high regard his memory will now forever command.
Lewis has gone too soon but was nonetheless a veteran of his trade and consequently one of the very best at it. Throughout his 30-plus years in boxing he never once sought approval, he merely did his job in a manner that should be a lesson to all journalists; the words he used to craft myriad pages were only ever designed to draw attention to the boxers and the sport, never himself.
A man of great (and rare) integrity, he steadfastly remained loyal to his beliefs that were born of an acute sense of right and wrong. Lewis was a strict vegetarian long before vegetarianism or veganism were as widely embraced as they are today. Why? Very simply because he liked animals and didn’t want to eat them. Anyone who spent time with Ron during a trip away can tell you a different story about his adventures looking for meat-free cuisine. Always a stickler for the truth, he wouldn’t think twice about telling someone if he believed they were not telling it; whether that person was a world heavyweight champion, a promoter, or an attendant serving him food.
“Ron was very fair. He would always quiz you, sometimes interrogate you,” Eddie Hearn told Boxing News. “But he would always hear your side of the story. He would always come in with a balanced mind as a writer, a very talented writer. He understood the business and would always let you have your say. He would sometimes be critical but always be fair.”
Lewis first started going to boxing events at the Royal Albert Hall as a nine-year-old when accompanied by his older brother, Tom. Their father would drop them at the door and be there waiting for them at the end of the night. That fascination grew as a teenager in the 1980s when he covered the sport for BN, a publication to which he would contribute for the rest of his life.
His career in journalism gathered pace in the following decade at the Hounslow Chronicle, from where he would go on to work weekend shifts as a subeditor at the Guardian and the Daily Mail. A move to the Times followed, and that’s where Ron Lewis would, eventually, make his name.
“He spent a great number of years casual subbing, and sometimes getting the odd bit of writing – his first being a cricket piece,” said his wife, Ellie. “We honestly thought he would never get a writer’s job. Even then, they didn’t make him staff; it was on a really restrictive retainer contract.”
Lewis’ ambition, coupled with outstanding writing skills, eventually saw him become the paper’s boxing and athletics correspondent, a role that allowed him to attend three Olympic Games and countless championship fights. Unlike some of his generation, Lewis – a long-time fan of Queens Park Rangers – was always keen to help other journalists whatever their age, whether that be with a contact, some information or a word in their ear if he felt they needed encouragement or warning. Through it all, Lewis became a fixture every bit as familiar, and important, as a corner post or finishing line.
If Ron wasn’t at a boxing event, be it a press conference, amateur bill or world championship fight, then it simply wasn’t worth attending. He made it his business to be ever-present, not always because he wanted to be, but because he knew that to be the reporter and writer he was, and the for the sport to gain the coverage it deserved, he simply had to be.
“He was always fighting for coverage in the Times,” said Hearn. “I was a little bit scared of him when I first met him; there was this perception of Ron that he was really serious and sometimes a bit of a moaner, but he wasn’t, it was a dry sense of humour he had… He would always ask leftfield questions and you would think, ‘How do you know that?’ He knew everything, really.”
Perhaps the greatest compliment to pay to Lewis’ professionalism is that he was nearly always the first national reporter to arrive at a fight card, so keen was he to see the undercard and its fighters, irrespective of the perceived quality of the bouts. It is of course Boxing News’ duty to be there at the afternoon or early evening’s opening bell but Lewis was never far behind, despite knowing that an eight-hour shift awaited and the newspaper he represented would only want words from the main event. As other national journalists started to trickle in during the chief-support, Lewis had already been in his seat for hours, digesting the performances of up-and-coming boxers he had invariably covered since their amateur days.
It was that passion for the amateur code which further highlights Lewis’ dedication to boxing. “We recently sat down with Moses Itauma,” remembered Wally Downes, the Sun’s boxing reporter. “Moses had been peppered with Mike Tyson comparisons and questions about the professional fighters he’d sparred. Then he came in to the side room with us and, in typical Ron fashion, he got him talking about his amateur career, his pedigree, he was converting kilograms to stone and going through all of his coaches at home and at Team GB. When the interview was finished, Moses got up and said, ‘Oh, was that it? I hope all interviews are like that, I can do those all the time.’ I remember we got the bus back to Stratford station and Ron said that moments like that were why he did it. Moments like that, when a young kid respected him that much, meant more to him than travelling the world and getting bylines.”
Another leading boxing reporter, Chris McKenna, added: “I’ve travelled the world with him and we bonded over a love of the amateur sport. He would blow me away with his knowledge, and not just of GB and Irish boxers, but boxers from all over the world. The biggest fight I ever covered with him was Floyd Mayweather versus Manny Pacquiao, and his joy was to get into the arena early because Vasiliy Lomachenko was on the card as well. He always told us, ‘When these great fighters are in action, you have to watch them.’ It was sound advice and advice he always followed himself… Boxing’s going to miss him, journalism’s going to miss him and I’m certainly going to miss him.”
Steve Bunce said, “What’s clear, with everyone talking about Ron Lewis, is how respected he was and how decent he was – and he was. It’s really hard in our business not to get sucked in, not to be swamped by the politics, swamped by the powerful characters; Ron did a really good job of holding off that kind of stuff and just being decent and level and straight, and people trusted him.”
News of his death from cardiac arrest was a horrible, sobering shock. It came the day after he sat alongside Anthony Joshua at Thursday’s press conference and barely hours before his last piece was published by Boxing Scene.
“I am shocked and saddened at the passing of Ron,” said Joshua. “He was such a well-respected and valued member of the boxing family. He covered my entire career and it was a pleasure to work with him. My thoughts are with his family at this immensely sad time. He will be sorely missed.”
“He was such a lovely fella,” said Barry McGuigan. “He could write about anything and was so knowledgeable. He was a gentleman.”
Ron Lewis was someone we all looked up to and admired unconditionally. We listened when he spoke and wondered what he was thinking when he remained quiet. Unforgivably, in what should serve as a lesson to everyone regarding how we communicate with others, we didn’t tell him how much we thought of him when he was alive. So ingrained was he in the boxing fabric that we presumed he’d always be there, with that smile of his, one that rarely left his face whether he was bemoaning your opinion, agreeing with it, or regaling one of his many anecdotes from a sport that should be forever grateful that he took it to his heart.
“Ron has forgotten more than I’ll ever know about boxing,” said Dave Anderson of the Mirror. “He was steeped in the subject, it was incredible, he knew everything. You’d google something [on boxing] and Ron was often the writer. You knew just from reading the piece that he had the knowledge of those he was writing about. He loved boxing so much.”
What he adored the most, however, was his family. His beloved wife Ellie and their two children, Stanley and Polly. On long car journeys conversation would either begin or quickly turn to the pride he felt for his kids; fathers who are at their happiest in the presence of their children truly are the greatest of men. If being a master of his trade is why the outside world will remember him, it’s the love he openly spoke about for his wife and children – particularly in a largely male-orientated world where nonsensical machismo and bravado is so prevalent – that should define him.
“The last time I had a lengthy conversation with him,” remembered Mike Costello, “we took the tube home together and he was gushing about his son’s cricket skills and he spoke about young Stanley virtually every time I met him in recent years. That passion for other sports, that broader knowledge, was evident in his writing down the years and if young Stanley does grow up to one day play cricket for England then we can boast that we knew his old man and tell everyone that he was a good ‘un.”
In October, following the cancellation of the Chris Eubank Jnr-Conor Benn contest, Lewis joined other journalists on a night out that sprawled into the early hours. “Ron got a cab home at two or three in the morning,” Downes recalled. “A few weeks later I asked him if he was, like the rest of us, in the dog house [with Ellie] for staying out so late. He said, ‘No, she was really happy that I’d been out with the boys and enjoyed myself.’ I never heard him moan about his wife. We’re all a curmudgeon bunch, but I never heard that from Ron.”
He would moan and grumble about boxing, like we all do. But only when it was worth moaning about and never once for the sake of it or to fit in with the crowd. In every way, Ron was his own man. He was stubborn, but proudly so, and always trusted his own instincts and opinions. And it’s those opinions that I’ll miss the most. In recent years, when he became a freelancer after the Times criminally let him go, Boxing News was lucky enough to showcase his work more frequently. If Ron was covering an event it was a comfort knowing we were in the safest of hands and, being an editor who has spent countless hours rewriting or correcting shoddy copy, it was always appreciated that his was clean as a whistle and a joy to read.
When covering an event at ringside, the first thing we do is look for our name on press row and take our seat. The second job is to scan the names of those alongside us, sometimes with dread about who we might have to endure during the long night ahead. I will forever cherish those nights that followed realising ‘Ron Lewis’ would be my companion. How we all now wish we could sit alongside him again.