By Paul Mason
Lennox Lewis – A Pugilistic History – Martyn Tulley – Pitch Publishing RRP £18.99
Lennox Lewis – A Pugilistic History focuses on the great British Heavyweight’s ascent to the pinnacle of the sport by chronologically covering all of his professional contests in career order. It is as it says on the tin. Rather than an autobiography, the book is a whistle stop tour of Lewis’ 44 paid bouts, offering insight into the build-up, the fight, and the aftermath of the results.
What I like about the book is the way Martyn Tulley manages to paint the picture of the Heavyweight division around Lewis, to give an idea of why mooted fights against the likes of a prime Riddick Bowe and a prime Mike Tyson never materialised (Tyson did but way past his best in a 2002 knockout defeat). Lewis was essentially a slow burner in the sense that he wasn’t truly appreciated until the near end of his career. After striking Gold for Canada in the Seoul 1988 Olympics, stopping the aforementioned Bowe in the final, Lewis was courted by many promoters, but eventually settled with British promoter, Frank Maloney, a relationship that would last throughout Lewis’ glittering career.
A British, Commonwealth and European Champion in just twenty fights, Lewis moved onto bigger things just two fights later. After stopping Donovan “Razor” Ruddock in just two rounds, the WBC made Lewis the number one contender for Riddick Bowe‘s heavyweight championship. Bowe held a press conference to dump his WBC title into a rubbish bin, and relinquished it to avoid a mandatory defence against Lewis. In December 1992, the WBC declared Lewis it’s champion, making him the first world heavyweight titleholder from Britain in the 20th century.
Three defences of the belt followed before the Lewis express was temporarily derailed in September 1994 at Wembley Arena. Oliver McCall caught Lewis cold in the second with a monster right hook that forced a stunning stoppage. This forced Lewis into a change of trainer. Pepe Correa was removed in favor of the man who plotted his downfall in McCall’s corner, the irrepressible Emanuel Steward. It was a partnership that would take Lewis to the very pinnacle of the sport. Lewis would go on to avenge the McCall defeat in a bizarre contest where McCall seemed to suffer a breakdown during the fight.
Tulley then goes on to describe the two Evander Holyfield fights perfectly. The first fight saw Lewis take a smaller cut of the purse, but enhancing his reputation in a hugely controversial draw in a fight that he mainly bossed. He made no mistake in a much more subdued rematch, to become the undisputed (WBC,WBA,IBF and Lineal) Heavyweight Champion.
Three defences later came disaster. The lightly regarded Hasim Rahman took advantage of Lewis’ lazy preparation, including being on set of the film Ocean’s Eleven, to knock Lewis out cold in South Africa, and relieve him of his belts. In what would be trademark Lewis though, he gained revenge in his very next fight, laying Rahman out cold himself in four rounds to regain what he so carelessly lost seven months earlier.
This redemption then set up a long overdue mega fight with Mike Tyson in Memphis in 2002. Tyson was, as Tulley describes, at least ten years past his prime, and this showed as Lewis easily dispatched the fallen Champion in eight one sided rounds.
Lewis would have one more fight left in him, originally slated to be the Canadian Kirk Johnson. However, due to a pectoral injury, Ukrainian giant, Vitali Klitschko stepped in at eleven days’ notice, and gave Lennox all he could handle. Lewis was two points behind on all three scorecards, but Klitschko was badly cut on several parts of his face, and the doctor called a halt to the action at the end of the sixth round. This scare was enough to persuade Lewis to retire, rather than fight on past his prime, as we are accustomed to seeing.
Lennox Lewis will go down in the high echelons of Heavyweight greats, and rightly so. Avenging every defeat and draw in his career to retire at the top. The book is a good, easy read and highlights the still underestimation of Lewis as one of the best of all time. Recommended.