Exclusive Interview by Geoffrey Ciani – With his vast wealth of knowledge, experience, and an amazing track record of success, Emanuel Steward is undoubtedly one of the greatest trainers the sport of boxing has ever seen. Steward has trained and/or managed 41 World Champions, including the reigning heavyweight king Wladimir Klitschko. Steward’s success with training heavyweight fighters, in particular for world championship fights, is simply impeccable. I had the opportunity to speak with Steward regarding his first hand experiences training one of the most celebrated and successful boxers he ever worked with—former undisputed world heavyweight champion, Lennox Lewis (41-2-1, 32 KOs). Steward and Lewis teamed up together 18 times during Lewis’ professional career during a stretch where he went 16-1-1 with 11 wins coming by way of knockout. Steward shared his unique perspective and personal insight into one of the greatest heavyweight champions to ever lace up the gloves, as he discussed Lewis’ career at great length. This is Part Three of an ongoing series with Emanuel that will explore past champions, historical fights, mythical match-ups, great rivalries, memorable fighters, and Steward’s own personal experiences as a world class trainer. Here is what the Hall of Fame trainer had to say:
Lennox Lewis as an Amateur and 1988 Olympic Gold Medalist:
I saw Lennox Lewis box on an amateur boxing show we had here in Michigan one time, maybe about ’82 or something. He was a skinny gangly kid. He was not that super well coordinated, but there was something about him that you could see then was different. He knew how to win fights! He may have been a little sloppy, but he did whatever he had to do to win. He was raised right here in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, which is only about three hours away from Detroit. So he would sometimes come to Michigan trying to get amateur fights back and forth when he was in the amateur program over there.
He didn’t start boxing until he was 12 years old when he came from England to join his mother, who had came ahead of him, Violet. She was living in Kitchener. So she had saved up money, but she had to leave him, when I think he was about like 10 or 11, in the orphanage when she had to come over and try to get a job. So she finally saved enough money and brought him here, and when he got here he was about 12 years. She told me when he got off the plane she could not believe how tall he had grown in the time since she had left him. From that point on she said regardless of what happened in her life, she was never going to separate from Lennox again—and that’s why you see the love that he always had for his mother, because it was very, very touching what she had to go through just to get him here after she had to leave him at a certain time. That’s also why Lennox has always been so good about going back and working with the foundations and different types of boys’ homes back in England.
But anyway, from that, in Kitchener he started getting into boxing, and through that experience he ended up representing Canada in the 1984 Olympics. He lost to a fighter who I was training at the time for the Olympics, and that fighter was Tyrell Biggs. Rather than turn professional, he went back home and decided he wanted to wait and try again for the ’88 Olympics. After the ’88 Olympics arrived, he battled his way back until he got to the Finals this time. He was still representing Canada, and what I was so impressed with that has stayed on my mind—really whenever I think of Lennox—I think of this fight a lot more than I do any other fight in his career that I saw or have been a part of. It was when he realized that he waited four years and he was again losing to an American, this time Riddick Bowe. After the first round he realized he was losing, and did something that was typical of Lennox Lewis: He came storming out in the second round and just crushed Bowe, and they had to stop the fight. He won his Gold Medal.
Lewis Turns Professional:
Immediately after that, the first stop that he made was coming here to Detroit. I have the photograph still. He came to me to sign him to be his professional manager, and he came with a guy named John Hornewer, his attorney. I met him, showed him around my office, and we had dinner and discussed signing him to a contract. I left and went out of town for a weekend. I had to go somewhere, so I put him in a nice hotel and when I came back, my assistant, who was supposed to be spending some time with him and just left him alone. So he ended up catching a ride and going back to Canada, and that’s how he ended up eventually getting hooked up with Frank Maloney and some other investment guys.
They decided that it would be great for him, since he had been born in England, even though he had never boxed in England and didn’t have that strong of a tie, that they would use his birthplace of England. That was because there was more money with the British Pound than with the Canadian Dollar. So that’s why they decided to export his career and have him start fighting back in England. That’s also why he never did get the full blessing or grace of the British fans, because he didn’t represent them in the Olympics and things, like they did with Frank Bruno and those types of guys. It took time for him to get the British people to really get behind him, but eventually it happened when he ended up knocking out Bruno, and knocking out Mason, and all of those guys over there. Lennox always would do what he had to do to win.
Lewis Beating Razor Ruddock in the Heavyweight Tournament:
When Lennox Lewis fought Razor Ruddock I was surprised by the quick knockout. But you know once again it reminded me, I thought about it after, this is often what happens when you have a solid amateur background, which Lennox had and Ruddock didn’t have. But at that time I was surprised at the quick knockout. I thought it was going to be a very tough fight. I don’t remember, but I may have even picked Ruddock to win the fight between Lennox and him, because Lennox had had a few rough fights with Gary Mason and a few guys over there, and he had never fought on the level that Ruddock had fought with Tyson and when he knocked out Michael Dokes and stuff. So I thought that Ruddock had a good chance of winning the fight, and I was somewhat surprised when Lennox knocked him out early.
It 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. I think the Razor Ruddock fight was like a really big standout in his career in his mind because, even when I trained him he was always wanting to get back to that weight that he had when he fought Razor Ruddock, and I told him that you can’t because you’ve grown a lot.
At the time when Holyfield and Bowe fought, if they had fought I don’t know myself. I think with all of the skill that Bowe had he still would have had a rough time with Lennox, because Lennox could change up from being a big guy that was a good boxer, and he could be a plain physical animal when he had to and that’s what he would do often because he was a very strong guy. You know some guys may weigh the same, like Bowe weighed the same as Lennox and a lot of other guys, but they didn’t have the density in their bones and their strength, and even the meanness that Lennox had. Lennox was a very mean person inside.
Training Oliver McCall to Beat Lewis:
When he signed to fight Oliver McCall I got a call, and I had always been a big follower of Lennox and a fan of his after I saw what he did to Riddick Bowe in the Olympics. So I followed his career very closely as a professional fighter, and I get a call one day from Don King.
He said, “I got this fighter named Oliver McCall in a position to fight Lennox Lewis for the heavyweight championship of the world. Would you train him?”
I said, “You know Don, I’m a big, big fan of Lennox Lewis.”
He said, “Well will you train him?”
At that time I had just bought a new restaurant in Detroit and I was going to be in Detroit for the next few months building up my restaurant.
So I said, “Yeah! You can have him come in”.
So Oliver McCall comes to Detroit I think it must have been June of ’94. I was taking him to the gym and I had him boxing with a guy named Danell Nicholson, who was very sharp and Danell had been to the ’92 Olympics.
But anyway the first thing that I told Oliver was I said, “I want to let you know that the first thing I do when training any fighter is we start off respecting the opponent and then we lay out strategy”. So I said, “Lennox Lewis is bigger than you. Lennox Lewis is a bigger puncher. Lennox Lewis is also stronger than you and has more boxing skills”.
So one of the guys who was with him, who was supposed to be helping me train him, one of them was Greg Page and I forgot the other guy’s name. They called Don King and said, “Don, I don’t know why you brought in this Emanuel Steward. All Emanuel Steward is doing is scaring the fighter and taking his confidence away”.
That’s not the case! I always believe in recognizing and acknowledging what the opponent’s strength is, and then you lay out the strategy. But you start out with the word ‘respect’.
As a result I said, “I will find a way for you to beat Lennox, but it’s going to be difficult because Lennox is better than you in every area”.
So I got the best sparring for him, and Danell was like a Muhammad Ali at that time, very much on his toes. In fact, in the training camp we had here in Kronk, Danell always had the upper hand over Oliver because he was just so fast. After a few weeks Danell went to New England and fought with a guy named John Ruiz, and Danell beat Ruiz. Maybe a few weeks after that, I had to take Oliver to England to fight Lennox Lewis.
When we had the press conference in New York, the trainer for Lennox Lewis was a guy named Pepe Correa. At the press conference Pepe gets up and degraded me, and said that everyone respected me as being maybe the greatest trainer ever, and that I really wasn’t this and that, and he was the greatest trainer of all time, and everything, and look at what he did to Lennox Lewis, and this and that, and he really disrespected the fighter, too. I just sat there. I didn’t say anything.
But my daughter who was in the audience said after, “Daddy, when I saw you loosen up your tie I just smiled, because I knew you were really getting pissed”.
I made up my mind then that regardless of whatever happened for the rest of my life, I was going to beat Lennox Lewis for sure now, because of this personal thing that arose with this other trainer making these comments about me.
So anyway, Lennox was boxing with a guy named Garing Lane, which was a slow guy about 5’9” or 5’10”. And Danell Nicholson was boxing at such a fast pace with Oliver McCall that Oliver’s speed picked up and got better, and better, and better. When we get to the fight after the first round, we almost caught Lennox because I knew that the whole camp of Lennox Lewis was based on one thing—Pepe was telling him, “Just throw the big right hand! The big right hand big fellow and we’ll go home!” And everything was always about Lennox Lewis’ right hand. So I trained Oliver to try to catch Lennox doing the one thing that I knew he was going to do, and that’s throw right hands, and it was big overconfident type of right hands.
So we almost caught him in the first round, and in the second round Oliver did catch him. They both were throwing punches at the same time, but Oliver, because of having a much faster sparring partner, he was faster and he caught Lennox, and Lennox actually went down while he was throwing a right hand. Our whole attack was based on beating him to the punch with a right hand.
I told Lennox afterwards, I said, “Lennox, we beat you to tonight but you’re still the best fighter”.
Becoming Head Trainer for Lennox:
Shortly after that I got a call a few months later and he had his promoter Panos Eliades call me, and he said, “Emanuel, would you consider possibly getting involved with Lennox Lewis”.
I thought it was really strange for him to call and ask me something like that, but at the same time I had had problems with the Don King camp, mainly because they were all so jealous of the fact that Oliver had gotten so close to me, and I had to do that in order to get Oliver to win this fight because Oliver was known to be a reckless street type guy. But with me he trained religiously and didn’t have any problems. So as a result they were so jealous, and Don had told us after the fight he didn’t want Oliver coming back to Detroit, and socializing with me, and this and that.
So when they called me I told them I’d meet with them and talk about this. So I met Lennox up in Ontario, where he was still living, and we trained at a little private gym on a Saturday. I liked the way we worked together, so I called up Panos and said I would definitely do it. So I started to work with Lennox from that point on, and his first fight I think was with Lionel Butler. He was a little cautious-like still and a little gun-shy, but eventually we got back on track.
Don King called me and told me, “You must have lost your mind! You’re going to give up the heavyweight champion of the world and also Julio Cesar Chavez?” who I was training at that time. He said, “You’re going to give up both of these guys? And when Mike gets out of the joint you can work with him, and he’s going to make like $20 million as soon as you gets out! You’ll have him, too”.
I said, “Nope! I’d rather go with Lennox”.
I always knew what Lennox could do, and it was like a challenge to me to see if I could develop what I always thought was there. As a result I spent a little time, and actually think my first fight was about $20,000, or I don’t know what it was. But eventually Lennox came back, and as you know he went on to become one of the top reigning and longest reigning heavyweight champions we’ve had.
Working to Improve Lewis’ Craft as a Boxer:
When I first took over training Lennox Lewis the areas that I focused on, which is what I do with all fighters, is the footwork. He didn’t use his jab that much either for being a tall guy. His jab was more of just a probe that he would use just to feel someone out just to throw a big right hand. I worked on him becoming a very effective boxer where he developed a good solid jab. Also I taught him how to tie up guys a lot of time when they got too close. He developed a pretty good array of uppercuts, body punches, left hooks, and he developed into an all the way around balanced good fighter. But I basically worked with him on his jab and his balance, and later on he became probably one of the best jabbers in the history of the heavyweight division, and his balance improved a lot because he used to have a habit of crossing his legs. I also tried to improve him on keeping his right hand in a better position, because oftentimes he would keep his right hand either on the right side of his face or sometimes he would actually even cross it over to the right side of his jaw. I tried to get him to focus more on trying to keep the right hand right in the direct center of his chin, which made it easier for him to explode a lot faster. But it was just basic fundamental things, not any fancy tricks or anything. It was just basic fundamentals, good balance, and a good solid jab, and that was about it.
The Mindset Going into the McCall Rematch:
Going into the second fight with Oliver McCall, it was really kind of strange. We didn’t have any really pent up anxiety, or extra uncomfortable feelings, or anything. You know, I’m so used to being in these situations all of my life. Even in the amateurs with my kids all boxing each other, all fighting each other, and never taking anything personal—I’ve always been like that. But Lennox I think was still a little uncomfortable during the fight, because at times when he should have stepped to Oliver, I think he was still reluctant that he may run into something, and I could see that in him. That’s why at a certain point I just backed off trying to make him be overly aggressive. And then he was kind of confused, because I mean how many times do you have a grown man start crying in front of you and just backing away? So Lennox did not know what to do, and I could understand that. I was totally confused, as I think the rest of the world was.
Then in between the confusion and also not knowing if he was trying to be suckered into something like he got caught in the first fight, Lennox was a little just uncomfortable with the whole situation. But for me, I had no real problems at all because I knew that Oliver was no longer the Oliver that I had when I trained him. I knew he was just an ordinary fighter, to be honest with you, at that time. Emotionally the way I had Oliver so charged in that fight and the personal time, which was one of the best that I ever did with a boxer, and the tactics—I know nobody else could or would train him that way, so I just had no anxiety at all myself. But Lennox I think was a little uncomfortable, and as the fight progressed, the strange things that happened just added to the drama.
What Made Working with Lewis Special:
What was interesting about Lennox and was special, he was very, very detailed about everything. When I first got involved with him he had all of these baggy black shirts, and he had some thumbless boxing gloves because Pepe, who had trained Ray Leonard, that’s what Ray trained in I guess basically because Ray had that detached retina thing. I made him get rid of them type of gloves, and I told him I didn’t believe in all that black baggy stuff. I like bright colors! I strongly believe that there is energy in bright colors—red, which is the energy color of the universe, gold, white, and colors like that. So eventually Lennox adjusted to my desires of training habits and things, and eventually we got to work very well.
I will say this: He was one of the best training guys that I ever worked with, with his dedication. He liked to play chess. He studied everything. He asked lots of questions about everything continually, and when you were working with Lennox, whatever you would ask Lennox to do, Lennox would do that and that’s what made him to me my favorite heavyweight that I ever trained, even though I worked with Holyfield and other fighters.
When Lennox was fighting like Ray Mercer, he was coming back I think about the eighth round, I told him, “Lennox, we’re going to have to step it up this next round because I think the fight is dead even”.
Lennox looked at me, and I remember his mouth was bleeding. He was like, “What do you mean?” because he thought he was winning the fight.
But I was watching and Mercer would throw an uppercut or something like that, and land a punch, and the whole crowd was going “Oooh” and they were hollering, “USA! USA! USA!” Then he would push Lennox like into the ropes or whatever, and I realized that there was a good chance we were going to lose the fight.
Lennox said, “OK!”
He goes out and he wins the next two rounds real big, and we find out that was the difference in him winning the majority decision.
The same thing happened in the fight with Holyfield, the first fight. At the end of the eleventh round when everybody was waving their flags and celebrating, I told Lennox, “Lennox, you’re losing the fight”.
He looked at me like, “Yo man! What are you talking about?”
And everyone in the corner was looking at me like I was crazy. I said, “We got to win this round big! Land flashy punches, move away, look real good! In your mind, win every minute by scoring it yourself”.
He does that, and he comes back to me and looks at me like, “What did you have me do all of that for?”
We found out he won the twelfth round on all of the scorecards, and still they called it a draw. But he did what I asked him to do.
In the fight with Vitali Klitschko, at the end of the fourth round I told Lennox, “Lennox, you’re losing the heavyweight championship of the world. You’re used to being the tall fighter and pulling back and being out of range, but this guy’s taller than you”. And Vitali was fighting like a man obsessed that night. So Lennox looked at me and I said to him, “We got to go to the streets. You got to go out and change your style, and when you jab don’t just jab—push your jab all the way through where you can push him off balance”, because I saw that Vitali crosses his legs a lot when he punches, and he would be out of balance. I said, “When you get inside throw punches. If you miss him with a hook, bang him with your shoulders”. When he got inside there was a little trick I showed him how to slowly get your right hand down, real slow and quietly, and then rip an uppercut!
With everything I told him to do, Lennox looks at me, goes out there, and wins the fifth round big time. And then he wins the sixth round big time, and when he came back at the end of the sixth round he looked at me and he said, “I got him now!”
My instructions were going to be as soon as the bell rung for the seventh round, to just run out and throw an overhand right, and just try to pretty much just crush Vitali, because I knew there was no way Vitali could have went six more rounds with his face all torn apart like that. So they ended up stopping the fight, and he kept his championship. But the thing about it was he did whatever you asked him to do to win a fight. He could make the adjustments.
The fights that he had with Mercer, and all of those guys, and the rematch with Holyfield, he just to me was the most exciting heavyweight that I ever worked with, because he could box, he could punch, and he was totally, totally focused and intense.
Losing and Regaining the Title against Hasim Rahman:
After the fight with Rahman when he gets knocked out, because everyone had pretty much taken Rahman kind of lightly, and he did the movie Ocean’s Eleven, and he stayed in Vegas, even though we were fighting in South Africa, for like the last ten days or something because he was doing the movie, and nobody had that much respect for Rahman. So we get there without enough time to properly focus and adjust to the altitude. Lennox got caught with one punch. It wasn’t like he was losing. It was only one punch and he got knocked out. I was so crushed that when I went on the plane I think I still had my gym stuff on. It was a long ride, and then it took me almost a day and a half to get home because I was so emotionally upset.
The thing that I respected so much about Lennox is about a month after that he calls me up, and says, “Emanuel, could you meet me for a day or two just to get together and talk?”
With all of the other fighters as soon as somebody loses, they always start pointing fingers at everyone else. Lennox was not that way. We met in Jamaica, and I had never been to Jamaica. He had me come down and we just sat and talked for two days.
He said, “You know what? I realize how I lost the fight. I lost my focus. I lost my intensity, much like I lost it when I lost to Oliver McCall. So we got to go back up in the mountains”, which in this case he meant the Poconos, “and just start over, and refocus, and come back and win my championship back”.
It’s unusual today! With today’s fighters everybody finds excuses. That was his attitude, though. We came back, and the great knockout that he had over Rahman, he was the one that saw the opening. He did it himself. I didn’t have to show him anything. He saw that every time Rahman would make a defensive motion, he would just merely push his arms out, and he kept pushing his arms out. So Lennox, being very smart, he timed him and threw a kind of awkward right hand right over the extended arms and knocked Rahman out.
If a Professional Fight between Lewis and Riddick Bowe had Materialized:
I was with Eddie Futch one day and he, and his wife, and I were together in Las Vegas just sitting at a little coffee shop. I asked him about the Riddick Bowe fight when he threw away the belt rather than fight Lennox. He said, “Emanuel that was my doing. It was my decision because what happened in the ’88 Olympics, I always felt if they fought professionally it would have been the same thing. Even though Bowe was good, Lennox was always such a physically strong and mentally strong big kid, that eventually he would have still overpowered Bowe again because he was just that type of a rough guy”.
If he had ever fought Riddick Bowe as a professional, even before Bowe had liked slipped and lost his talent and his skills, Lennox would have hurt Riddick Bowe I think very seriously, because he a real hatred for Riddick Bowe. So I’m glad that’s a fight that I never saw.
Lewis vs. Mike Tyson:
What people don’t realize about Lennox also, Lennox might appear to be this gentlemanly guy and this mother’s boy, but he was one of the toughest guys that I have ever dealt with. When we had the fight with Mike and they had the first skirmish or whatever you want to call it, when they had the press conference in New York—what people didn’t realize is, when they were giving all the praises to Mike and they started giving their praises to Lennox, Mike snapped! He charged across the stage at Lennox! But as soon as he got in range, Lennox was the one that cracked Mike! He hit Mike! He didn’t back away, and run, and all that stuff. Lennox was never afraid of Mike Tyson. In fact on another occasion when we were out, personally I won’t go into that, but Lennox intimidated Mike.
Lennox even as a teenager back in Kitchener, Courtney Shand and the guys tell me whenever they had some kind of a street fight, they’d always go home and get Lennox to come, and Lennox came in and whooped them all. Lennox was always a rough guy.
When we were in the ring for the Mike Tyson fight and everybody had these yellow and black whatever things that were supposed to be separating us, because Mike was an animal and Mike was going to do this and that. Lennox was right there all the time just waiting, and we were actually worried about Lennox wanting to run across and jump on Mike!
So in the first round of the fight Lennox’s orders were to go out, stand toe-to-toe with him, and let him realize that you’re a big man—and that’s what he did. We didn’t care about winning or losing the first round. But in the first round when he came out and battled with Mike, that set the tone of the fight. From that point on we just settled down and beat him with a systematic jab, and he really wanted to torture Mike in the worst way. He could have knocked him out earlier, but he wanted to do just what he did—bust him up, beat him up, and when he finally knocked him out he was very happy seeing Mike on the floor with blood coming out of his nostrils, and his eyes bleeding, and he was totally just a beaten man. Lennox had a sadistic side in him that very few people realized.
Lennox the Party Animal:
Today I keep in contact with him and he’s one of the few fighters who retired with dignity. He was also very much concerned about his image, and no one saw him drinking and hanging out. But of all of the fighters that I have trained in my life, or managed, or worked with in any capacity—the biggest party animal of all of them was Lennox Lewis. Nobody could party like Lennox!
I was in Florida one time. I got a call at about 12:30 at night. I had just come from a fight, a little boxing match I had somewhere. I checked into the hotel and I don’t know how, but as soon as I get in my room I get a call, and he says, “Emanuel!”
I said, “Yeah?”
He says, “Do you know who this is?”
I said, “No”.
He said, “This is Lennox—the heavyweight champion of the world” and he sounded funny.
I said, “Man! What are you doing? How did you know I was at this hotel?”
He said, “One of the guys downstairs recognized you and called me. I’ll be back to pick you up in ten minutes”.
He picked me up in ten minutes. I didn’t get back until about 9:00 the next morning. He would do that often. Sometimes I would be in London or other places, he’d pick you up. Lennox knew how to go from one place to another place, and he knew where all of the party places were all night long. At 3:00 we got to this place, we go to that place. He had a bottle of Cristal in his hands all night long, girls all over him. He was just the biggest party animal I ever, ever saw. No one realized that because he had that image that was just the opposite, but he was always concerned about never getting into any trouble or doing anything that would embarrass him or his sport. But if you want to have a good time, go out with Lennox Lewis and be prepared to come back, usually when the sun is up.
Man! Lennox would have a bottle of Cristal, and he would know it all. We would go somewhere, and then at 1:30 we would go to another party. We would get to the party, and they would have the old Motown stuff on the first floor, and Lennox would say, “This is the reggae floor, this is upstairs where they got the hip-hop stuff and those things, this is where they got the acid rock”.
I said, “How do you know all of these things?”
And they would have the best food set out, and we’d be leaving after 3 o’clock, and he would say, “We got to head to another place”.
I mean he knew how to do it. He knew all of the parties all night long, a limousine out there. He was a party animal!
How Lewis would have Fared against Prime Versions of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield:
I think he would have beaten both. I was fortunate enough to know Mike since he was probably about 13 or 14 when I saw him in the Junior Olympics. But what you have to remember about Mike Tyson, to me he’s one of the fighters I respect so much for what he did for being a small man, because he was still a small heavyweight. The biggest thing he had was his speed and intensity over a lot of big guys, when they were not prepared or well enough coordinated to deal with that. But the big guys who were not afraid of Mike and had any boxing skills, he had a problem with because Mike was a little guy. What he accomplished was phenomenal, but if you look at his history—‘Quick’ Tillis, Mitch Green, a fighter that I was managing at the time Tony Tucker, ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith. All of those big guys who were not afraid of Mike, and even Tony Tucker was giving him a hell of a fight until Tony’s daddy, who was in the corner, came up and told him to slow down because Mike was dangerous.
But Mike had problems with big guys! He was still a small guy that was really almost like a cruiserweight, and those big guys who were not afraid of him, all of them he struggled with. So when you look back at history I cannot think of why Lennox—who had more skills than and was just as big as a Mitch Green, ‘Bonecrusher’, Tony Tucker, and ‘Quick Tillis’—wouldn’t have beaten him! Lennox was still a big man, and you have to remember Mike was a little guy. I don’t think Mike would have ever beaten Lennox, because Lennox could box and Lennox could be rough guy, too, when he had to be. I don’t think he would have been able to get to him like some of those big uncoordinated guys who were either afraid or were not well coordinated. So it’s just the case where Mike was a phenomenal fighter, but with the big guys size still matters. You’re going to fight a guy who’s 240-250, with skills, solid amateur background, went through two Olympics—no, I don’t think he could have done anything.
Evander by the same token was just physically too small and Evander always had problems with jabs. I mean I trained him, and I had him sparring with guys who had good jabs, which is something he did have problems with. I mean even with Bowe! Bowe’s jab bothered him. Evander had problems with jabs, and I think Lennox being physically a big guy, and Evander at his peak was only about 215-210. Lennox had a good solid jab, a good amateur background, and he was just too big. I think he would have beaten both of those guys. It’s just unfortunate he didn’t get that chance to fight them at that time. I mean even when I was training Holyfield for the rematch, the second fight which he won with Bowe. Still, a lot of the things we were able to do with Bowe was because Bowe came into that second match not respecting Evander enough, with Evander moving and changing directions.
With a prime Lennox Lewis against a prime Holyfield and a prime Mike Tyson, I think Lennox would have still beaten both of them, because he was just too big for them and he had enough all around skills and a solid amateur background to match them also.
Lewis’ Most Disappointing Performance (Excluding the First Rahman Fight):
I would probably say, and I don’t know if I could call it disappointing, but I would say maybe the first fight when I first took over working with him, which I understood later on. He was still a little reluctant and still a little bit tentative I guess from being stopped by Oliver. With Lionel Butler, I was a little frustrated because I knew he could have gotten Butler out of there earlier. But then I always have to sit back and think about what was going on in his mind. You know so I never did argue with him, but it was a personal frustration I had. I never did bring it up to him because I understood it. It wasn’t like it wasn’t something I understood, because he was coming off of being knocked out in his last fight. That’s something that you expect, and that’s why I was very happy with the rematch with Rahman. He came out and took control, and I guess he had grown a lot since then.
Most Impressive Performance by Lewis:
Well one of the best fights that he had that people don’t realize was the Golota fight. Going into the Golota fight I told him, “Lennox, this fight could be a good fight because this guy gets a little crazy sometimes when he gets tired, even when he’s winning sometimes—and he’s a bully! So my suggestion is, when you fight a bully, you bully a bully. In other words, don’t let him get into a rhythm. Try to get out and take control of him, and bully him, and rough him up!”
Lennox looked at me with that little funny look, and he didn’t say anything. That’s what he did. He just came out and crushed him. It was not one of the big super fights, but the way he jumped on Golota, I don’t think anybody ever did that to him still. I mean I looked later on when there was Mike when he fought Golota, and a lot of them struggled, but he just came in and crushed him.
I would say other than that, the fights where he realized he was losing and he made an adjustment. You know the fights with Vitali, which clearly he was losing. And I will be with Vitali and Wladimir and we will be together, and some people will ask, “Mr. Steward, who would have won if that fight had of continued with Vitali and Lennox?”
I said, “Lennox was going to win that fight”.
“Well, you know, Vitali was ahead”.
I said, “Ahead is one thing, but he had six rounds to go! In a heavyweight fight, and one fighter’s whole face is torn apart?”
I mean it’s ridiculous. There is no way he was going to win that. Lennox had been in those situations before and then came back.
But nevertheless Lennox was a guy that did what he had to do! I loved that about him. He would make his adjustments, and if you would say “do this” then he would do it. The fight with Tua, we knew that Tua was a little short dangerous guy, and he was going to be dangerous all the way, because he maintained his punching power from the first round to the last. Not like Mike after a certain amount of rounds, Mike’s intensity and punching power were kind of drained. Tua was a little slow guy, but he had punching power with them little short arms. We had a strategy to just go about a good technical for a good technical effort, and not to go for a knockout and take any risks. That’s why we fought that fight that way. But any time if I had changed the plan to get him out of there, Lennox would have gotten him out of there. That’s what made him special to me more so than all of the other heavyweights I’ve saw and worked with in history.
What Lennox Lewis & Wladimir Klitschko Learned about Each Other on the Set forOcean’s Eleven:
Yeah. You know it’s funny you mention that. Some people today, especially younger boxers and people, they see Ocean’s Eleven and they say, “Mr. Steward! We saw you in the movie Ocean’s Eleven, and you were not with Wladimir! You were against Wladimir!” (laughs)
So it’s confusing to the kids when they see the movie, because some of them all of their lives have seen me in the corner with Wladimir Klitschko. So when we were doing the movie, there was a lot of anxiety among us, because Lennox used to always ask me, much like Wladimir does today, “Emanuel, who is coming up that I have to kind of look out for? Who’s going to be the next big challenge for me?”
And I told Lennox, “Wladimir Klitschko—the young kid who won the Olympics in Atlanta. That’s the kid that I think is the best talent out there”. I always said that about him.
So then Wladimir gets knocked out by Corrie Sanders. It was only a couple of weeks right after that, that we were in a training camp in the Poconos. So I’m wrapping Lennox’s hands and he says, “Manny? You see the young Klitschko boy who you’re so high on get knocked out a couple of weeks ago?”
I said, “Yep!”
He said, “Are you still that high on him?”
I said, “Yep! He’s the best heavyweight prospect out there, Lennox. He will dominate the heavyweight division after you”.
I always believed in Wladimir, but based on the fact that I always believed in Wladimir, when we actually shot those scenes there, and he and Wladimir came in the ring, that was a little strange. There was some uneasiness and everybody was kind of sizing each other up, because we thought at that time, then at least because Wladimir was undefeated, that was going to be our biggest future opponent.
Now what Wladimir has told me afterwards when we trained, he said, “When we did the scene, when he was moving around Lennox was like jabbing and moving around, and he would blink his eyes when he would jab”. He said, “I remember that, and that stood out”.
I said, “Believe it or not, Lennox did that a lot when he would box”. And Wladimir caught on to that right away.
He said, “When he jabbed he would like blink his eye a lot”.
I said, “Yep”.
Lennox didn’t really pick up anything too much on Wladimir, but Wladimir picked up on that about Lennox. If they had ever fought, and Wladimir had never lost, and Lennox had fought him—it would have been a very, very intriguing fight I would say, because the best talent between the two, all the way around skill and coordination now that he’s learned got his footwork down, is still Wladimir. But still the best of the two, I would have to say was still at this stage unless Wladimir gets a chance to prove it, would have to have been Lennox here because Lennox did what he had to do. When he had to make adjustments he did them right there.
You can’t tell what would happen because Wladimir has such unbelievable one-punch punching power, unlike anybody I have ever trained. With most fighters you have to get someone hurt a little bit, stagger them, knock them down, and then they finish them. Wladimir could fight, and I saw him do that so much in the gym, even with 20 ounce gloves. Just out of nowhere where nobody has even been hurt, and just the lights go out and guys go to sleep. Just like Eddy Chambers with one grazing punch, Ray Austin, I mean he’s the most devastating one-punch fighter I’ve ever worked with, and you don’t even see his punches. So at no time are you safe with Wladimir. He may be boring sometimes, but anytime with ten, fifteen, five seconds left sometimes—he can knock someone out.
But sometimes he gets so comfortable controlling a fight with just his jab, and it ends up almost like a game. He just settles down and gets in a comfort zone, and it’s hard to get him out of that. Whereas Lennox is a little bit more explosive, he’s maybe not as super talented as Wladimir is, but he would do a variety of things. Sometimes that just meant going out and being really physical, and just losing all of your boxing talent and just go out there and just brawl and tear a guy up, and Lennox knew how to do it. So it would have been, to me having worked with both of them, a very interesting fight. I couldn’t even say exactly who would win. I can tell you the strong points of both fighters and that would be it.
We’d have to sit down and see what would happen, though. Lennox could come out, and being almost as big as Wladimir, could make it a very physical fight. Then Wladimir has a little bit better footwork with his in and out rhythm, and he has that unbelievable short and accurate one-punch punching power that could have gotten Lennox or anybody in trouble, at any point in the fight. It’s one of those fights that I as a fan would love to see myself.
It’s funny. I started training Wladimir after Lennox beat Vitali, I got a call and with Wladimir, I called him often then and still do today, I still call him “Lennox” a lot, and it’s an accident because of the verbal sound of Lennox and Wladimir, but also the fact they both remind me of each other, and the fact that both of them ask so many questions and they are so exactly detailed. They both like to play chess, which I do not like. Even with Lennox we look at him now as the last great exciting heavyweight, but back then people forget that Lennox was called being “too cautious” and “too boring” and all of that, much like Wladimir today. But they remind me so much of each other in terms of the details and their physical size.
The Possibility of Re-Unifying the Titles with Chris Byrd and John Ruiz after Lewis was Stripped of the IBF & WBA:
Well it was funny. Lennox was a strange guy. He didn’t put all that super value on the belts. I mean it’s a major thing with Wladimir. Wladimir loves them, and he wants to dominate and have all of those belts. But to Lennox it didn’t mean that much to give up a belt. I think one time he had to fight Chris Byrd or something. It didn’t matter to him.
And Ruiz, I asked him once about fighting him and he said, “I sparred with him once”. He said, “The way he fights I don’t even want to spar with him” because I was going to bring him in to spar with him at one point.
He said, “Oh! He would throw a punch, and grab, and clinch, and it would be an ugly fight!”
So he never wanted to even have him come in and spar with him, and the fight had no interest to him, and a fight with Chris Byrd had no interest for him as well.
But the titles and the politics of boxing didn’t bother him. I know when he was getting the ‘Fighter of the Year’ one night, we were in New York. I think it was the night before he fought Michael Grant. He was supposed to go to get the award. It must have been on a Friday night.
He was pissed, because he said, “How can I get ‘Fighter of the Year’?”
They gave Panos Eliades, who really nobody even knows ‘Promoter of the Year’ I think, and I’d have to check the record, but I think they gave Frank Maloney the ‘Manager’ award, and Lennox said, “But they don’t give you ‘Trainer of the Year’, and you’re the one that really made me!”
He was really pissed.
But I told him still, “You should go Lennox. You’re being honored and I’m going with you”.
He said, “No! I’m not going. Let’s just move the furniture around in the room up here. I want to get my regular workout in” and he moved the furniture around in the room up there with me in the suite, and we went about five rounds moving around and working on the pads.
Getting different awards and all that stuff didn’t mean anything to him.
A Mythical Dream Bout Between Lewis and Prime Muhammad Ali:
I would think Ali, first of all, was a very special unique fighter, and his rhythm and ability to feint, make adjustments, take a punch, his stamina, everything! But also I think part of what Ali had was a psychological advantage he always had, which no one speaks about that. He intimidated a lot of his opponents. Most heavyweights have big bodies, but ‘inside’ as I call it, most of them are weak. And Ali was so strong, and then his whole image including with Sonny Liston. He did all of that bragging and then he had his entourage, which people don’t realize and they don’t like to talk about it, but it was very intimidating. A big part of it was Dundee and all of them threatening, and they would come in with about fifteen-twenty people, and that was most heavy especially when you had nice passive guys like Zora Folley, and all of those types of guys. It was just too much for those guys, and even for Sonny Liston! Actually that whole gang of his, so to say, broke down most guys.
But in Lennox’s case, I think it would be a very difficult fight for me to even say what would happen, because Ali had a lot of tremendous assets with the movement and everything. But we still have to remember that size is important, and Lennox at 6’5” was about another two and a half inches taller than Ali, and Lennox had a really good jab himself. Lennox was mentally never a weak person. That’s one thing is I don’t think Lennox would be easily intimidated the way those guys were. Lennox had his own built-in gangster and thug side inside of him.
I can’t really put one generation against another one, but in your mind you can look at it. I think it would have been a tough fight. I don’t think Ali would be able to do like he did with Ernie Terrell, who even though Ernie was taller, Ernie didn’t have that mental toughness. He was intimidated by, and I always say ‘Ali’s everything’. It was his whole being. It was not just Ali. It was that whole crowd that he brought intimidated most of those guys. I think Lennox would have been able to hold up to that, and it would have been to me a toss-up fight. I really can’t say.
I just don’t think Ali could have easily outbox him, because of the size of Lennox, and Lennox could move on his feet pretty good, too. But Ali was the type of guy who found a way to win. I don’t know! It would have been a very tough fight for Ali, I could tell you that, though! He wouldn’t have been able to just easily outbox Lennox, and he wouldn’t have been able to intimidate Lennox with his whole gang, so to say. It would have been tough fight!
Other Key Members of the Lewis Team:
Courtney Shand was his best buddy best buddy and childhood friend in Kitchener, who wound up staying with him his whole career as his personal conditioner. Also there was one assistant trainer who was with me, Harold Knight. He’s from New Jersey. Harold was the assistant when he was with John Davenport. So even though he had three top head trainers throughout his career, Harold was always there as the assistant. He was with him through three different trainers. When Lennox first turned pro he was with Davenport, who was also from New Jersey, and he was with him for maybe 15 or 20 fights. Then after that Pepe Correa comes in, because Davenport got into a big argument with a lot of the Brits and called them all kinds of names. So eventually because of personality problems, they got rid of him for Pepe Correa, and then after Pepe I came in. So I was his third professional trainer. But Courtney and Harold were always key members of his team.
How Lennox Lewis will be Viewed by Future Boxing Historians when Compared to the Best Heavyweights in History:
I think as time goes on Lennox Lewis’ legacy is going to grow. There is always the fact that he was not that super popular, was considered a ‘boring’ fighter to some degree, this and that. We all forget that now, but he was considered like they do now with Wladimir. I think history is going to be very good to him. I think with Wladimir, even though him and Vitali both unfortunately do not have any really big names that have that historical significance or a career defining fight, they’re going to be remembered pretty highly too because of the records and the longevity of controlling the championships and dominating them.
But I think that Lennox is going to be up there, very highly respected in history, because he was fortunate enough to have the fights, even though they may not have been in their primes, against Holyfield and Mike Tyson, which is very fortunate for him. You know all you can do is be the best of your era. You cannot fight and beat an era that was before you, and you cannot fight an era that’s going to be coming after you. I will say this: With Lennox, Vitali, and Wladimir, they all beat the best of their eras and they didn’t dodge anyone. They all fought the best that was around, but unfortunately no one has been around.
But the one fighter that I think history definitely doesn’t give the credit to, and it bothers me a lot, is still Larry Holmes. Larry was caught up in that same thing following the Muhammad Ali era and didn’t have anyone really to fight. I mean he had the fight with Gerry Cooney, but they simply built that up on race and all of that type of stuff. But he didn’t have a really good career defining fight. He beat a very faded Muhammad Ali, but Larry Holmes I think would have been a tough guy for anyone in any era, and George Foreman!
Both guys were big, rough tough guys inside, and George inside the ring was one of the smartest heavyweights. People just look at his style, but he knew how to study and analyze guys. He would throw a wide punch, and get you looking for wide punches, and then he’d throw a short punch. He knew how to pressure guys and control them. He was a very, very smart guy and a very strong guy mentally. He just crushed a lot of guys just through his mental toughness.
But I think those are two heavyweights that don’t get the credit a lot, when we talk a lot about Joe Louis, and Ali, and all of them. Larry Holmes and George Foreman both should be right up there, maybe around the top four or five. They should both be right up there.
But as time goes on I think Lennox Lewis’ legacy is going to improve.
PREVIOUS HISTORY ARTICLES WITH EMANUEL STEWARD:
This article was also published at East Side Boxing