By Geoffrey Ciani: The more time passes, the more I appreciate the tremendous career of former undisputed heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis. Ever since he announced his retirement there has been a void in the heavyweight division. As they say, the state of boxing is always dependent upon the state of the heavyweight division, and Lewis’s departure has left the division in a state of constant uncertainty. The result: the casual fan is less apt to follow the scene, and therefore, the entire sport of boxing suffers.
Since his farewell, two boxers have come close to filling the void left by Lewis, both of whom go by the name of “Klitschko.” Brothers Vitali and Wladimir are arguably the two best talents to have passed through the heavyweight landscape during the interim, and yet, neither has been able to fully establish himself as the true heir. Vitali seemed to be on his way to taking the mantle until a series of injuries forced him into early retirement, and currently, brother Wladimir appears to be the greatest amongst heavyweights, but he has still been unable to dominate in the same fashion celebrated by Lewis. The bottom line is that neither Klitschko has been able to put forth the type of consistent efforts which best defined Lewis’s championship legacy.
In fact, since Lewis’s departure, no man has laid claim on the so-called ‘linear’ title. In theory, upon calling it a career, the only way a new lineage can technically form is when the universally agreed upon number one and two fighter pit off against one another (or in some cases, the number one and number three). Ring magazine erroneously claimed Vitali had briefly emerged as the new lineal champ, but in order to buy into that, one is first forced to believe that Corrie Sanders was amongst the three best boxers in the world when Vitali defeated him, and I am hard-pressed to see how any reasonable observer could think so highly of the hard-punching South African southpaw. What this means is, not only have we lacked a true champion to fill the Lewis void, but that the best heavyweights on the planet have not even squared off in his absence.
So why has nobody been able to fill the void left by Lewis? The simple answer to that is that we have not seen anyone come along as good as him in the time since his retirement. Lewis truly was one of the greatest heavyweights to ever lace up the gloves, and throughout his entire long and illustrious career, he managed to put forth a consistent winning effort time and time again. In fact, Lewis is one of the few pugilists in boxing history who can say he has defeated every man he ever entered the ring against, and that speaks volumes towards his prowess as a prize fighter.
Lewis was one of those unique fighters who typically took a safety first approach, and yet he was an outstanding finisher who possessed tremendous knockout power. If Lewis hurt a foe early on there was a damn good chance he would finish him early, as was the case in his bouts against “Razor” Ruddock, Andrew Golota, and Michael Grant. If he could not catch an opponent with something big early, he had tremendous skills to fall back on, and many a time he found himself on the winning end of a lop-sided decision, as was the case against David Tua. And of course, there were also occasions where Lewis would wear his opponent down for a mid-round stoppage wherein his combination of power and skill would ultimately overwhelm foes, as evidenced in his bouts with Shannon Briggs and Tommy Morrison.
Lewis detractors often like to point out that he was twice stopped by a ‘single punch’, bringing questions about his chin to the forefront, but such criticisms are largely unfair and unwarranted. Not only did Lewis ultimately avenge his only two losses against Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman, but he did so by way of knockout. Furthermore, criticisms regarding Lewis’s chin are often based on the false presupposition that the only two times he had ever been clocked were in the aforementioned losses, however, this undermines Lewis’ proven ability to overcome adversity, as displayed in his bouts with Frank Bruno, Ray Mercer and Shannon Briggs, where he was staggered early by monster shots before ultimately coming back to win the contests.
Another thing that helped Lennox establish a legacy of greatness was his overt willingness to take on all perceived threats. At the end of his career, one could argue that he ‘ducked’ fighters like John Ruiz and Chris Byrd, but such accusations are largely without merit, especially if one considers that Lewis was clearly in the twilight of his career and looking to maximize his send off. Those two aside, I cannot think of another instance wherein a deserving contender was avoided by Lewis. He even took on high risk fights against guys like Golota and Tua at times when they were viewed in a much higher light than after Lewis was through with them.
When all is said and done, I am hard-pressed to see how any reasonable observer can deny Lewis a top ten all-time ranking amongst heavyweight greats. It may be a long while before another fighter of his caliber comes along, so in that light, it is perfectly understandable that his ‘successors’ are not living up to the high standard he set. Until such a fighter comes along, the void left behind may never be completely filled, which may be a tad unfair to a fighter like Wladimir Klitschko, who is great in his own right, but Lennox Lewis he is not.
This article was also published at East Side Boxing