YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

championship, Saturday at Staples Center (HBO, 7 p.m.,
card begins at 3:15 p.m.)

Fighting for Recognition

Lewis is the most talented heavyweight of his time, but many are still unsure about his place in history

June 20, 2003|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

Where does Lennox Lewis belong?

In Jamaica where his ancestral roots lie, Britain where he was born, Canada where he achieved his biggest success as an amateur boxer or the United States where he has known his greatest glory as a professional?

Among the greatest heavyweights in history, in the second tier among those who dominated their age but not all ages, or lower, among those who were champions in name only?

Facing the violent challenge of the ring, where the object is to dominate by doing great bodily harm, or facing the cerebral challenge of the chess board, where the object is to dominate by using cleverness and imagination?

Lewis, who will defend his heavyweight title Saturday night at Staples Center against Vitali Klitschko, has always been difficult to categorize.

He may have the size and strength to be a heavyweight champion, but he doesn't talk or act or think like the stereotypical champion.

He reads the front section of the newspaper before the sports section, is as comfortable talking about world politics as the politics of boxing, favors tea over stronger brews and favors chess over other forms of amusement.

While there are plenty of images of Lewis' right hand exploding on an opponent's face, a lasting image of Lewis for many is of his right hand holding a cup of tea, pinkie extended.

The result, unfair as it may be, has been questions about his heart and his masculinity.

And inevitably, his place in heavyweight history.

Following are the opinions of four authorities on what that place should be.

His Talent

George Foreman, two-time heavyweight champion: "What I admire about Lennox Lewis is that he is the only guy among the heavyweights, other than Muhammad Ali, who, when he was beaten, would go back right away and want a rematch, want to fight the guy again.

"Lennox has a great right hand and throws it with a force like Bob Gibson, the old pitcher, used to throw coming off the mound. And he's very good at using that jab to measure you.

"I would rate Lennox in the top five all time along with Joe Louis, who was the best to ever put on the gloves; Jack Dempsey; Ali, who changed the heavyweights forever; and Rocky Marciano, who was the smartest because he retired undefeated."

Angelo Dundee, trainer: "Lennox is the best of his time. That's the only way you can evaluate a fighter. He's big, he's strong, he's tall and he utilizes his height. If he gets you in close, he can be a rough guy. He hits you with everything he's got. And he's got plenty.

"He's got so many qualities he can overpower you with, hurt you with, but I think his left hand is his greatest strength. He's got a great jab.

"Still, anybody's got a shot at beating him because he has a china chin. And he doesn't dominate opponents. What would [Sonny] Liston have done with some of these guys fighting today? He would have eaten them for breakfast. Lewis has the same shot to dominate. He just has to go out and do it. But he doesn't."

Larry Merchant, analyst: "Lennox has proven to be the best of his time over and over again. He has overcome obstacles and setbacks, and beaten the guys who have beaten him.

"There has never been a heavyweight both as big and as athletic as Lennox. It's hard to imagine a 185-pounder or 200-pounder from the past being successful against him, but it's not impossible.

"Could Red Grange successfully play football today? Could Bob Cousy be as dominant today as he was? I don't know. Great athletes find a way to be outstanding in any era. The standard should be what they did in their time, but a lot of what they did becomes inflated over time."

Bert Sugar, boxing writer and historian: "Lennox is the best heavyweight of the 21st century. I hesitate to rank him with his predecessors until I see his whole career through.

"That said, I think he has one of the best right hands in the history of the heavyweight division.

"I think he has a problem in terms of not being aggressive enough. When Lennox fought [Mike] Tyson, Emanuel Steward [Lewis' trainer] told him, 'You've got Tyson. Take him out of the fight.' It only took Lennox four rounds to get around to it. Lennox hurt [Evander] Holyfield, but again, didn't finish him off.

"I would rank him among the top 20 in history."

His Image

Dundee: "I look at him with that cup of tea in his hand, and he just doesn't come off as sincere to me. He may be sincere. This could be a real nice guy. But he doesn't come on that way to the public. I don't know how he could endear himself, but that's what he's got to do. He seems false."

Foreman: "I think it's jealousy. Plus, it's the fact that he's not from anywhere. He's not from Louisiana, he's not from Chicago, he's not from New York. There is nothing to anchor Lennox Lewis to this country.

"I think the public only really catches on to a fighter once in a blue moon. But that doesn't keep him from being one of the best heavyweights of all time."

Los Angeles Times Articles