The next-to-last time we saw Lennox Lewis, three years ago in Seoul, he was a Canadian from Kitchener with a Romanian trainer, and he was fighting like a Russian, stick-straight and stiff. He knocked over everything in front of him to win the super-heavyweight Olympic gold medal. When we looked in on him again, several weeks ago at Caesars Tahoe in Nevada, Lewis was an Englishman from London with an American trainer, and he was imitating a guy out of a Philadelphia gym. He was still knocking over everything in front of him.
Lewis's victim that night, his 16th in a row as a pro, was Mike Weaver, the former WBA heavyweight champ, a grandfather and still fighting at 39, because, says his manager, Don Manuel, "he needs the money. I could get him a real job, but he doesn't want to work." It's apparent that after being knocked out by Lewis in the sixth round of their bout, Weaver should rethink his job options.
It is a yardstick of Lewis's progress that since stopping Riddick Bowe in less than two rounds in Seoul, he is fighting guys like Weaver and like Glenn McCrory, the former cruiserweight champ whom he outweighed by 10 pounds and knocked out on Sept. 30 in London. Worse, Weaver and McCrory were, in all probability, Lewis's toughest opponents since the Games. Lewis may be Great Britain's latest hope for a heavyweight champion, but as a professional he has been dining on tomato cans named Noel Quarless, Jorge Dascola and Jean Chanet, all of which has done him about as much good as a half hour's pounding on a heavy bag.
Now in his third year as a professional, the 6'5", 230-pound Lewis has fought less than 58 full rounds, and never more than eight in any outing. Trying to toughen up with such light work is like trying to sharpen a knife with a bar of soap.
The Lewis camp, as you might expect, claims its fighter's strange campaign has been marked by prudence.
"Patience," advises John Davenport, the ex-Marine from Plainfield, N.J., who trains the 26-year-old European and British champion.
"We are not going to rush Lennox's career," says John Hornewer, the heavyweight's American lawyer.
"Slowly does it," says Frank Maloney, his London-born manager.
Lewis, too, was born in London, but moved with his mother, who is Jamaican, to Canada when he was 12. "That's when I became a fighter," he says. "All the kids made fun of my accent, and I punched out the lot. After my third strapping with the belt, my teacher advised I take my aggressions out in sport."
As an amateur, Lewis fought more than 100 times, and in 1983 he won the gold medal in the super-heavyweight class at the World Junior Championships. He was Canada's best super-heavyweight from 1984 to 1988; he won the North American amateur title in 1987 and the silver medal in that division at the Pan Am Games. He crowned his amateur career with the beating of Bowe.
Lewis hooked up with Davenport in April of 1989. "The first thing I noticed about him was that he is a great athlete," says Davenport. "Most boxers aren't. Most couldn't hit the ocean if they were standing on a pier."
Almost immediately after Lewis teamed with Davenport, a group of British money men lured them to England with a six-figure signing bonus. "I arrived in London shortly after Mike Tyson knocked out Frank Bruno," says Lewis. "Everyone was saying, 'Oh, wasn't our Frank very brave.' He was a hero. I thought, Good Lord, what will they do if they have a winner?"
Lewis's reception in the land of his birth was not very warm. "It was weird," says Lewis. "In England they said I had an American accent and that I was a North American. In America everybody always said I had an English accent and that I was English. I couldn't win."
"Maybe the English would love you if you lost a fight," Davenport says sarcastically. "They do seem to love a loser." Davenport's dislike for England and the English has not made his job with Lewis any easier.
Lewis, who is on the verge of finally moving up in class, may learn soon how his current countrymen like him as a loser. "When we started out we all agreed we should move Lennox slowly," says Davenport. "But even rich backers like those guys in England, when they see their checks going out and nothing coming in, they get nervous."
So Lewis will be fighting bigger names for bigger money in the near future, and it's about time. All of his first 13 fights were scheduled for eight rounds or fewer. In October 1990 he was jumped up to fighting Chanet for the European championship over 12 rounds. Fortunately for Lewis, Chanet was France's version of Humpty Dumpty, and he was stopped in the sixth. Gary Mason, an undefeated British heavyweight who can't fight a lick, tried to come back after suffering a detached retina and fought Lewis for the British heavyweight title last March. Lewis sent him into retirement with a sixth-round technical knockout. Then came Weaver. And then came McCrory, whom he stopped in the second at the Royal Albert Hall.
The Weaver fight provided a glimpse of where Lewis stands and where he might be headed—even though it was Weaver's first bout in a year, he hadn't beaten a name fighter since 1981 and that one's name was James (Quick) Tillis. Against Weaver, Lewis showed he has a good hard jab, though he doesn't use it often enough. His right hand is major league, but again too often in wraps. He can be mobile, but he spends too much time motionless. Two jabs and a very long right hand did the weary Weaver in at 1:05 of the sixth.
Lewis now has a five-fight package deal—two bouts to be shown on HBO and three to be carried by Time Warner's pay-per-view operation, TVKO. Lewis will fight in a prelim on the Evander Holy-field-Mike Tyson card in Las Vegas on Nov. 8, and will appear at the Royal Albert Hall again in December. Tyrell Biggs may be next. Also, Frank Bruno has just been cleared by the British Boxing Board for a comeback. "To be taken seriously, he has to go in against me," says Lewis. "If he doesn't, he has no hope of going anywhere in boxing again." That certainly seems true.
And after Bruno? Perhaps Bone-crusher Smith or Tommy Morrison or Ray Mercer or a rematch with Bowe. Those nervous money men across the pond have even been heard to mutter, "Holyfield" and "Tyson." Dear, dear, dear. If that lot has its way, forget the Queen; God save Lennox Lewis.