The former undisputed heavyweight world champion says only Tyson Fury would give him problems of the current generation
Considering Mike Tyson once said he would “eat his children”, it comes as something of a surprise to hear Lennox Lewis say he has a deep friendship and connection with his old adversary.
But Lewis is in a reflective mood, and willing to let bygones be bygones. A new documentary is out on his “untold story” and he comes across as what he is – a great statesman of his sport.
You can see that in how he also talks of his growing affection for Evander Holyfield, but the fighter’s instinct has not left him as he describes how of the current generation of heavyweights only Tyson Fury would give him problems “for a couple of rounds” before Lewis would unleash his trademark finish.
And while his regard for his rivals is clear, the documentary shows how the feeling is entirely mutual for a man who was, of course, the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Indeed, the longer Lewis has been out of the sport, the more ‘The Lion’ has been, well, lionised. He certainly merits it, both in performance, and the way Lewis has always carried himself. “To be a champion, you have to act like a champion,” the 55-year-old told Telegraph Sport.
Yet it is easy to forget just how combative the (younger) Lewis was with all his rivals – the mass brawl with Tyson and his entourage in 2002, when ‘Iron Mike’ bit his leg, or the television studio scrap with Hasim Rahman which caused mayhem. Lewis always kept his composure, but as he also revealed: “I’m a fighter, so I was already to go…”
Lewis through the ages, nonetheless, is a fighter and sportsman to behold. He never ducked, he never hid, and once in the ring, stood without fear against all-comers, like a fortress wall, his fists booming cannons. In this latest documentary of his life, Lewis stands out as a man who made the most of what he had, and where he came from.
“We all come from different upbringings and this documentary gives a brief rendition into my life and boxing career,” said Lewis. “It also explains that just because you’re from a low-income background or you don’t have a mother or father looking after you, you can still end up being a good person. There’s been a lot of different documentaries, but no one really knows my life and my journey so I was very happy with it.”
There is no question Lewis is appreciated more in retirement. I have been around Lewis at many events since his career, from London to Las Vegas, where he is often working as a skilled, chilled analyst, and there is deep love for him.
“Yeah, it is nice. I kind of foresaw that. I always said I was like fine wine, I’d get better in time,” he explained, having a giggle at himself. “What I did is hard for people to grasp. When they see others trying to achieve what I did, they realise how hard it was and I never really moped about it.”
And his old rivals now form a sort of club. “I think me, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson have that, even though we’ve grown up differently. Evander Holyfield had his life growing up, he’s got 12 siblings and the influence of his mother. My mother was the same. Tyson, I don’t think he had the same influences. We come from different stories. We kind of put them together and can see how we turned out.”
His relationship with Tyson is now fascinating, and Lewis recalled how he first met the American boxer. “It’s kind of weird. When me and Mike Tyson met it was 1983. We wanted to know who this Mike Tyson was, everyone was talking about this guy on the American (amateur) team. We went up there and sparred with him for a couple of days.
“That was eye opening, it was a great experience for me. He taught me about boxers I’ve never seen before. He took me up to his room and pulled this white sheet down and we watched these old tapes of fighters. He was very educated in the history of boxing, better than I was at that time. We crossed paths at that point. Then he became heavyweight world champion way before I did.
“He matured quicker. He had that mechanism in America to help him. We’ve had a long history together. Even when he was saying he wanted to eat my children, I thought he was a vegetarian. That was weird, but we fought and got that out of the way. Mike Tyson has always shown a lot of respect in the world of boxing, especially to me. I love him for that. He speaks it the way it is. He’s the most real fighter out there, he doesn’t hold anything back. We’re on a different level when it comes to friendship because we have such a history together.”
Would his era have challenged this one? “Absolutely. Different eras, there’s always a star that sticks out. There’s a couple of stars in this era, my era was a great era. I’m happy to bring it back a little bit in my documentary. There’s different aspects that we can expound on. The big fight between me and Frank Bruno was a big affair. There was a lot of promotion behind that and it turned out to be a big fight.”
Lewis, of course, stopped Bruno on that night in Cardiff in 1993 in the seventh round, in a thrilling contest. But Lewis delights in the success of home-grown heavyweights today. “The impact British boxers have on the world now makes me so happy. I can say I played a part in opening the door for this to happen. It’s a very positive time for British boxing.”
Would Lennox Lewis be ‘undisputed’ now, in this era of Fury, Anthony Joshua and others? Huge smile. A nod of the head. “Of course. I think Tyson Fury would give me a little trouble in a few rounds,” he said. “I’m the pugilist specialist, remember. I’ve got an arsenal full of punches that I can throw at any given moment.”
Watch Lennox: The Untold Story