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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 February, 2004, 13:03 GMT
Fighting for recognition
By Ben Dirs and Alex Trickett

Lennox Lewis was Britain's first world heavyweight champion for 100 years
Greatness is a difficult quality to define, as Lennox Lewis knows well.

Standing on the brink of retirement, the three-time world champion can look back on a dominant heavyweight career during which he avenged every defeat.

At his peak, Lewis was a supreme athlete and technician with bombs in both fists and a punishing jab.

Yet he has not always been respected or admired in the USA, where boxing opinions matter most, and there are those who refuse to embrace him as one of the all-time greats.

Former world champion George Foreman, however, reckons Lewis is beyond compare.

"He is not second any more, he is there at the top of the tree," said Foreman, the man who traded blows with Muhammad Ali, after seeing Lewis destroy Mike Tyson in 2002.

"He reminded me of a young Foreman and an elusive Ali - everything you want in a fighter."

George Foreman believes Lewis was better than Ali
Lewis is not second any more, he is there at the top of the tree
Former champ George Foreman

But Lewis' detractors accuse him of reducing the heavyweight division to a game of chess, of lacking heart and of having all the allure of a bag of sand.

And legends, they say, do not lose to the likes of Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman.

"That he was knocked out twice against journeyman heavyweights is the biggest question mark," said Colin Hart - a journalist who has seen all the modern greats in action.

"Most of the greats have been beaten, but usually by other world-class fighters.

"Lewis was a technically-brilliant boxer, but he had little charisma, and not just out of the ring. He never took chances and did just enough to win."

There lies the rub. It is not always what you do that earns you respect, often it is the way you do it.

BBC SPORT'S TOP-10 HEAVYS
1 Muhammad Ali
2 Joe Louis
3 Jack Johnson
4 Larry Holmes
5 Jack Dempsey
6 Rocky Marciano
7 Lennox Lewis
8 Mike Tyson
9 George Foreman
10 Evander Holyfield

Ali, Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis and Jack Dempsey were top dogs in the ring, but they also defined their times, leaving wars as their legacy and always exuding pizzazz.

Lewis - for all his talent - fell short of that.

He also had few quality foes to test himself against.

Ali had Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and Foreman, while Lewis was served up an outstanding cruiserweight in Holyfield and Mike Tyson's ghost.

A good comparison is with Larry Holmes, who dominated the heavyweight scene in the early 1980s, but whose reputation was tarnished by a lack of credible opposition.

Holmes had a granite chin and was as durable as teak.

Lewis, in contrast, was vulnerable to mediocre fighters who could hit hard and often became sluggish if a fight wore on.

Rocky Marciano is the only unbeaten world heavyweight champion
Rocky Marciano defined his era

One thing that was never in doubt was Lewis' punching power, as his brutal demolition jobs against Razor Ruddock and Andrew Golota demonstrated.

But those displays only made it more frustrating when he chose not to slug it out, preferring instead to keep his distance and play it safe.

The cold truth is that Lewis lacked box-office draw.

And in the perverse world of boxing where chewing off an opponent's ear can be given a positive spin, this hurt his reputation.

Dempsey was the "Manassa Mauler", Frazier was "Smokin' Joe" and Ali was "The Greatest", but, tellingly, Lewis never had a publicly-adopted moniker.

None of this should detract from his achievements as a fighter, and a record of 41 wins, one draw and two losses from 44 fights speaks for itself.

But it will cloud his legacy.

Ali and Louis stand apart in the pantheon of greats.

Lennox Lewis will go down as one of the very best, but few will believe Foreman's assessment that he could have toppled "The Greatest".



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