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Last Updated: Friday, 6 February, 2004, 14:05 GMT
Gracious farewell for a true champ
By Alex Trickett
BBC Sport at Grosvenor House

Lennox Lewis with his mum Violet at his retirement announcement

"I say to you gentlemen - and the media - let the next era begin."

Those were the words from Lennox Lewis that hundreds of "gentlemen" and members of the media had expected to hear on assembling at short notice on London's Park Lane.

The venue was the Grosvenor House Hotel and, by common consent, the occasion was Lewis' retirement as WBC heavyweight champion of the world.

But boxing has a habit of throwing out surprises.

And for a few nervous moments it looked possible that a huge U-turn was about to take place.

Don King was in the lobby trying to get the 38-year-old Briton to sign on the line for one last fight, joked one man.

And then proceedings started with the chilling words, "Contrary to what you have been reading in the news. . ."

First of all, I'd like to thank my mum
Lennox Lewis

As it turned out, the Lewis camp were just teasing us.

Big Lennox duly arrived from behind a curtain in the fittingly-named "Great Hall" to confirm that he was joining boxing greats like Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis in retirement.

Britain's best boxer since flyweight Jimmy Wilde was given a warm reception.

And he bowed out in dignified fashion, giving his backing to the next generation of top-weight brawlers vying for his crown.

"It's been great honour to be the standard bearer for boxing in the last decade," he said.

"But Vitali Klitschko, Corrie Sanders and Audley Harrison are great boxers. I look forward to seeing them perform, but I'll probably wish I was in there."

In typical Lennox Lewis style, he paid tribute to the legends of the past, and, in so doing, he justified losses to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman, his only defeats in a 14-year, 44-fight professional career.

"You must lose in order to become great," he said.

"I fell down, but then I got up and brushed myself off.

Muhammad Ali

"Those that go through their careers unbeaten haven't learnt anything. Ali lost, but he went on to become the greatest ever."

Generous in his praise of those around him, Lewis singled out his mother, who is reported to have had a big hand in his retirement.

And he went on to announce his engagement to girlfriend Violet Chung.

"My entourage have helped me become great.

"They helped me to run faster, train better, punch harder and to play chess better."

And with that, Lewis gave himself up to the media scrum.

It was a gracious end to a gracious and emphatic - if not always spectacular - reign.

Lewis becomes only the third heavyweight - after Rocky Marciano and Gene Tunney - to bow out as champion.

But there has already been talk of him donning the gloves again and bookmakers William Hill are quoting odds of 7/2 that he will return to the ring within two years.

On the evidence of this dignified goodbye, we should take him at his word.

Lewis was a great champion and has always been a frank and honest man.

He knows better than to risk his health on a comeback, so we should salute him now for a fantastic career that brought the bang back into British boxing.

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