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  Tuesday, 11 July, 2000, 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK
Life of Lennox
Lewis and Ruddock
Lewis stops Razor Ruddock in 1992
He may not be as loved as Frank Bruno, he may not be as respected universally as Evander Holyfield and he may not intrigue the public like Mike Tyson, but Lennox Lewis is the top heavyweight in the world.

And he made it to that position through hard work, dedication and perseverance.

As he approaches his 35th birthday, Lewis is the fighter to beat in a heavyweight division which has almost always been dominated by Americans.

Although the questions about his nationality remain, it should be remembered that Lewis was born and lived in London until the age of 12. On moving to Canada, Lewis initially took up boxing to combat the taunting he received because of his thick London accent.

A natural athlete, Lewis was to compete at the Olympic Games twice, losing to American Tyrell Biggs in the quarter-finals in Los Angeles in 1984 before capturing the gold in 1988 with a stoppage of future heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe.

Lewis and McCall
On the receiving end against Oliver McCall
After receiving a host of offers from major promoters, Lewis signed a deal with London based Frank Maloney, with the desire of being marketed as a British fighter, despite having represented Canada at the Olympics. He was to be trained by American John Davenport.

Within four years, Lewis had established himself as a top contender with British, Commonwealth and European title victories. Ultimately he was matched with Canadian Razor Ruddock in October 1992, with the winner the top contender for the heavyweight title.

Underdog

A slight underdog, Lewis destroyed the highly rated Ruddock in two rounds, to set up a long awaited rematch with Bowe, who had defeated Holyfield for the undisputed title. But Bowe refused to sign for the fight, and famously threw his World Boxing Council belt in the bin.

Proclaimed the WBC champion after Bowe's action, Lewis took his show on the road. With another American Pepe Correa now in his corner, he made three successful defences of his title, including a seven round knockout of Bruno.

Lewis and Morrison
Flooring Tommy Morrison
But each win showed deficiencies in his style, and in September 1994, little known American Oliver McCall inflicted the first defeat of Lewis' career when he stopped him in the second round with a perfect right hand.

That defeat, which had seemed unlikely after Lewis had looked so devastating against Ruddock, was the cue for drastic changes.

Veteran trainer Emmanuel Steward was brought in to replace Correa and Lewis' training was moved almost exclusively to America.

Horizontal

The road back to the title was not easy, as Lewis' defeat at the hands of McCall allowed American boxing writers the chance to christen him as yet another 'horizontal' British heavyweight hope.

But wins over contenders Tommy Morrison and Ray Mercer put him back into the frame, and when the WBC crown was vacated by Tyson in 1996, Lewis faced McCall for the chance to win his title back.

Lewis and Briggs
Hammering another American, Shannon Briggs
In January of the following year, Lewis achieved revenge for his only loss with a five round stoppage. But the victory was overshadowed by McCall's virtual refusal to fight back. It later emerged that the American had suffered a nervous breakdown in the ring, due to his problems in overcoming drug and alcohol addiction.

Further wins over the likes of Andrew Golota and Shannon Briggs set up a unification match against Holyfield. That meeting, in March 1999, will live long in boxing infamy, with Lewis settling for a draw after appearing to outpoint his veteran opponent comfortably. The decision of the judges, one of whom was British, incensed the watching world, with an immediate rematch ordered.

Unanimous

Eight months later, the pair met again and despite a number of respected boxing writers feeling that Lewis had this time lost, he was awarded a unanimous decision, to become the first British heavyweight to win a unified heavyweight title since Bob Fitzsimmons in the latter stages of the 19th century.

His first defence, over the much touted American Michael Grant, ended in a brutal two round knockout. That win indicated just how far ahead Lewis was of the best in his division. With the exception of Bowe and Tyson, he had beaten every top young heavyweight of his era.

Holyfield and Lewis
Beating Holyfield, this time according to the judges
The knock against Lewis continues to be his demeanour in and out of the ring. He is seldom involved in an exciting fight, usually just doing enough to win. Outside of the squared circle, he is private and relatively reclusive, spending much of his time in his beloved Jamaica.

But a fight with Tyson, which looms on the horizon, is bound to change that. There is every indication that Britain's greatest heavyweight will be up to the challenge.

See also:

30 Apr 00 | Sport
02 Feb 00 | Sport
12 Dec 99 | Sport
14 Nov 99 | Lewis v Holyfield The sequel
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