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Savant Sundays: Lennox Lewis’ heavyweight domination in the 90s and early 2000s

Lennox Lewis dominated the heavyweight division for most of his pro career. Today, a look back at his run.

Lennox Lewis dominated the heavyweight division for most of his pro career
Lennox Lewis dominated the heavyweight division for most of his pro career
John Iacono/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Rarely do we see such a physical specimen that defies the logic of physical composition and raw talent. Boxing fans were blessed with such an anomaly in Lennox Lewis, who dominated the heavyweight division for his career.

He was blessed when he came in, defeating Al Malcolm via knockout on June 27, 1989, at 23 years of age. Equally so was he blessed going out, ending a 41-2-1 career with three consecutive wins against Hasim Rahman, Mike Tyson, and Vitali Klitschko.

If you were building the ultimate fighter in a laboratory, you’d probably come up with someone resembling the British 240 lber. Standing at 6’5”, he was taller than most opponents through his career, and muscular, but not the most cut and shredded fighter, boasting a great core, especially earlier in his career.

Lewis fought in an orthodox stance, and was a genius with the jab. His stone face when completing his ring walk could incite fear in even the most hardened warriors.

As a taller fighter, he excelled with his overhands, dropping hammers against his foes. There isn’t a single punch Lewis didn’t have down, because he embodied his nickname, “The Pugilist Specialist,” to the fullest.

Lewis’ weaknesses were few, yet prevalent, and were polished up over the years. Two glaring imperfections in his arsenal were his footwork and balance, and his passiveness in bursts, the latter of which a weakness often corrected once enraged or humbled.

Pertaining to his footwork, he wasn’t the lightest on his feet, but light enough for someone of that size. The problem is, as a counter-puncher extraordinaire, his footwork was not always fully equipped to deal with fighters more aggressive than he was, especially early, causing him to lose balance at times.

His trainer Emanuel Steward had this to say before his fight with Ray Mercer, three fights removed from his upset defeat at the hands of Oliver McCall:

“I think one of his biggest weaknesses was his balance, and his stiffness. And he said, ‘I agree.’ And you know, ‘What can we do to change it?’ So that was one of the first things that really impressed me (was) his willingness to learn and to change, and to accept his weak points. I think that was the biggest factor in beginning to work with him.”

Anyone who had seen fights from him could see that as talented as he was, he needed some assistance from a great trainer such as Steward in putting it all together. That’s exactly what happened.

Lennox Lewis vs Frank Bruno (1993)

The “Battle of Britain” was a good fight for as long as it lasted, and Bruno was actually up on one card and even on the other two at the time of the stoppage.

Early, both fighters established their jab, and were jousting for supremacy. In round two, here came the passivity from Lewis. Yes, it was a feel-out round, but there’s a difference between being cautious yet still keeping your opponent on his toes, and being Vasiliy Lomachenko against Teofimo Lopez. Lewis could have won the round if he stayed active. Instead, Bruno was the aggressor, and landed a beautiful left hook midway through.

The next round was similar, as Bruno landed a great right hand that hurt Lewis and sent him stumbling back. Lewis needed more aggression. Round, Bruno.

Lewis came alive in the fourth and threw a lot of wild overhand rights. It became a jab contest once more and Lewis edged him out by a hair. By the fifth, Lewis displayed a gorgeous double jab and right hook for the best combo of the night, up until that point. Bruno answered with a barrage of his own, but Lewis did enough to take the round.

By the 18-minute mark, Lewis tried to use more head movement, but only to some avail, as at one point, Bruno was able to tag him thrice. Lewis really came alive but Bruno triumphed. No matter, for once round seven scurried along, Lewis opened up his bag and out came a flurry of uppercuts that made Bruno drowsy. A vicious left hook hit Bruno on the right side of his chin and made his legs jiggle, and the fat lady sang.

Lennox Lewis vs Oliver McCall 1 (1994)

This was Lewis’ first loss as a professional fighter. It only lasted three minutes, 31 seconds, just barely going into the second round.

McCall came out with great jabs, lunging forward to throw blows. Lewis left his body open when tangled, leading to a blow to the midsection from McCall that landed. Great counter-punching was seen from McCall as well, but Lewis ended the opening round on a high note with light jabs that set up his power punches.

Mere seconds into the second, a sneaky left hand to the skull, and a right hand to the bottom of the chin dropped Lewis and had him doing the tango when he got up to beat the count. Lewis would go on to avenge this loss though, in dramatic fashion in 1997.

Lennox Lewis vs Ray Mercer (1996)

Getty Images

Lennox threw 47 jabs and landed nine in the first. Come the second, he was continuing to have his way. Lewis’ most redeeming quality as a boxer was his relentlessness and effectiveness with the jab.

The fourth round was a popcorn round. Both fighters did enough to win in one that was too close to call. Lewis was masterful with every punch. His uppercuts landed and his straight rights broke through the guard of Mercer. The same could be said for Merciless Mercer.

At the 1:47 mark of the sixth, sheer brilliance happened. Mercer threw a left jab that Lewis slipped, and he came back with an uppercut, a short left, and a right hook that all landed, showing off his counter-punching prowess.

Both fighters alternated rounds the rest of the way in what was an absolute thriller. Lewis did enough to win a majority decision over 10 rounds, but this was indeed, a fight that could have gone either way.

Lennox Lewis vs Evander Holyfield 1 (1999)

Lewis came out in dominant fashion, out-boxing Holyfield in the first six minutes of the fight. His reach, quickness, and assertiveness proved too much for his aging, if also great opponent. The announcers thought Holyfield was playing possum, but that would soon prove not to be the case.

“The Real Deal” had his best round in the third. Evander launched a great jab followed by a three-punch combo, a short hook to the body landed. An over-the-top right partially landed, as well. Lewis could have showcased more head movement.

The next few rounds were all Lewis. He jabbed Holyfield to death, and had his way in all facets of the fight. He did his best work in the fifth, where he hurt Holyfield badly with two uppercuts and a right hook that decked the sweat off of his top.

But that lofty spirit came upon Lewis in the sixth, where he put his gloves down to showboat, and got rocked twice by two wild left hooks from Holyfield that humbled him.

Holyfield was able to squeeze away a couple of rounds between nine and 11. But the fight was all Lewis, as he landed more punches, was a master at establishing distance, followed up his jabs with devastating punches, and put on a master class, making Holyfield look old. The split decision draw was indeed a travesty.

Lennox showed grace, and aged like fine wine as an older fighter, and if anyone wants to see why he’s considered the upper crust of all-time heavyweights, this was a fight that proved it.


Lewis’ size, reach, and persistent jab were his strongest suit. Next in line was his ability to dictate the pace of the fight. He was remarkable in this area. Third, his chin was amazing; though he was knocked out twice in his illustrious career, it held firm in many other tough situations.

Conversely, his defensive instincts left a little to be desired. He did not have the best movement. His passiveness at times cost him rounds, but wasn’t a big enough issue that 60 seconds with his corner couldn’t usually fix.

If he were to have faced more fighters his own size, who were relentless as a Ray Mercer but more technically sound, perhaps Lennox would struggle. Against smaller fighters, those he could keep at bay and dominate with his imposing tangibles, he succeeded.

The fact that Lewis could outbox you was enough for him to dominate his era. All in all, Lewis is up there with the best, and some could make the argument that after Muhammad Ali, he might be the next-best heavyweight ever.

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