Lewis awaits chance, but to Brits, he's the champ

November 13, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- Something unthinkable happened in merry ol' England after Lennox Lewis knocked out Razor Ruddock in two rounds Halloween night.

Suddenly, it seemed everyone forgot the numerous scandals surrounding the Royal Family. Princess Di and Fergie were swept off the front pages of the London tabloids by Lewis, the first British-born heavyweight given a legitimate chance of becoming world champion since Bob Fitzsimmons ruled the division 95 years ago.

"It's been positively bonkers in London," said Lewis' manager, Frank Maloney, who has joined his fighter here to witness tonight's heavyweight title showdown between champion Evander Holyfield and top-ranked challenger Riddick Bowe. Lewis has been promised a match with the winner in the spring.

"Lennox has become a national hero. Every newspaper has featured him the past two weeks and every TV station has interviewed him. We had to leave London Sunday to clear our heads. We went to the [World Boxing Council] convention in Cancun, but it was just as crazy there."

And for good reason.

"In this century, we've had 12 different Brits unsuccessfully challenge for the heavyweight crown," said veteran London Sun boxing writer Colin Hart. "People like Tommy Farr, Don Cockell, Brian London, Henry Cooper, Joe Bugner and Frank Bruno, but none of them was taken seriously. Lennox is the first heavyweight we've had who people truly believe can win the title."

Lewis, 27, who defeated Bowe to win the gold medal in the 1988 Olympic Games, had managed to remain in the shadows as an unbeaten professional until his stunning victory over Ruddock, who had lasted 19 rounds in two fights with Mike Tyson. Now he can not walk down a London street without drawing a crowd of admirers.

Handsome, polite and well-spoken, Lewis (22-0, 19 KOs) did not seem annoyed that U.S. boxing experts had been slow to accept him as a title threat. "I'm making them know me," he said. "I let my hands do the talking."

An outstanding amateur, Lewis competed as a 19-year-old in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, but lost to eventual champion Tyrell Biggs.

Born in East London, he moved to Kitchener, Ontario, as a youngster and represented Canada at the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea, where he stopped Bowe in the second round.

But when Lewis was ready to turn pro, Maloney, with the support of a financial conglomerate headed by insurance executive Roger Levitt, persuaded Lewis to return to his British roots.

The Levitt group gave Lewis a signing bonus of $500,000, a home in Kent, a Mercedes and a monthly allowance of $1,000 to tide him over between fights. But Levitt became involved in a financial scandal last year and declared bankruptcy.

Lewis is managed by a low-profile Greek named Pavos Eliades, a financial liquidator, and trained by Pepe Correa, who also tutored Ray Leonard, Simon Brown and present welterweight champion Maurice Blocker.

Much of yesterday's news conference by Lewis centered on rumors that if Bowe wins, he will seek a multimillion-dollar match against former champion George Foreman in Beijing before agreeing to fight Lewis.

"I think [Bowe's manager] Rock Newman has a Chinaman's chance of making that happen," said Maloney. "But if he does, there is no amount of money that will get Lennox to step aside and allow Foreman the first shot. If Bowe ducks him, the public will recognize Lennox as the true champion."

Lewis was hopeful that scenario would not unfold.

"Nobody wants to win a championship that way," he said. "[WBC president] Jose Sulaiman told me that my fight with Ruddock would be considered their championship match if Bowe refused to fight me.

"I took the hardest route to a title match by fighting Ruddock. I didn't beat up some made-up South African contender," Lewis said, alluding to Bowe's seventh-round knockout over Pierre Coetzer last July.

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