FORMER UNDISPUTED world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis admits he would ‘love’ to see Anthony Joshua fight Deontay Wilder and hopes his foundation will nurture future boxing champions. The self-proclaimed pugilist specialist chats to sports editor Jamie Barlow.
The 6ft 5ins Lennox Lewis is sat down placidly in an armchair, which is staged in front of a mock-up ring constructed at the Muhammad Ali ‘I am the Greatest’ exhibition at London’s O2 Arena, providing an indelible backdrop to our conversation.
Lewis is cool and collected, clad in a chequered shirt and grey flat clap; it is a fitting setting to speak to the 50-year-old, who was nicknamed ‘The Lion’ during his heyday, because in June he was a pallbearer at Ali’s funeral, in Louisville, Kentucky.
Ali, otherwise known as ‘The Greatest’, sadly passed away after battling a respiratory disease, dying at the age of 74.
Paying tribute to the transcendent of the sport, Lewis, who is arguably the second greatest heavyweight in history – beneath Ali – describes ‘The Louisville Lip’ as the “father of boxing”.
“He definitely was a character and a different type of boxer than we’re used to,” he says.
“He was loud and he was a poet. I love the fact that anything he said, he did in the ring. If (he was) going to say: ‘I’m going to knock you down in five rounds,’ he knocked you down in five rounds. He wasn’t afraid to say it.
“He was also big on the political aspect; he believed in not going to war, he believed in the Muslim religion (Islam) and he believed in people – he loved people as well.”
London-born Lewis, who was brought up by his mother, Violet, after she parted from his biological father, Carlton Brooks, set up his self-titled League of Champions Foundation to improve the lives of disadvantaged children in Jamaica, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States by affording them opportunities to take up boxing.
Lewis, who retired from the sport in 2004 after stopping Vitali Klitschko the year before, was inspired by the work of a friend in Canada, who set up basketball camps which propelled six men into the NBA – Lewis proceeded to follow suit by opening his own boxing camps.
“Hopefully in the future we’ll see some young champions and they can say that they went to the Lennox Lewis League of Champions boxing camp,” says the 1988 Olympic gold medallist.
Since the illustrious fighters of Lewis’ generation – such as his American nemeses Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield – hung up their gloves, the heavyweight division had dwindled, leaving the Klitschko brothers to, somewhat uninspiringly, dominate the scene.
The heavyweight division had plateaued but Lewis believes there has been a renaissance of British heavyweight boxing in recent years and admits that, whereas when he was in his prime he had to cross the pond to take on the big-name fighters, the top-three elite boxers are English – Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua and David Haye.
Fury dethroned Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko of his world heavyweight crown in November last year, winning unanimously, and is the pick of the bunch, says Lewis.
“I would have to rate Fury as number one because he’s the man that beat the man, that beat the man, that beat the man,” he adds.
“Joshua is definitely up there. David Haye is up there. They’re all pretty close and not too far away from each other. So we should see some big fights in the future.”
Joshua, the IBF world champion, successfully defended his title against the American Dominic Brazeale two months ago.
The Watford-born star is mandated to fight New Zealander Joseph Parker in the next defence of his belt, but Lewis would love to see him lock horns with another US fighter, the undefeated Deontay Wilder.
“Deontay Wilder is the American star right now,” Lewis explains.
“I’m sure the American fans would love to see Deontay against a great heavyweight (referring to Joshua). And I think they’re the same level of experience, the same level of skill and power. It’ll be a great match-up.”
Haye, meanwhile, appears set to take on Shannon Briggs; which will mark his third fight since returning to the ring after a three-and-a-half-year hiatus.
Lewis silenced Briggs by beating him in 1998 and thinks the ex-WBO champion, who continues to call out the UK’s leading heavyweights even in his twilight years, has really talked himself into the fight.
Lewis adds: “I think he’s (Haye) a very shrewd businessman, I think he knows what he wants to do.
“I think a lot of people will want to see that fight. I think it’ll be an interesting fight to watch. I would love to love to see it. But, after this one, I believe that he may have to step up.”
Words and pictures by Jamie Barlow.