Lennox Lewis came to lunch last week. Not only did he eat with a fork, he knew which one to use for his salad. Discussion ranged from chess to the new Federal Communications Commission rules governing cross ownership by media companies. In between, Lewis talked about his heavyweight title defence on Saturday night at Staples Center against Vitali Klitschko.
He has had experience with Klitschko and his brother, Wladimir — in the remake of the movie “Ocean’s Eleven”, the big heist at a Las Vegas casino occurs during a fight between Lewis and Wladimir.
The scene required 20 takes, but the gracious Lewis used the time to teach young Wladimir some tricks of the trade.
Vitali, the older but lesser regarded of the Ukrainian brothers, took mental notes from ringside.
Lewis joked with the brothers during filming: “I’ll have one of you for breakfast and the other for lunch.”
Vitali joked back: “We’re a mouthful.”
Speaking during lunch of the recent stunning first-round knockout of Wladimir by Corrie Sanders, Lewis said: “He took my breakfast, but I’ll still have my lunch.”
This, for Lennox Claudius Lewis, qualifies as trash talk.
Pathetic, isn’t it'
But this is what happens when you allow an Englishman to become the world’s heavyweight champion.
When he won a unanimous decision over Evander Holyfield in 1999, Lewis became the first undisputed world heavyweight champion from Great Britain since Ruby Bob Fitzsimmons in 1897.
A couple of London newspaper editorials immediately called on the queen to knight the champ, which would have required ring announcers to introduce him as Sir Lennox Lewis.
The reasoning was that Lewis deserved the honour, not only because of his good work inside the ring but for his good works outside it. Every time you look around, he is involved in a charitable mission — from raising funds for Parkinson’s disease research in tribute to his idol, Muhammad Ali, to starting his own trade school for at-risk youth, to financing a garment factory in Ghana.
He has been so involved in recent years with causes in Ghana, you half expect him to wear that country’s flag on his trunks in the ring Saturday night. He already sails under the flags of Great Britain, where he was born; Canada, where he was raised and for which he won an Olympic gold medal in 1988; Jamaica, where his parents were born, and the United States, where he usually trains and fights.
Asked where he considers home, he says, “Earth.”
The queen has yet to bestow a title on Lewis, but, with or without it, he is the most dignified heavyweight champion since Gentleman Jim Corbett.
So he, like almost everyone else, must have been wondering what he was doing rolling around on the floor in New York last year with Mike Tyson. They were on stage during a news conference building up to their fight when Tyson suddenly charged Lewis.
“I could tell from his eyes that he wanted to start a row,” Lewis said last week. Lewis recalled punching him, wrestling him to the floor, then feeling Tyson’s teeth clamp onto his leg.
“It’s the worst feeling to be bitten by a human — somebody actually sticking his teeth into your skin and taking a chunk out,” Lewis said.
But he retained his sense of humour.
His trainer, Emanuel Steward, said he was treating the injury with alcohol (and a rabies shot') later when Lewis told him: “He’s talking about eating me and my unborn children. I’d better take him seriously.”
Then he no doubt went out for a spot of tea.
It’s safe to assume we won’t see a news conference scene like that one on Wednesday at Staples Center, both Lewis and Klitschko being of sound mind.
Yet, many no doubt feel let down because Tyson isn’t here this week. Tyson, who had earlier backed of a title rematch against Lewis, was offered a berth on the Staples undercard but declined for reasons still unclear.
Lewis calls him a “misfit”, but that, perversely, works in boxing. There is a prevailing attitude that the heavyweight division is unexciting unless Tyson is involved.
That is a reflection on Lewis, who has been called the heavyweight bore of the world. He contributes to that image by calling himself a pugilist specialist, which makes it sound as if he secretly longs to be an orthodontist.
Boxing historian Bert Sugar once said before a Lewis fight that vandals broke into the box office and returned 5,000 tickets.
Steward is perhaps Lewis’ greatest fan but acknowledges that his style is too methodical for even him to appreciate.
“I see him sitting there for 10 minutes thinking four moves ahead before he makes one,” Stewart said, blaming chess. “And he actually does the same thing in the ring. He thinks too much.”
But it’s hard to fault Lewis’ efficiency. His record is 40-2-1, with 31 knockouts, and he avenged both losses. He has also beaten every legitimate contender of his era, including Tyson with an eighth-round knockout last June.
In Lewis’ mind, that ranks him alongside Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali. That doesn’t mean he believes he’s as brilliant as they were — he’s too modest to say that — but he does believe he is undisputedly, like Louis and Ali, the best of his era.
He’s as dull as Pete Sampras, Tim Duncan and Greg Maddux. If it comes down to Lewis or Tyson, I’ll take dull every time.