A Conversation With Lennox Lewis
The last heavyweight superfight took place 11 years ago in Memphis, Tennessee. Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson earned over $30 million each for their June 8th, 2002 showdown which Lewis won by KO 8. Lewis shares some of his memories of the fight, miscellaneous interactions with Tyson and more in this interview…
Question: You first sparred Tyson as a teenager at the Catskills, where Cus D’Amato prophetically remarked that someday you both would fight with the world title at stake. Do you remember the next time you saw Mike Tyson after that early 1980′s sparring session in the Catskills?
Lennox Lewis: “The next time I saw him was on TV, he was at the Olympics in 1984. He was at ringside watching fights. When I was fighting Tyrell Biggs, Tyson was telling me at ringside to hit him to the ribs. We always had a mutual respect for each other since we sparred those early times. We got that over with.”
Question: Do you remember Tyson showed up at your public workout at Grand Central Station in New York City before the David Tua fight, for like two minutes? Why do you think he did?
Lennox Lewis: “You remember that one? That was weird. I don’t know why he came. He was welcome to come watch. I was lookin’ good in sparring that day [smiles]. I remember someone said, ‘There’s Tyson.’ I looked over and couldn’t see him. I just saw a crowd of people. I thought, What’s he doing over there?”
Question: Do you remember when you first got the idea in your head that you could actually become the world Heavyweight champion?
Lennox Lewis: “For me, it was a long journey. I realized it was going to be lots of curves and bumps and hills – I just wanted to make it to the top. In the amateurs, it was the East Germans, Russians and Cubans. I had to try to find the way to beat each one. What’s his weakness? Go to the body. Then I’d try that way to beat them. This guy can’t take a right hand. Then I’d just train that way to beat him. My fear was losing. How do I win? How do I prepare to win? Then I would prepare in this manner. Tyson didn’t have an extensive (international) amateur career like I did. A lot of people don’t realize how that helps you. I’ll try to put it like this: after about 25 fights you don’t always have to keep going to the bathroom before the fight. Then after you get over that, you still get the butterflies before the fight. Then you eventually get over that and the butterflies are gone. You no longer get nervous or scared before fights. Then you have enough experience where, before the fight, you can start to break down the fights – what do I need to do? How do I beat him?”
Question: Who was the most talented boxer you faced?
Lennox Lewis: “[Pause]…I don’t know. It’s funny. Razor Ruddock was real talented, when I first came on the scene. He had a great jab. He had an excellent jab. It was like a right hand. He actually was a converted southpaw. But then he started lifting weights and his style changed.”
Question: How did the public’s treatment of you change after the Tyson fight?
Lennox Lewis: “The main thing about that – I was trying to retire a year before. But I couldn’t because I never fought Tyson. For us to never have met, people would always say if I was like getting a haircut, Yo, you never fought Tyson. I was stuck on that image of Tyson. I had to fight him. In a sense, it’s kind of weird. A lot of fans said I should give him another chance, they want to see it again. I’m like, They want to see that fight again?! They felt that Tyson wasn’t right, if he trained longer he’d do better. The way I see it is, when I saw Tyson knocking everybody out on TV, I thought, He’s goooood. But when I saw him in person, he didn’t look as awesome. It’s like in the amateurs. Fighters used to be afraid of the Russians, Cubans but then I’d figure them out and figure out how to beat them. Tyson was the same way. As good as he was, he was always more one-dimensional. I was five-dimensional.”
Question: An aspect of your fight with Tyson is that, in a sense, it really was a confrontation between good and evil, light vs. dark. At the time, the way Tyson was behaving and living his life, he was almost a symbol of evil. And your reputation was always very good and positive. Did you feel that extra pressure to prevent evil from triumphing? And the influence it would have had on society to see a man like Tyson rewarded with around $100,000,000 if he beat you?
Lennox Lewis: “There was a big thing like that. He helped with that. He just made me train harder. The Tyson fight was like the hardest I ever trained for a fight in my entire career. The press conference in New York – when he bit on my leg – I was mad. I came to promote the fight, wearing a $2,000 suit and he bit me on the leg. And I couldn’t say anything. Because if I said something, it would look like maybe I didn’t want the fight. But then I realized he was just trying to take the sucker’s way out. I’m not saying I know the person from the outside, that’s how it looked to me. Then the guy surrounded himself with kind of illin’ people, who’s that guy who did the dirty stuff? (Panama Lewis.) I thought, They can’t come to the ring with him. These guys aren’t going to fight for him. He mentally needs them to get him going. If he needs them, then he’s at a weak point.”
Question: When you and Tyson are in the ring, you two had a pretty long staredown. What did you see in his eyes?
Lennox Lewis: “He had to come up to the human line to look at me. My body was hard and I hit it, I was saying like, ‘Come and hit it.’ I was very confident. I just looked at the Buster Douglas fight. That’s the only fight I need to see. He didn’t become Superman after that fight. He only deteriorated.”
Question: What was your last meal before the fight?
Lennox Lewis: “Spaghetti (with red sauce).”
Question: In the fight did Tyson do anything that you did not expect?
Lennox Lewis: “I’m glad that he fought fair. Because I was definitely ready for anything. Even after (the fight), I had respect for him. I was hitting him with some shots. It was the first fight where my hands were a little sore. I said it was because of the size of that neck. He’s like a shock absorber. He’d take it, shake it off and come back at you. Like that Rhino Man in Spiderman (cartoons).”
Question: I remember at the Cory Spinks-Ricardo Mayorga fight in Atlantic City in December of 2003 you and Tyson were at ringside watching the fights in the same area, with him one seat in front of you. I was wondering if you both talked at all that night?
Lennox Lewis: “Yeah. I don’t know. For me, there’s never any bad blood – unless you do something to me. When we sat there, everyone was tense, looking at us, everybody was tense like that. I could tell. I said, What’s goin’ on Mike? He looks back at me, (says in a high strung voice), What’s goin’ on with you?! And that was it [laughs].”
Question: In what fights were you at your very best? When did you feel the best in the ring, the sharpest?
Lennox Lewis: “Definitely the Tyson fight. Rahman fight. Tucker. Holyfield (first). I think the aftershock of the first fight affected the second fight. I thought, I won, but now I have to win again?”
Question: When do you think Tyson was at his very best?
Lennox Lewis: “I’d have to say even before I turned professional. He was like a whirlwind, knocking everyone out. At that point, he was at his best. I think the environment affected him. Coming from nothing to suddenly having millions, and having everybody adoring him…you know, I’m an analyst. I analyze everything. Even his relationship with Robin Givens helped me. She helped a lot of athletes. It showed there was those types of woman out there, watch out. Playin’ the game, it’s only one thing they want. That’s all I want to say about that. But Emanuel Steward said Tyson was going to be my easiest fight. I was like, Really? I never let myself think that until after the fight.”
Question: Who are some of your famous fans? Who have you met that admires you?
Lennox Lewis: “It’s like this: I was over at the Cannes Film Festival one year. We were walking in from the beach, on an elevator. Robert Goulet comes over, Hey, Lennox Lewis, how you doing? I’m like starstruck. I had just watched him in a movie the other day. Puff Daddy – I remember they asked him who he picked in the fight with Tyson. He says, I’m going with Tyson because he’s from New York. I say to myself, That’s why you’re pickin’ Tyson?! Because he’s from New York?! Not on styles?! I saw him later. So I asked him, Who’s gonna win? He says, Tyson’s my man. I know you got better skills but Tyson’s my man.”
“Another time I see Spike Lee. I’m thinking, Maybe we can get together, maybe he can put me in a movie of his. Then all of the sudden I see Spike Lee running through the crowd, like jumping over tables – to get over to shake Mike Tyson’s hand. I’m like, There goes my part in the movie!”
“But I come across famous people all the time. It’s the respect factor I appreciate. They respect me, they respect what I’ve achieved and the manner I’ve done it. It’s street credibility. They know where I’m coming from, they know my reputation.”