• Steve Bunce

Lennox to return to the ring? Not a chance!

Steve Bunce October 15, 2013
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It does seem amazing that every time Wladimir or Vitali Klitschko fight - no matter where it is, no matter how good the opponent is (or isn't) - Lennox Lewis pops up. He is part of the heavyweight carnival.

But he doesn't just arrive for a day. He pops up for a week or two. He gets on TV in Germany, he gets on TV in Russia, and he gets on TV in Switzerland … because everybody loves him. They all seem to know him and there's an 'elder statesman' aura about him.

Since he quit the sport 10 years ago he is always asked, "Lennox will you come back and fight again?"

And the answer has been the same every time: "Yeah of course I'll come back." Everyone gets excited - and then he finishes the sentence: "For $100 million."

Of course there just isn't that much money - so he's never going to come back. But there's nothing wrong with throwing the figure out there.

Recently, when Lewis was in Moscow for Wladimir against Povetkin, he was asked the question again. And he gave his stock answer. But one or two people in the British press took that at face value, so consequently in the days after that fight it was announced that Lewis would be returning to the ring.

Absolute garbage.

Lewis beat Vitali Klitschko in 2003, his last professional fight © Getty Images

There's never going to be a hundred million. He's never going to have to return. Both Klitschko brothers love Lennox Lewis - and they'd love him even more if they could fight him and make the kind of money against him that they don't make against the current level of opponents - but they have both pointed out he's too old and too slow. Lennox jokes that the mind is there, but that body is not.

Lennox is enormous. He's like some enormous old cruise ship trying to negotiate a canal. I'm a big enough man myself, but Lennox manhandles me like you wouldn't believe. He took me out of a press conference once under his arm, walking through the crowd carrying me with my feet off the ground - and I'm 6-foot-2 and 18 stone!

You've got to love the way the goes about his business, but a return to the ring? No chance.

What he has done, though, is launched - for want of a better expression - an 'X Factor' type search for the next heavyweight, because it's not going to come overnight.

You're not going to build a 22-year-old, 6-foot-5, 18-stone good athlete into a heavyweight boxer. You've got to start earlier. I think it's a 10 to 15 year cycle. But if it's done correctly, you will be able to start seeing results within six or seven years. By the way, the heavyweight of 2020 might be smaller. Why not? Another Mike Tyson.

The quest for tomorrow's champion will take time and cost. However, it might just be the way forward. With heavyweights - the big boys - there are so many alternatives for them. In America, it's professional sports other than boxing, crime and music. Don't be fooled into thinking crime isn't a career choice, for big guys, because it's a serious option. And a popular one.

It is less so for the guys in Britain and Europe; we still have something that passes as a conveyer belt. They don't have that in America, and I think that Lennox, with this scheme, could uncover a heavyweight - but it will take many, many years.

They will need to uncover a big kid - like a teenage Mike Tyson: A kid who has found boxing but not really found boxing; someone who has boxed a bit but isn't devoted to it - but equally isn't devoted to any other sport.

And they will need to find someone that ticks specific boxes: he will be 13 or 14, 6-foot and he'll be rough, and he'll be poor, and he'll be hungry. If they search hard enough and plough the money in, the rewards will be staggering.

Otherwise, in five to 10 years we could have a completely desolate heavyweight scene. We're really going to struggle post-Klitschkos. We can criticise the two brothers but they have been masterful sportsmen and, more than that, they've been masterful ambassadors.

In five to 10 years we could have a completely desolate heavyweight scene

The fear is that we go through a period a bit like the 'Lost Generation' years of the 80s after the Klitschko boys have gone. The truth is nobody wants a return to those dark years when we had nearly a dozen champions from dozens of fights; they were often in great fights but they have been lost to history.

If we go through a period like that after the Klitschkos where we have the four main belts split again into two or three extras - so there are about seven men holding versions of the world title, meaning each year we're getting as many as 21 world heavyweight title fights, it will be chaos. In the 50s, 60s and 70s it was not uncommon for there to be two championship fights each year; modern promoters and television money will guarantee that never happens again!

Thankfully in the 80s Mike Tyson came along and restored something. Now unless there's a Mike Tyson on the horizon we could have a situation where, between the four belts, we have 40 different men in a ten year period holding the world title. It's going to be impossible to follow and keep up with it. At least with the Klitschkos you know they're the daddies.

So Lennox Lewis's 'search for a star' project is not that misguided - but it's a 10-year project.

A couple of words on the Tyson Fury Twitter situation from the other night. Lennox has had to put up with a lot of assaults throughout his career - people calling him boring, safety first and even one or two who have questioned his sexuality, which, to anyone who knows him, is spoof-like.

The latest, of course, is Fury. He's been in trouble with the British Boxing Board of Control over things he's said and he'll be in trouble again over his last series of tweets - which were disappointing because they were excessively homophobic in a week where the first openly gay boxer, Orlando Cruz, was fighting for a world title.

Does Tyson Fury mean everything he says? No. Does Tyson Fury mean most of what he says? No. Does Tyson Fury mean anything he says? Possibly no!

And it would have been lost on Fury. The insult of the day in Fury's house was by calling Lewis gay and using other homophobic slurs. Fury will be hurt that Lewis doesn't see him as the next big name heavyweight and, instead of just making these stupid comments to his mates, he takes to Twitter to tell Lewis directly. It was mad and he wasn't thinking.

But we forget that Fury himself is from a minority, because he's a traveller. If you think it's bad what he gives out, you should see what he gets on Twitter. He's blocking, standard, hundreds of people a day.

But were his comments unfortunate? Yes. Should he be fined? Definitely. Should we read anything into it? Absolutely not.

Fury's comments were "stupid", says Bunce © PA Photos
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Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.