Lewis won’t challenge Vitali to rematch

NEW YORK – The beard is flecked with gray now and the midsection carries a few more pounds than it did a decade ago, but Lennox Lewis still looks as if he could clean out the heavyweight division without breaking a sweat.

The heavyweight division is awful, and outside of World Boxing Council Vitali Klitschko and his younger brother, Wladimir, the International Boxing Federation/World Boxing Organization titleholder, there aren’t any men who do anything to stir the masses.

Lewis, who will provide analysis on Saturday for the Epix HD simulcast of the Vitali Klitschko-Odlanier Solis title fight from Germany, isn’t particularly enthused about Solis’ chances. Solis is a 2004 Olympic gold medalist and is 17-0 as a professional, but his career is defined more by his oft-paunchy midsection than by any victory he’s earned in the ring.

Klitschko heaped praised upon Solis in his pre-fight interviews, but Lewis just chuckled at the thought that Solis is a legitimate challenge. It’s heavyweight boxing, and anything can happen, but outside of catching Klitschko with one punch, Solis will likely lose every round and be jabbed into submission.

“I heard Vitali saying the other day that it would be a very difficult fight and how Solis is a challenge to him,” said Lewis, the former undisputed champion who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2009. “I know what he’s doing. He’s trying to sell the fight. He has to do that.”

He has to, but Lewis does not. Lewis expects Klitschko to dispense of Solis with little trouble and move on, hoping for a challenge.

“Since he’s come back, he hasn’t even lost a round,” Lewis said of Klitschko, who weighed 249 to Solis’ 246½ on Friday. “Both of the Klitschkos are very talented. They have skills, but let’s be honest here, they have no competitors. Their true challenge is themselves. Boxing is defined by its eras, and this era, it’s known more for guys like Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, who are great, great talents, than for heavyweights.

“There aren’t a lot of heavyweights out there right now. My era, you had myself, Evander Holyfield, of course Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe. There were a lot of good guys. Muhammad Ali’s era, there were a lot of great heavyweights. There were a ton of great guys then, but the era before Muhammad Ali’s, or Larry Holmes’ era, it was lacking. There weren’t many. It has really dwindled down now and I say we’re in a rebuilding stage. We’re waiting for some new bright star to fight his way into the spotlight.”

Lewis, 45, ended his career in 2003 with a sixth-round stoppage of Vitali Klitschko in Los Angeles. It was as competitive and entertaining as any major heavyweight fight since, and Klitschko has spent much of his time since pleading for a rematch.

Lewis, though, never gave it a thought. He said after defeating Tyson in their heavily hyped bout in 2002, nothing much motivated him after that. Tyson, he said, was his “nemesis,” and throughout his career, no matter what he had done, he was always compared to and asked about Tyson.

He wanted the fight badly, but it didn’t happen until each of them was near the end.

“That was the fight, really, that I was going to be remembered by,” Lewis said. “I’d win all these fights and feel like I was beating everyone who was out there, and all the time they’d say, ‘Yeah, but what about Tyson?’ And I was like, ‘What about him? I want to fight him. I’m ready at any time. It’s him.’ ”

He knocked out Tyson in 2002 and thought about never fighting again after that. He was talked into taking a 2003 fight in Los Angeles against Kirk Johnson, a match which did little to motivate him.

But two weeks before the fight, Johnson was injured in training and Klitschko stepped in as his replacement. The fight was a back-and-forth affair and Klitschko did surprisingly well in the early going.

Lewis, though, rallied and the fight ended after the sixth, when ringside physician Paul Wallace recommended it be stopped because of a massive cut on Klitschko’s eye.

There was instant talk of a rematch, but Lewis was never swayed.

“You know, I beat him on my worst day,” Lewis said. “If he couldn’t beat me on my worst day, how was he going to deal with me at my best? There was nothing left for me out there, honestly, and it didn’t make sense to go on.”

Lewis said he modeled much of his career after Ali, whom he called his hero, and said he didn’t want to make the mistake that Ali did by hanging around far too long. He beamed and said he made another mistake by agreeing to fight Hasim Rahman in South Africa in a bid to do what Ali had done.

Ali scored arguably his greatest victory in 1974, when he went to Zaire and knocked out George Foreman. Lewis took a bout in 2001 against Rahman, whom he felt was a durable guy who would make for a good match.

As it turned out, Lewis was knocked out in the fifth round when a huge right from Rahman landed.

“Since Muhammad Ali was my hero, I said, ‘Let’s do it in Africa!’ ’” Lewis said. “What a mistake that was. I wanted to walk in the same footsteps as Muhammad Ali. Muhammad Ali went to Africa and fought, so I wanted to go to Africa and fight. I went there, but the whole thing was wrong. The timing was wrong, the altitude. I was like, ‘Oh man, what’s going on here?’ It wasn’t a good result for me.

“I accepted it in the ring. Yeah, I lost. But I accepted why I lost. This man threw a terrific punch and my chin happened to be in the way of it. All I was thinking was a rematch. And you know what? He knocked me out in the fifth, so I went back and knocked him out in the fourth. Mentally, doing that meant a lot to me. And, I did it over the Don King sign, on his crowd. I loved seeing [Rahman] laying there on the Don King crown.”

Though the heavyweights are not prominent these days, Lewis said there are plenty of quality fighters in the sport remaining. He said the two at the top, Pacquiao and Mayweather, “are each very pleasing to me.”

Boxing fans long for a fight between the men and Lewis said it would be an epic battle should it happen. He had an interesting take on how it would go, however.

“The thing that lacks with Floyd is that he would rather run around the ring and make you miss and dance around,” Lewis said. “It’s fine if you like that, but Pacquiao will break you down, break you down, break you down. He’s breaking you down to try to knock you out. He’s trying to impose his will on the person in there with him.

“It’s a minor difference, but that’s why I would have to say Pacquiao [would win], because Pacquiao is trying to climb that hill each round, to get further and further, and do damage and knock you out. I would love to see that fight, but I think Manny would have that little edge.”

Lewis will join play-by-play broadcaster Sam Rosen and analyst Tony Paige on the Epix HD simulcast. The bouts will start at 5 p.m. ET/2 PT. It will also be streamed in Times Square in New York as well as on the EpixHD.com website.

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Mar 18, 2011