On This Day: Lennox Lewis Turns Pro, Sparking Debate Over His Nationality

Lennox Lewis

June 27, 1989, Royal Albert Hall, London: Lennox Lewis, a Canadian/British heavyweight who clinched Olympic gold as a super-heavyweight in Seoul, made his professional debut. The 23-year-old defeated journeyman Al Malcolm with a second-round stoppage, marking the beginning of a remarkable career.

Lewis, a formidable amateur with an 85-9 record, competed in two Olympics, losing to Tyrell Biggs in 1984 before winning gold in 1988. He was only stopped by Valeriy Abadzhyan of the Soviet Union.

Lewis took his time choosing a promoter, ultimately deciding to go pro in the UK. Born in London but raised in Canada, Lewis felt a strong connection to Britain and believed Canada lacked the infrastructure for developing boxers. Despite initial skepticism, he signed with Frank Maloney, quickly earning recognition as a future world champion.

Early victories over Jean-Maurice Chanet, Gary Mason, and Glenn McCrory showcased Lewis’ talent. In 1991, he avenged his amateur loss to Biggs and in 1992, he added the Commonwealth belt to his British and European titles. A decisive win over Donovan “Razor” Ruddock in October 1992 solidified his status, though Riddick Bowe refused a rematch, leaving Lewis to claim the vacant WBC title by defeating Tony Tucker in 1993, making history as the UK’s first world heavyweight champion since Bob Fitzsimmons.

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Despite a shocking TKO loss to Oliver McCall in 1994, Lewis bounced back under trainer Emanuel Steward, defeating top contenders like Tommy Morrison, Ray Mercer, and regaining the WBC title from McCall. He continued his dominance with wins over Andrew Golota, Shannon Briggs, and a controversial draw with Evander Holyfield, followed by a decisive victory in the rematch, establishing himself as the undisputed world heavyweight champion.

Lewis’ career was not without setbacks, including a stunning knockout by Hasim Rahman in 2001. However, he avenged this loss with a brutal KO in the rematch. In 2002, Lewis decisively defeated Mike Tyson, a long-awaited matchup, cementing his legacy. His final fight against Vitali Klitschko in 2003 was a hard-fought victory, ending his career with a TKO win.

Reflecting on his career, Lewis, who defeated every opponent he faced, is celebrated as one of boxing’s true greats.

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