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Redefining Moment
Richard Hoffer
November 15, 1999
Heavyweight enigma Lennox Lewis, gifted but not yet great, has another chance to prove he's a warrior in this week's rematch against Evander Holyfield
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November 15, 1999

Redefining Moment

Heavyweight enigma Lennox Lewis, gifted but not yet great, has another chance to prove he's a warrior in this week's rematch against Evander Holyfield

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That's all reassuring. Mostly, though, Lewis is invisible, and the only woman in his life that anybody knows about is his mother, Violet. (Girlfriends are hidden, to the point that his sexuality has been publicly questioned; friends howl at that idea.) Violet's the one who sacrificed to raise him. Born in Jamaica, settled in London, she moved to Canada with Lennox when he was seven. Soon after, however, she sent him back to live with her aunt in London. When he was 12 Lennox rejoined his mother; she had been working in a Styrofoam factory and could finally afford to raise him in modest respectability. Lennox, fatherless, flourished under Violet's care; he was by his own admission something of a hooligan until he was transported to Canada and became a schoolboy star at basketball, football and track. He remains a mama's boy.

The term is misleading in his case, because he has long since secured an adult independence. But Violet, perhaps the only person Lennox truly trusts, remains a fixture at all of his training camps, cooking for her son and his top aides and ministering to the entire camp. "She knows when you're depressed and just what to say," Shand says. "And she tries to keep Lennox cheered up, too." Like how? "Well, Mom's always telling him to get out of his room, watch a movie or something. He spends a lot of time in there, thinking, I guess." About what? "I don't know."

One thing Lewis has been thinking about lately is Holyfield, who flummoxed him before their first fight by predicting a third-round knockout. "He had me fooled," says Lewis, almost admiringly. "A good trick. I would have hated for that prediction to come true."

To that point Lewis had never been in anything but what he calls "mediocre fights." A proper caliber of opposition was denied him, to boxing's shame, when Rid-dick Bowe and Mike Tyson wriggled out of matches. While Lewis must take the blame for his Sept. 24, 1994, knockout loss to Oliver McCall and for several other less-than-spectacular showings, it is more boxing's fault than his that he wasn't acclaimed the preeminent heavyweight much sooner.

Lewis says his poor résumé was responsible for his failure to dismantle Holyfield. He was a bit cowed by the magnitude of the event. "All the energy in a bout like that is against you," he says, "and it's hard to ignore." Still, he thought he won easily. Steward, who likes his fighters to knock people out, wasn't enthusiastic about Lewis's tactics, but he recognized that Lewis was trying to give a recital, "show the world his superiority, not for eight rounds, but for 12." Lewis says he's since been persuaded that he can show the world his superiority much more quickly. "What happened to the Sweet Science?" he asks wistfully. "Well, this time it will be different. I'll take more chances."

Hardly anybody believes that. Lewis, the Scientist, is far too calculating just to let loose, to be ruled by anything except caution. This is not to say he lacks heart, or desire, or competitive spirit. Lewis has those in abundance. He's even mean on occasion. But at crunch time, Lewis begins thinking things through, and the violence he seems made for is reduced to a series of chess moves.

Example: In 1992, after beating Holyfield, Bowe baited Lewis at ringside. Lewis told USA Today, "My thoughts were violent, but I analyzed the situation and...I was thinking, This man just went 12 rounds. It would look bad if I knocked him out on TV."

He's always thinking. Sometimes it's comical. John Hornewer, who was Lewis's attorney until 1996, remembers the two of them being in Violet's apartment in Kitchener. As they were leaving, Lewis said, "Wait," and began mussing the place up, throwing papers around. He told Hornewer if he left it too clean, she'd worry. "He was thinking about her," says Hornewer. "Always thinking."

But another time, after his Mercedes was trashed, Lewis was thinking along altogether different lines. Hornewer was in Lewis's house just outside London when the fighter returned from the confrontation, and he saw Lewis go a little nuts. The ruffians who'd cut him off had then lured him into an alley in a trailer park and attacked his car with bats, breaking the windshield and leaving the champion a little bloody about his precious scalp. Hornewer watched in amazement as Lewis plotted his revenge, dressing all in black and setting out for the trailer park later that evening. Lewis drove there with Hornewer, crept into the night and pitched a tire through the window of a trailer that, he believed, belonged to one of his assailants. He was only mildly disconcerted when, in the backlit kitchen, he saw a woman instead of one of his attackers. "He felt a little bit bad," says Hornewer, "but he also felt they all had it coming. Still, it was typical Lennox. He's not about to jump out of his car at the moment, in some fit of temper. He takes his time, gets his revenge."

Lewis, who admits to the escapade, laughs at his own prudence. "You could say I surveyed the situation," he says. "No matter what my mother thinks, I do watch a lot of movies."

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