lennox gives Hayes advice on how to fight KlitschkoJune 25, 2011
By Oliver Brown
Lennox Lewis tells David Haye his only chance is to capitalise on speed against Wladimir Klitschko
Retirement cannot dull a great prizefighter’s love of a little flattery. Lennox Lewis takes a lengthy pause when he hears the assessment that David Haye, seeking on Saturday night to assume his mantle as Britain’s latest unified heavyweight champion, is barely fit to lace his gloves.
That’s how you do it: Lennox Lewis, who in his final fight left Vitali Klitschko bloodied and bowed, has identified a lack of speed as the younger brother’s primary weakness.
“Everybody has their own routes,” he declares, not exactly demurring from the idea. “You understand? Everybody makes their own steps.”
The shadow of Lewis hovers ominously over Hamburg’s Imtech Arena as Haye confronts his moment of reckoning against Wladimir Klitschko: a bout that presents a passport, potentially, to the heavyweight pantheon, not to mention a decisive rebuke to all those detractors who insist he is just a puffed-up cruiserweight.
For Lewis, the man whose pre-eminence in British boxing Haye has worked so ferociously to inherit, was a totemic heavyweight figure. Vanquishing Mike Tyson, Shannon Briggs and Evander Holyfield (twice), the Anglo-Canadian built a record to eclipse that of the London pretender, who chalked up his most recent victory against — whisper it quietly — Audley Harrison.
Addressing the parlous state of the division he left behind seven years ago, Lewis argues: “I think it’s a little bit weaker, because there’s not as much competition right now. It shrank down after the Muhammad Ali era. Then came the Larry Holmes era, then the Tyson-Holyfield-Riddick Bowe era, and things became even smaller. After that it has really just been the Klitschkos by themselves: Eastern European bloc fighters.
“I’m a true heavyweight, and I had been boxing in the class for a while, even in the Olympics. I had fought at two Games at that level, in Los Angeles and Seoul. David represents the position that used to belong to Holyfield — who was a cruiserweight, realised there was more money to step up, and had the talent to go and do it.”
More money, perhaps, but not quite the expected prestige. Still, the paucity of opponents has hardly discouraged Haye in his quest to be the undisputed champion in his adopted class. Lewis managed it, although his anointed heir looks increasingly unlikely to enjoy such distinction. To do so he needs to fight Wladimir’s elder brother, Vitali, and yet the Ukrainian is already scheduled to defend the WBC title against Poland’s Tomasz Adamek on Sept 10 — a mere five weeks before the Oct 13 retirement date to which Haye is steadfastly sticking.
Among Lewis’ signature achievements was the demolition he conducted on Vitali in Dec 2003, leaving his opponent requiring 60 stitches. “He was cut on three sides of his face,” the 45 year-old recalls. Memories of that night provide an instructive insight into the awkwardness for which the Klitschkos are famed.
“I wasn’t really at my best, but at my worst I still beat him,” says Lewis, who has plainly lost none of his self-aggrandising gifts outside the ring. “My situation was that I had taken a year off, and then all of a sudden I’m put in against a guy who measures 6ft 8in and weights 250lb. After I hit him, he falls on me, and I have to deal with pushing him off. At the same time, I have to hurt him. That’s the only thing I didn’t really prepare for. David has to make sure that Wladimir doesn’t hurt him.”
Speaking from New York, Lewis is preparing to travel to Germany this week in his fresh incarnation as television pundit. He left one job, at American network HBO, amid rumoured disquiet last summer over his bizarre on-air statements — sample: “There are no nightclubs in Las Vegas.” He could not be more explicit, though, in his analysis of Haye’s prospects under Hamburg’s stadium lights.
“I see that he’s fighting an uphill battle all the way. Very few boxers are able to do that. He’s in a weight class where he is obviously oversized. The Klitschkos weigh more than him, they’re bigger than him, they have longer reach. But they’re not quicker than him, so he has to capitalise on his quickness. If he was to be successful, it would be history-making.”
Warming to his theme, Lewis isolates Haye’s priorities against the fearsome Wladimir, two inches taller at 6ft 5in and self-styled as ‘Dr Steelhammer’.
“Definitely movement, and to throw punches in bunches,” he counsels. “We have seen him up against a 7ft tall guy before, in Nikolai Valuev, and he was definitely quicker than him. So he has to capitalise on that and put it all together with some combinations.”
Never shy of offering expertise, Lewis once went by the moniker of ‘pugilist specialist’ and has retained every last drop of his passion for boxing.
“Every time I step into the gym, I have to teach somebody something,” he admits. “I have bags full of knowledge that always come out.” Checking himself and sounding, for a second, suspiciously like Frank Bruno, he adds: “I haven’t been in the ring with anybody. Know what I mean?”
Life has been positively serene for Lewis since his final professional fight against the older Klitschko. He has relocated to Miami with his wife, a former Miss Jamaica runner-up, and a personal net worth of £95 million hints at scant need for him to pursue many adventurous sidelines. “I’m doing whatever comes up,” he says, with a lazy drawl suggestive of his sun-kissed lifestyle.
One constant, at least, is his foundation, designed to assist America’s underprivileged children in spheres far outside boxing. “Do anything you wish to do, just realise the sacrifices involved,” he pronounces, in a statement of his life philosophy. “My mother used to say: ‘You can’t get anywhere without sweat.’ So if I’m in the ring or working out, I need to sweat. That has always played in the back of my head.”
It is a lesson that he tries equally to impart to his three young children.
“My son is very dedicated in anything he does. I look at him and I see me. I was very focused, whether in getting my candy or hitting a ball into a net.” Could he ever envisage young Landon following the paternal path inside the ropes? “He would be a great boxer” comes Lewis’ reply, the pride rich in his voice. “And he would have the best coach possible: me.”