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Lennox Lewis: He Got Out At The Perfect With A Lifetime To Relish It

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HBO_Commentators_2It doesn't matter how great you were or what weight you fought at. Nor does it make a difference as to how much wealth you acquired. Even if you made the most consecutive title defenses in boxing history, or you're considered the greatest fighter of all-time or thought by many to be the most recognized person on the planet, you most likely didn't leave professional boxing on your own terms or the way you had always hoped to when you were on top.

Joe Louis stayed too long and was tormented by the IRS for a majority of his life after he lost his final bout to future hall of famer and all-time great Rocky Marciano. Sugar Ray Robinson, the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in boxing history (and you're wrong if you think he's not) lost to Ferd Hernandez, Stan Harrington and Joey Archer during the last half of 1965, the final year of his stellar career before retiring for good. Muhammad Ali lost the last two bouts of his career versus reigning champ and all-time great Larry Holmes, and future WBC title holder Trevor Berbick, before finally retiring for good in 1981.

It's doubtful that the most respected boxing historian's alive today would argue that Louis, Robinson and Ali are the three most celebrated and accomplished fighters in boxing history. Yet, both Louis and Robinson fought too long after their prime while in declining health because they needed money. As for Ali, he may not have been hurting financially, but he couldn't turn down the eight million dollars he was guaranteed for coming out of retirement and fighting Larry Holmes for the title. And it very well may be that his fight with Holmes contributed to Ali's decline physically, more so than the 59 combined bouts he participated in prior to him challenging Holmes.

It's almost unheard of for great fighters to retire as champ and never attempt to return to the ring, especially after they've defeated the fighter who was perceived to be their biggest threat in the final bout of their career. Only five all-time greats retired from boxing at the exact right time and never attempted a comeback: Gene Tunney, Rocky Marciano, Carlos Monzon, Ricardo Lopez and Lennox Lewis. And Marciano, Monzon and Lewis beat the man who was thought to be their eventual successor in Archie Moore, Rodrigo Valdez and Vitali Klitschko.

Lewis retired in 2004 after his sixth-round stoppage of Vitali Klitschko in June of 2003. Despite trailing by two points on all three judges' scorecards, Lewis was declared the winner when the ring doctor stopped the fight due to a terrible gash over Klitschko's eye after the sixth round. And let's be clear about one thing, Lewis' victory over Klitschko was no fluke. It was a well placed punch landed by Lennox that opened the cut over Vitali's eye. And in the eyes of many observers, Lewis looked like he had figured Klitschko out by the end of the sixth round and possibly was on his way to a more clear-cut stoppage victory.

Klitschko pleaded for a rematch in the months after the fight, but Lewis, sensing his time had come and gone, smartly declined to fight Vitali again. And if you were Lewis, you couldn't have left boxing at a better time. Being that he was never heavier or less prepared for any bout of his career, and still managed to come out on top on the night Vitali probably fought the best fight of his life. Add to that Vitali stopped Kirk Johnson, Corrie Sanders and Danny Williams after losing to Lewis and then retired for almost four years. Then he came back and stopped the once beaten Samuel Peter in his first fight to win the WBC heavyweight title. And since his return Klitschko has won seven consecutive title fights, six by stoppage, and has barely lost a round.

What's admirable about Lennox Lewis and the way he retired from boxing is, he realized that after he beat Mike Tyson in June of 2002, he retired mentally as a fighter. He said after defeating Tyson, 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.

Lewis had clamored to fight Tyson for at least five years before they finally met. “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.’ ”

After beating Tyson conclusively, Lennox underestimated Vitali in what would turn out to be his last career bout and was fortunate to come out on top when they fought. So why chance it again? He understood the fighter who'd beaten Tyson a year earlier was never coming back and there was nothing left for him to prove. It was the ideal time for Lewis to bow out gracefully with his health, wealth and respect. Since then Lewis' legacy and career perception has continued to escalate. And a good bit of that is due to Vitali Klitschko's dominance of the heavyweight division since Lennox retired. The more Vitali continues to win, the better Lennox's victory over him on the worst night of his career looks.

Prior to Vitali's last bout against Odlanier Solis, Lennox spoke to the press regarding his bout with Klitschko almost eight years ago. And he was very gracious and said repeatedly how Vitali gave him one of the toughest fights of his entire career. Lewis also reiterated how difficult Vitali is to match up with and said he was troubled by Klitschko's 6'7″ height. And based on what Lewis has been saying over the last few years, he has a ton of respect for Vitali Klitschko and clearly sees him as the top heavyweight in boxing today. In the years that have passed since he fought Vitali, Lennox has accepted that it was more than just him not being in top shape for his sub-par showing during their fight. If you read between the lines he's so much as said that Klitschko had a lot to do with it as well.

When Lewis was asked about the state of the heavyweight division, he said, “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.” 

When the subject of a possible return to the ring by Lewis was mentioned, he made it emphatically clear that we'll never see him in the ring again other than as a commentator. Obviously, Lennox Lewis is at peace with himself and doesn't harbor a single regret over his career. Sadly, Lennox is on a short list of great fighters who got out of boxing at the perfect time. He'd no doubt earn a King's ransom if he announced he was going to come out of retirement and challenge Vitali for the WBC title. However, there's no need for him to do it. He doesn't need the money and the record books already have documented that he stopped Klitschko when they fought.

Lennox Lewis ended his career at the perfect time with no regrets. And with that he has the rest of his life to sit back and relish it. What a feeling that must be.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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