He remains one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time, notching victories over the likes of Riddick Bowe, Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson and Vitali Klitschko.
On Tuesday, the life of Lennox Lewis is chronicled in the boxing documentary “Lennox Lewis: The Untold Story,” a Crackle original film that premieres on demand Tuesday.
Nicknamed “The Lion” with his signature dreadlocks and hulking physique, Lewis remains the last undisputed heavyweight champion of the WBC, WBA and IBF federations.
“Lennox is a very measured and calculating man,” his wife, Violet, says at the outset of the documentary. “He’s like an onion that you keep peeling back and you think you’ve got it, then you realize, no, it goes even further. His personality is really like a lion.”
Narrated by Dr. Dre and produced by Chad Verdi (Verdi Productions), the film opens as Lewis is born into poverty in West Ham, London, in 1965. His single mother, a Jamaican immigrant, moves to Canada for a job opportunity, leaving 7-year-old Lewis behind with a harsh caretaker, before eventually inviting him to join her in Ontario, Canada in 1977.
“There was always early on this perception that the British accent made him more civilized than the other characters with whom he would deal with in the division, and he must have a more genteel background than the guys who grew up on the streets,” HBO boxing commentator Jim Lampley says in the film. “That was a myth.”
At the time, law enforcement would help troubled teens by teaching them boxing at a local police club. Here, Lewis became obsessed with the sport under trainer and father figure Arnie Boehm, who has him spar against a young Tyson in the Catskills.
After winning the gold medal at the Junior World Championships in 1983, we see Lewis compete in the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984, losing in the quarterfinals to eventual gold medalist Tyrell Biggs (Lewis beat him years later). Lewis would get another shot at Olympic glory at the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea.
“He had gone to the opening ceremony in Seoul,” Lampley says. “He left the Canadian delegation and walked up to some American athletes and said, ‘Which one of you is Riddick Bowe?’ … He walked up to Bowe and said, ‘I’m going to knock you out.'”
He does just that, winning the gold before turning pro. We see Lewis decimate Donovan “Razor” Ruddock to become the No. 1 contender for Bowe’s WBC title, but, fearing a repeat of Seoul, Bowe relinquishes the belt to avoid facing Lewis in 1992.
“Disrespected,” Lewis tells directors Rick Lazes and Seth Koch.
“Some would say maybe he didn’t want to face Lennox,” Dr. Dre narrates in the film. “Maybe he was afraid Lennox would kick his a** just like he did in the Olympics.”
As the new WBC champion, Lewis successfully defends the title three times before a surprising loss to Oliver McCall in 1994. The filmmakers show the referee waving off the fight in a TKO, while a stunned Lewis insists he can continue.
Under new trainer Emanuel Steward, we see Lewis beat McCall in a 1997 rematch, as well as subsequent wins over Tommy Morrison, Lionel Butler and Ray Mercer. It all builds to a showdown with Evander “Real Deal” Holyfield in 1999, which ends in a controversial draw despite Lewis landing twice as many punches.
“That is a travesty,” Lampley says at ringside. “A highway robbery. Lennox Lewis has just been robbed of the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world.”
Promoter Don King books a rematch, and Lewis beats Holyfield handily to become the unified WBC, WBA and IBF champion — perhaps the greatest victory of his career.
After cruising to wins over Michael Grant, Francois Botha and David Tua, Lewis faces his “all is lost” moment as he is shockingly knocked out by Hasim Rahman in South Africa in 2001. Like a “Rocky” sequel, Lewis trains hard for his rematch, knocking Rahman out in four rounds and pounding his chest in victory.
The doc reveals that he was inspired by meeting anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.
“I didn’t know that he’s been watching me all this time,” Lewis says. “This is Nelson Mandela, so that was a great thing for me just to even know that, wow, this guy’s been studying me, he knows how I box, and he can tell me that I can go in there and win.”
The film crescendos with Lewis’ most anticipated fight, against Mike Tyson in 2002, a showdown between two giants of their generation. We see a clip of Tyson’s infamous threat, “I want his heart, I want to eat his children,” to which Lewis replies, “Tell Mike Tyson to put up or shut up. This is the art of the sweet science; it’s no street fight.”
“I came across as the villain,” Tyson tells the filmmakers.
“The ultimate matchup between good vs. evil,” Lewis says.
After an infamous scuffle at the Lewis-Tyson press conference, Tyson takes the ring to DMX in the film’s most exciting moment, while Lewis arrives to the reggae of his Jamaican roots. As the filmmakers intercut footage from their sparring youth, Lewis brutally knocks out Tyson in eight rounds to cement his legacy.
“No doubt the best heavyweight of all time,” George Foreman declares at ringside.
Lewis’ last fight comes in 2003, bloodily defeating Soviet-born bruiser Vitali Klitschko, whose brother Wladimir fictionally faced Lewis in the film “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001).
Upon marriage and fatherhood, Lewis retires in 2004 on top of the boxing world.
“He would beat any heavyweight champion in history,” Steward says. “I saw most all of them — Ali, Joe Frazier, Sonny Liston — Lennox would have beat all of them.”
Upon Ali’s death in 2016, Lewis and Tyson are chosen as pallbearers at the funeral, allowing the longtime rivals to make amends with laughter later in life.
“He retired as one of only three heavyweight champions in the history of the sport to beat every man he faced, alongside Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali,” Dr. Dre narrates. “Who are these men we call heavyweight champions? Why do we look up to them? Because they embody all that’s heroic? … Or is it that we cannot look away?”
The same goes for this documentary.