It was half past noon when the elevator doors slid open at a shopping mall in the London suburb of Bexleyheath and the reigning king of Britain's sporting world emerged from the lift and began moving purposefully through the crowd. Though trying to blend in, Lennox Lewis might as well have done handsprings from the mall's main corridor straight into Woolworth's. A handsome giant of a man at 6'5" and 230 pounds, erect in bearing and serene in countenance, Lewis was as inconspicuous as a Masai warrior striding among the smaller, fair-faced folk who stopped to stare.
"Why, it's Lennox Lewis!" Ilisha Driscoll, a 16-year-old student, whispered to her school companion, Carla Burchell. "Let's follow him."
"Oh, my god!" said Burchell. "My father's not going to believe this."
Small crowds knotted around him everywhere he went that afternoon. He spent most of his time handing out dozens of autographed photos of himself to people who approached him as he slipped in and out of stores. "Best of luck to you, Lennox said well-wisher Steve Hutchins. "Bring that heavyweight title to Britain!"
Indeed, since scoring a second-round knockout over Donovan (Razor) Ruddock on Oct. 31 in London, Lewis has been besieged by well-wishers urging him to do what no British-born heavyweight has done in this century. Behind a single, swift right hand that dropped Ruddock and scattered his senses at the end of the first round, and a flurry of punches that knocked Ruddock senseless 46 seconds into the second, the 27-year-old Lewis left the unmistakable impression that if given the chance, he would prove to be the best heavyweight fighter in the world.
Given the foul, degrading and disingenuous manner in which business is often conducted in boxing, Lewis may have to wait until 1994 to make the case that he's the best. When he flattened Ruddock, Lewis and his manager, Frank Maloney. believed that Lewis would get the first shot at the winner of the Nov. 13 Evander Holyfield-Riddick Bowe title bout, a shot that both Holyfield and Bowe had indicated they would give him.
However, after Bowe outpointed Holyfield, it quickly became clear that Bowe's manager, Rock Newman, had no more intention of having his fighter meet Lewis right away than he had of dancing with a chain saw. Newman tossed a low-ball offer at Lewis, which Lewis rejected; then, looking for big money and easy pickings. Newman and Bowe signed a six-fight contract with Time Warner Sports, whose president, Seth Abraham, had been pushing Lewis as the greatest heavyweight in the world—"Lennox Lewis is the real deal," Abraham said last fall—right up to the Bowe-Holyfield fight, after which he began hyping Bowe. "Riddick Bowe could make as much as $100 million if he wins all six fights," Abraham said.
The dead-meat parade begins at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 6, when Bowe steps into the ring against 34-year-old Michael Dokes. a 250-pound spent bullet whose battle against cocaine addiction has been quite as spectacular as any he has waged in the ring. Once he has dispatched Dokes, Bowe will entertain Ray Mercer in Atlantic City in May in another waste of time. After Mercer he may take on George Foreman and even Larry Holmes, boxing's senior citizens.
On Dec. 14 Bowe relinquished the World Boxing Council's version of the heavyweight title by dumping the WBC belt in the trash. It was an unnecessary bit of showmanship; the WBC was going to strip him anyway for ducking Lewis. No longer the undisputed champ, Bowe now holds the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation belts. The WBC conferred its title on Lewis.
As things turned out, Lewis also ended up in the bosom of Abraham. On Jan. 14 Time Warner Sports announced that it had signed Lewis to a four-fight, multimillion-dollar contract. Like Bowe. he must win to advance to the next bout. "We knew we couldn't make [Bowe and Lewis] fight each other," Abraham explains. "So we decided the next best thing is to put both men under contract and use our influence to get them to fight. It's courtesy and it's politic and it's good business to start with Bowe. If we start the other way, Rock Newman would not make a deal with us."