Boxing: One punch could end my career, says Lewis

by ALAN FRASER, Daily Mail

Lennox Lewis was only ever going to be one punch from retirement after that stunning defeat in Johannesburg last April. Now Britain's former world heavyweight champion has gone and said it.

Speaking in New York yesterday, Lewis revealed that defeat in the rematch against Hasim Rahman in Las Vegas in November would signal the end of his career.

Lewis said: 'If I don't win, I'm going to call it a day. That's how confident I am about winning. If I can't win this fight, why should I go on?'

It is a declaration that will broker little disagreement from promoters, trainers and boxing fans alike - the kind of threatened finality resented only by those who cling to the muscular body of a fighter for financial gain.

They were all over the Plaza Hotel yesterday as, against the background of a typical Don King piece of exaggerated hype - complete with town criers - Lewis spoke of his motivation in terms of history rather than economics.

There was, though, surely more than an element of King-like extravagance in the claim by Lewis that he was following in the same footsteps as Muhammad Ali, no less.

Lewis said: 'If I win this fight, it would seal my place in history. I'm on the same course as my hero, Muhammad Ali. The defeat by Rahman will only add to my legacy. Just like Ali. He lost three times and came back and won. It shows through history that when you lose and come back it adds to the legend.'

Not much of a legend, according to Sports Illustrated magazine, which claimed in a feature this week that Ali has been over-rated. That generated more steam than the New York metro.

As arrogant as Lewis sounded on his likely place in the annals of boxing - and remember, humility has never figured strongly among pugilists - for the first time he was prepared to concede that he had taken Rahman too lightly in their first fight.

He said: 'I should have taken Rahman more seriously. Maybe I was a little lackadaisical. Any time you go into a ring you're taking your life in your hands. You have to be in shape and 100 per cent focused. Things can happen if you aren't. I wasn't 100 per cent focused against Rahman.'

Lewis will soon take himself off to the Poconos mountain resort in Pennsylvania to prepare for his return fight with the American, in which the principals are expected to earn $10million each. None of his training camps there has ever preceded a defeat.

The fact that he gave it a miss last time, skipping between a Las Vegas gym and a film set for three days of shooting, was another illustration that he underestimated his opponent. He said: 'I did want to go to Poconos but because it was Rahman I thought I could afford not to. It cost me.'

Four months of wound-licking and perspective-seeking ended yesterday as he emerged from a period of purdah with his usual brand of positive thinking and positive talking.

Lewis said: 'To me, that defeat has acted as a wake-up call. In one sense my mind was on a plateau. It re-ignited a flame in me. I want to come back and make things right. I want to outbox Rahman and show him that I'm superior. He knows about my powerful jab. But I didn't hit him with my right hand last time. I will this time.

'He hit me with a lottery punch. He believes he can do the same again. I'm telling you he can't. This is absolutely perfect for me to set the record straight with the American public.

'He signed a personal rematch clause. I gave him the opportunity to eat some food, to fight for the heavyweight title. He beats me then all of a sudden says I'm not fighting you no more.

'I didn't realise Rahman would do so much running. I actually had to go and get him, drag him back here to New York, put him in court and have the judge say: "Yo', you can't fight anyone other than Lewis".'

U.S. District Judge Miriam Cedarbaum lived up to the description of New York as the 'city that never sleeps'. At midnight one day early this summer she issued a judgement which virtually forced Rahman into a rematch.

Not only will it give Lewis the opportunity of winning back his belts, it also offers him one other opening.

'This is my ticket to Mike Tyson,' said Lewis. 'Tyson would be a great feather in my cap. Eighteen months ago I never wanted it to happen. But this is the fight the people want to see.'

If Lewis loses on November 17 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, the big one will have eluded him. Full stop. End of story. Print the record and give him his place in heavyweight history.

RICKY HATTON, regarded by many as Britain's best prospect, should have little trouble disposing of West Virginian John 'Macho Midget' Bailey in a second defence of his WBU light -welterweight title in Manchester on September 15. Bailey's only available ranking is No.89 at lightweight in the IBO list, after seven defeats and two draws in 27 fights.

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