Although Great Britain is a tiny island, it has been home to two British behemoths that have ruled the heavyweight division – Lennox ‘The Lion’ Lewis and Tyson ‘The Gypsy King’ Fury.
So the burning question is, if these two kings of the ring ever fought at the peak of their powers, who would reign supreme?
At 6’5 and weighing in at around 17.5 stone, Lennox ‘The Lion’ Lewis had an imposing stature that would not look out of place amongst today’s super-sized heavyweights. The self-proclaimed ‘pugilist specialist’ was an apt description of his talents. He was often criticised for taking the safety first approach but make no mistake that Lewis had the tools to do it all. He had an accurate jab, which would pierce through the tightest of defences and thud impactfully into his opponents. Once his famed jab found its mark, Lewis had the ability to string together hurtful combinations with fluid dexterity. It could be beautiful to watch but certainly painful for his opponents on the receiving end.
Lennox Lewis is an Olympic gold medallist and three-time heavyweight champion. He also unified all the recognised world title belts and gained undisputed status by overcoming the challenge of Evander Holyfield in their rematch in 1999.
Whilst the summary of his achievements are impressive, looking a little deeper into his record provides further evidence that Lennox Lewis is one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time.
In the developmental stage of Lewis’ career, he was not veered with the sensitive care or caution that many of today’s generation are. Lewis took the hard path to success, by snaring and then defending the European, British and Commonwealth titles on his journey to reach the top of the heavyweight mountain.
That journey did come with a couple of bumps in the road, as Lewis suffered ignominious knockout losses to Oliver McCall in 1994 and Hasim Rahman in 2001. Lewis did not allow the disappointments to deflate his morale or deter him from his mission. After his loss to McCall, he joined forces with revered trainer Emanuel Steward at the renowned Kronk Gym, where he refined his style. He avenged both losses, firstly by frustrating McCall who bizarrely cried his way to defeat and by spectacularly crushing Rahman with a one-two combination that won the 2001 knockout of the year.
Besides those blemishes and a controversial draw with Holyfield in their first contest, Lewis’ record is pristine and littered with excellent wins over boxing legends, elite talents and young pretenders all of whom failed to steal his crown.
His victims include Frank Bruno, Tommy Morrison, Ray Mercer, Andrew Golota, Shannon Briggs, Michael Grant, Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson and Vitali Klitshcko. They are a deadly crew of heavy-handed punchers, high-energy volume-fighters, smart boxers and bruising brawlers. Each one of them came with unique styles that Lewis was able to analyse, dissect and overcome, whether it be by out-boxing them or knocking them out.
At 6’9 and last weighing in at 19.5 stone, Tyson Fury represents the evolution of the modern-day heavyweight boxer. By being both big and strong, at first glance you would be forgiven for expecting Fury to be a plodding destroyer. However, his greatest strengths are his fleet-footed movement and sharp reflexes, which resemble a fighter of much smaller proportions. He utilises his jab in numerous ways, especially to gauge his distance and keep his foes at bay. He is hard to hit, awkward, unpredictable and a master of mind-games.
There are parallels with Lewis in the journey that Fury taken on his pursuit for greatness.
Fury also gained recognition by successfully gaining British, European and Commonwealth titles, by demonstrating his mesmerising movement and impressive hand-speed for a man of his gargantuan size.
He was able to breeze past opponents during the infancy of his career and signalled his vast potential by out-boxing Dereck Chisora with a disciplined display, during their first contest.
However, appetite for war was tested when he was knocked down in bouts against Neven Pajkic and Steve Cunningham, he showed that he could dig deep and fight in the trenches, going on to devour both of those opponents soon after his moments of crisis.
He once again bested Dereck Chisora in their rematch, this time dismantling him by the seventh stanza, which set him up for a showdown against the dominant lineal heavyweight champion, Wladimir Klitschko.
Klitschko simply wasn’t prepared for the psychological warfare that Fury waged on him, as ‘The Gypsy King’ goaded, teased and demeaned the Ukrainian, refusing to be intimidated by the long-standing champion. His antics included dressing up as Batman at a pre-fight press conference and smashing a watermelon on his head. It worked like a treat. Fury had convinced Klitschko that he was a mad-man, but come fight-night, he was a genius. His superior ring-generalship and unpredictable lateral movement enabled him to vanquish a baffled blue-ribbon boss. He dethroned Dr. Steelhammer with relative ease to become the lineal, WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight champion.
Soon after his most momentous night in Dusseldorf, Fury surrendered his titles as he battled mental health problems, abused his body with drink and drugs and ballooned in weight almost beyond recognition.
Following a three year hiatus, Fury shed 10 stone to miraculously return to boxing. He had two warm-up fights before taking on the fearsome WBC champion Deontay ‘The Bronze Bomber’ Wilder. The former champion looked to have done enough to defy the critics who expected him to be another tragic victim to the chiselled champion’s vaunted power. He was elusive, countered effectively and made Wilder look clumsy. Fury famously rose from a heavy knockdown in the 12th, only to remarkably take the fight to the hard-hitting American for the remainder of the round. Despite many believing Fury had done enough to clinch the title, the judges ruled the contest a draw.
Whilst Fury had great success in out-boxing the unorthodox but dangerous Alabamian, he changed tact in the rematch. He followed Lennox Lewis’ example by heading to the States and training at the Kronk Gym, where he was guided by Emmanuel Steward’s nephew, Javan ‘SugarHill’ Steward. It was an inspired move. Fury took the initiative by aggressively marching forward and taking the fight to the champion. It resulted in a battered, bloodied and bleary-eyed Wilder, who was withdrawn from the one-sided beating, by his corner, making Fury a two-time, lineal heavyweight champion of the world.
Fury’s victories aren’t just impressive because of who he beat but also for how he beat them. He deposed Klitschko of his titles in Germany by out-boxing the master boxer and then conquered Wilder in America, by destroying the formidable knockout artist.
Lennox Lewis and Tyson Fury became the best heavyweights in the world by overcoming adversity and exhibiting a versatile skill-set.
During his pomp, Lewis would state with conviction that he is a five-dimensional fighter. He could box clinically, punch with authority, brawl on the inside, fight on the outside and defend expertly. His ability meant he was prepared him for any style and he could alter his tactics in the midst of combat.
However, in Fury, he would be confronted by a man that is similarly adaptable, with a fighting spirit as large as his 6’9 frame.
So who would win, Lewis or Fury?
The respect that the two would have for one another would mean that a clash between the pair would not immediately descend into an all-out-war. The battle of the jabs would be paramount to gaining a foot-hold in the contest but anything more damaging would have to be earned with patience and precision.
Fury would likely dictate the pattern in the early stages by opting to box on the outside. Closing down Lewis, as he did with Wilder in their rematch, would be a far more perilous task considering the various weapons ‘The Lion’ has at his disposal. Unlike the one-dimensional Wilder, Lewis could throw textbook hooks, searing uppercuts and bludgeoning body-shots. The ‘Gypsy King’ would use feints and his superior erratic movement to create openings to score with his long, jolting jab but the intelligent Lewis would remain patient, attempt to slip the jabs and counter with the right hand over the top, before swooping in to land follow-up blows to the body and head.
This would likely lead to a frustrating amount of clinching which would dampen the chance of the contest catching fire and providing a spectacle that would enthrall a audience wishing for blood and guts. It would be boxing’s equivalent of chess – perhaps unappealing to casual viewers but compelling for boxing aficionados, intrigued by the nuances of elite pugilism.
This strategic battle would threaten a stalemate that would benefit neither man. As the cagey affair progresses into the final third, a restless crowd would voice their dissatisfaction and both fighters would recognise the necessity to take risks with their offence. Lewis would close the distance with greater purpose and Fury, sensing that the scores are close, would oblige his counterpart by holding his ground defiantly. Now with both in the centre of the ring they would exchange punishing blows, with the knees of both champions buckling, as they endeavor to gain the favour of the judges.
A fight at close-quarters would slightly benefit Lewis. He had routinely displayed fine balance throughout his career, which allowed him to land accurate bombs in combination as he did in his destruction of Frans Botha and Shannon Briggs. This attribute would serve him well once again against a more stationary Fury. Although Fury would have success by scoring with one or two clubbing punches at a time, Lewis’ cleaner punches and greater output would resonate with the judges.
Lewis’ efforts in the championship rounds are what separate him from his giant adversary on the scorecards, as ‘The Lion’ claims a close majority decision triumph and remains the apex predator among the great British heavyweights.
Here's what BBN's readers voted for in our online poll:
Lennox Lewis PTS: 13%
Lennox Lewis KO: 30%
Tyson Fury PTS: 50%
Tyson Fury KO: 7%