(AP) -- The boos Lennox Lewis hears these days hurt more than most of the punches he took. The fighters he sees claiming pieces of the heavyweight
title he held seem like impostors.
For those and maybe 35 million other reasons, Lewis ought to reconsider retirement and fight a rematch against new WBC champion Vitali Klitschko.
Unless he does, Lewis may never get the full measure of respect and peace of mind he deserves.
He sensed it when he was in Los Angeles over the weekend, hearing the crowd boo him before the title fight between Klitschko and Corrie Sanders.
Lewis felt it the week before when he went to Madison Square Garden in New York to see Chris Byrd and Andrew Golota fight for another slice of the
splintered heavyweight title.
Mike Tyson got cheered like crazy. Evander Holyfield got a respectful ovation. Lewis? He's beaten both of them, handled himself with dignity, never
spent a night in jail, and still he got booed.
"I know him and I know that bothers him," says Emanuel Steward, Lewis' former trainer who began working with Klitschko after Lewis retired at 38 in
"He can't get away from boxing because that's been his life for 26 years. So he's got to go to these events. He's been the Olympic champion and the
three-time heavyweight champion, yet wherever he goes, he gets booed. That hurts."
It might just hurt enough to make Lewis think again about his decision to walk away from it all without trying to cement his reputation with one final
and convincing victory against Klitschko. Steward said a rematch could be worth $100 million, with each fighter getting $35 million in guaranteed
If it comes about, money wouldn't be the main motivation.
Lewis, always a lot more frugal than Tyson ever was, is hardly strapped for cash. He's probably squirreled away about $100 million, Steward said. But
an extra $35 million is always nice.
More important to Lewis would be wiping out the memories of his WBC and IBO heavyweight title fight against Klitschko last June.
The giant Ukrainian led Lewis on all three scorecards when the 12-round bout was stopped in the sixth because of a cut around the challenger's left
eye. Klitschko protested vehemently that he could keep fighting, and many ringsiders thought he would have beaten Lewis if the fight continued.
Lewis has kept mum recently, but he said in July that he definitely wanted a rematch with Klitschko before deciding to quit instead.
"On Dec. 6 we went to a wedding together, and he and I had a long discussion with his mom," Steward said. "We discussed it very carefully. She told
him, 'If you retire, I want you to stay retired.' She was very adamant about that."
When Lewis made his announcement two months later, he insisted he wouldn't be one of those champions who retire, return, retire and return again. He
had done it all and had nothing more to prove. He spoke to friends about getting married and starting a family, doing other things with his life. His
mom was proud of him.
But events have a way of reshaping a man's thoughts.
Lewis' exit left a void in the heavyweight division, which affects all of boxing. Tyson plans to come back, but his act and skills are getting awfully
old. John Ruiz is the WBA champion and Byrd holds the IBF title, and who really cares?
Lewis watches it all, hears the boos and maybe starts thinking, "Hey, I can lick all these guys, beat Klitschko and get out clean."
And that wouldn't be such a bad plan.
Even Steward, who owes allegiance to Klitschko now, would give Lewis even odds on winning a rematch.
"I don't discount Lennox," Steward said. "Vitali's improved a little bit, but a real focused, determined Lennox is a good fighter. We know it and the
Klitschkos have a lot of respect for him. I can't see an easy fight for anyone if they fought again. That's why it would be such a big fight. Everyone
saw what happened when they fought last time."
Steward said that, despite reports to the contrary, Lewis trained hard for their first bout but lost his focus when he ran around acting as a promoter
for the fight in the week before it came off.
"Lennox is probably about 270 now, but he'd get down to about 250, which for him is not too big at all," Steward said. "He can still fight. Forget
what you saw the last fight. This time it would be different.
"It's the biggest fight out there in boxing that could be made today. It has all the drama of a big, super heavyweight fight. You don't have to
promote it. Just show the highlights of their last fight."
Lewis ought to look at those highlights himself. He owes himself and boxing one more fight against Klitschko to go out with the honor he deserves.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.