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Original Issue

Class of His Class

RETIRED Heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis, 38, with a career record
of 41-2-1. SI's Richard Hoffer weighs in on the first heavyweight
since Rocky Marciano in 1956 to quit while holding the title.

The heavyweight champion is God's lab rat, subjected to the most
exaggerated experiments just to determine the extreme boundaries
of human behavior. What will he do when, quite suddenly, the
laser point of fame is focused on him? How will he perform when
he is enriched beyond his wildest imaginings? What will he do in
the face of defeat? How does he react to the shame of being
battered against a ring post, his drool and blood a mockery of
his talents? And how does he regulate his arrogance when he
routinely batters someone else against that post?

For Lewis those experiments could hardly have gone better. The
Brit was not everybody's cup of tea; he did not provide the
outsized and cartoonish personality we seem to ask of our
superheroes these days. But over 14 years (most as champion) he
performed with a constant dignity, without scandal and with a
professionalism that will likely be the envy of any successor. As
a boxer, if he was not the greatest of all time, he was certainly
extraordinary. He was among that wave of supercarrier division
fighters, 6'5", 250 pounds, who could also move. His right hand,
though he did not deploy it often enough to suit critics, was
pneumatic. He was so talented that chief among the knocks against
him, he would always be cursed as an underachiever, too cautious
for his gifts, never quite dominant enough.

Probably we'd remember him with greater awe if his biggest
victories, over Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, had occurred
earlier in their careers. Or if he hadn't lost to inferior
fighters Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman (losses he easily and
emphatically avenged). Or if he'd been in some meaningful,
dynasty-making fight. Or if he hadn't been touched up by Vitali
Klitschko--his victory saved only when the Russian nearly bled
out in the ring--in what proved to be Lewis's final fight, last

But let's remember him with respect, at least, for having met the
strange, unholy challenges of the heavyweight championship and
remind ourselves that Lewis, alone among his peers and his
predecessors of nearly a half-century, has applied the final
grace note to a terrific career and left on top.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO (LEWIS) STILL STANDING More than 15 years after he won Olympic gold, Lewis went out a champion.