The legacy of 3-time world heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis (41-2-1, 32 KOs) is a complex one.
The story of Lewis spans at least four countries and three boxing generations. But thanks to the efforts of narrator Dr. Dre, directors Rick Lazes and Seth Koch, producer Chad A. Verdi, and Verdi Productions, Lennox Lewis: The Untold Story weaves together most of the tapestries of his life and career in a way that allows one to get a good in-depth look behind the man that dominated the heavyweight division in the 1990s and early 2000s.
“I think there’s a couple of reasons why Lennox maybe didn’t receive the attention that somebody like Mike Tyson did,” director Seth Koch explained to MMA Crossfire. “He’s very introverted, very self-controlled as opposed to Tyson, who’s every egregious, and outgoing, and even outlandish to get attention. In some ways, we are attracted more to the train wreck. One of the questions we ask in the movie is: Who do we look up to as heroes, why do we look up to them?
“Another reason is that the heavyweight institution is seen as an American tradition and Lennox is both Canadian and British and was seen as an outsider, sort of like a Bond villain that an American need to take out as opposed to someone who was a great champion in his own right,” Koch added. “Some of that resistance by the American audience made it harder for his greatness to be recognized across the board.”
Like many fighters, Lewis overcame many obstacles in his youth and throughout his career. Lewis left Canada after winning a gold medal at the 1988 Olympic Games for England to begin his pro career, a move that generated criticism in both countries.
The film talks to some of Lewis’ Canadian trainers and mentors early on. It’s clear from generous amount of previously unreleased personal footage in the film, spending his formative years in Kitchener had a critical impact.
“No matter what Lennox did, people were going to find fault with it,” Koch said. “He was born in England and went over to Canada and when he came back, people like Frank Bruno didn’t think he was really British. He got criticized in Britain for being Canadian, he got criticized in Canada for going back to Britain, he got criticized in America for not being American. So basically no matter what he did, he got flack for it. I think that cultivated a sense in Lennox himself as this man of the world. He was above those labels and categories. It elevated him to be a world hero, a world champion that we could look up to.”
Raised primarily by his mother, Lewis developed an intellectual confidence to manage his own way and raise a family, with the help of some key childhood friends and mentors like the late Emmanuel Steward along the way.
The commentary of boxing commentator Jim Lampley and fighters George Foreman and Tyson help reveal why Lewis was a pivotal figure in the heavyweight scene.
“He’s an intellectual, he’s a thinker,” Lazes said. “He planned out his boxing moves, he planned his life moves. It was interesting to watch a guy like Lennox who in over 20 years I never seen him with any aggression even raise his voice outside the ring, with how powerful and devastating he was in the ring.”
Colleague Evander Holyfield, who Lewis memorably fought twice, is conspicuously minimized, but the late Nelson Mandela is there to add some extraordinary insight. The film indirectly shines a similar light on Tyson, a longtime friend who is featured prominently and clashed with Lewis in a big fight back in 2002.
“It was really wonderful to spend time in Mike’s home and hear him as he has matured,” Koch said. “Mike has done a lot of really interesting things post-boxing, and of course now his return to boxing. He was in a Broadway show, he’s certainly mellowed out and become more introspective and dignified. It’s great to see a guy like Mike Tyson grow throughout his career to where he is today. Lennox and Mike remain great friends and were always good friends even when they were adversaries.”
Producing the finished product required a lot of thinking and resources.
“Seth and I spent five years producing and directing this film,” Lazed detailed. “We went to four different countries. We shot it all over the United States, London, Jamaica, and Canada.
It was really when we brought Dr. Dre on board as the narrator that things began to blossom – Rick Lazes
“Dre is a consummate professional and he only agreed to participate in this project if he could be confident it would be a great movie, not just a good documentary,” Lazed added. “I think that Dr. Dre helped us push Lennox emotionally, to be able to peek behind the curtain and see what was going on before and after these great boxing matches, both with his professional career and personal life.
“It was really an honour for Seth and I to spend some time with Dre and have him involved in helping to push the creative envelope for this movie, which is way more than a boxing movie. It’s really a movie about who we examine as our heroes, and why we are attracted to the train wreck and maybe give Lennox after all these years his just due, in a global stage to people around the world to see what a great champion and what an interesting, introspective and conscientious individual he is today.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the release of the film, which was originally intended for theatres.
“It was a challenge,” Koch admitted. “We were originally accepted into the Tribeca Film Festival which was a great honour. We were hoping to open in movie theatres in the United States. As recently as two weeks ago, we were scheduled to open in 200 theatres in London, but at the last minute. it was canceled due to COVID-19. So we had to transition to a digital platform. Crackle is doing a great job getting the word out. Crackle is a free platform. We’re now in England, following that out with releases throughout Europe, to France, Poland, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Middle East, and the Far East.
“The whole world is going to get a chance to take a real good look at Lennox Lewis, the man being the boxing career and also see some of his great highlights and knockout victories.”
Lennox Lewis: The Untold Story was released on Dec. 8 to all digital platforms, including
Apple TV/iTunes, Comcast, Cox, FandangoNOW, Google, Microsoft, Redbox Digital, Spectrum, Verizon, and Vudu platforms. The film continues to be available on Crackle.