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Boxing: 'I'm going out like Rocky Marciano and Gene Tunney. They both retired as world champions and like them I will never come back'

Lennox Lewis will never fight again. The World Boxing Council and International Boxing Organisation heavyweight champion finally put an end to the speculation and rumour surrounding his career at a press conference in London yesterday and confirmed that he is walking away from the sport.

"I want to say that on June 21, 2003, I had my last fight as a professional boxer," Lewis said. "I am sick of people asking me why I am still fighting and it is not always easy to answer. If a fighter is not hungry like I was for my important fights then he shouldn't fight and that is how I feel. I'd hate to get out of bed knowing that my next fight could be my last fight. Can you imagine what that would do to me?"

Rumours about yesterday's announcement first circulated on Wednesday but Lewis, 38, admitted that after beating Mike Tyson in 2002 he had seriously considered retiring, yet stayed on believing he had two more fights left in him. Also, there was an extremely lucrative rematch clause in the contract for the original Tyson fight.

"Tyson was the ultimate fight for me and I immediately started to look at retirement but I decided to continue," Lewis said. "I had to fight and beat Tyson, and once that was done I knew I had achieved what I set out to achieve all those years ago. Boxing is a drug and I will miss it, it is in my blood but I am moving on now and that is it for me."

Lewis admitted that taking the fight last June against Vitali Klitschko was a risk but he refuted suggestions that he was on his way to defeat before a series of vicious cuts ruled Klitschko out after six rounds.

"Who do you think caused all those cuts? I was getting to him and the ending saved him," insisted Lewis, who on the night was booed from the ring.

"I was prepared to fight him again and I was still speaking with Vitali in January, but he is having some problems with his promoter and that meant that I could not negotiate with him until the end of April," Lewis claimed. The boxer denied that HBO, his main backer in America, had refused his asking price for a rematch.

Lewis leaves behind a heavyweight division without a leader but there are several possible fights and in 12 months' time one fighter could become the undisputed champion. Yesterday, Lewis was quick to put an end to any suggestion that he might come out of retirement for one last pay-day and one last fight.

"I'm going out like Rocky Marciano and Gene Tunney. They both retired as world champions and like them I will never come back," Lewis said.

"I have had my defining fights against some great fighters and after 10 years at the very top there is nothing left to prove, and that is why when I say I will stay away I mean it.'' The boxer's mother, Violet, was smiling throughout the 30-minute conference and his fiancée, Violet Chang, looked equally pleased that he had walked away with his money and faculties intact.

Lewis will take up a directorship at FEM, the company that he has been involved with for three years, and he intends to pass on some of his knowledge to athletes in the future. "I made a lot of mistakes at the start of my career and I would love to share with young athletes all the things that I experienced," he said. "It was not easy becoming the heavyweight champion of the world and it was not easy being the heavyweight champion of the world, but I was lucky because I had a great team and all athletes need support.''

The enigmatic boxer, who during his three reigns as champion fought 18 world championship fights and amassed a vast fortune, insisted that the decision to quit came to him earlier this week in New York. He claims he was just sitting around, looking back over his career and looking at the future when he decided to make his mother a happy woman and call it a day.

"I consider myself one of the greatest and I know I did it with dignity and I know I have come out at the right time," Lewis added. Nobody disagreed.