Boxing: Lewis could return to the ring - in Audley's corner

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The Independent Online

Nothing became Lennox Lewis like his going. Such was the regality of his entrance behind a squad of courtiers so long it might be have been selected by Sir Clive Woodward that we half-expected to be instructed: "All rise". But that's how Lennox likes it. More than anything in his now-closed career, he craved respect.

Finally he has it, as the eulogies to the last of the great modern heavyweights testify. His valedictory speech typified the man himself, dignified and decent if short on passion and even a tad ungracious. A fond farewell it may have been, but I doubt we have heard the last of him.

It is more than likely he will be back in the ring before long, not reneging on his promise to defy the historical nature of his sport and to stay retired, but in the corner of the fighter he would like to succeed him as a British world heavyweight champion, Audley Harrison.

Theirs is a mutual admiration society. "A legend," Harrison says of Lewis. "A privilege to have known him." For his part, Lewis believes Harrison can emerge as an authentic world champion. "You have to believe in him. He's an Olympic gold medallist, as I was. That's a pedigree already. Britain must get behind him."

Lewis certainly is. Harrison has sought his advice and it will be no surprise if Lewis - who, providing he does not "unretire", à la Ali, would be only the third heavyweight to have fought for the last time as champion - formally becomes his mentor. First, however, Lewis has to fulfil a responsibility to another heavyweight, the South African Corrie Sanders, who is already tied up with Lewis's company Lion Promotion and the SEM management group, of which he is a director.

It is significant that Lewis named the Ukrainian Vitali Klitschko (who came so close to bringing about a less satisfactory conclusion to his career last June), his brother Wladimir, Sanders and Harrison as the heavyweights most likely to take over from him.

The most probable scenario is that Sanders, following his stunning KO of Wladimir, will be matched with Vitali for the vacant WBC title. Lewis might even work in Sanders'corner as a prelude to a similar role with Harrison by the end of the year. He also has a number of business interests, including leisure centres and the music industry, and has aspirations to do more film work following his cameo part in the remake of Ocean's Eleven. No doubt there will be abundant offers of ringside TV punditry. More immediately, though, his long walk up the aisle at London's Grosvenor House may have been a rehearsal for the real thing with his glamorous girlfriend Violet.

While acknowledging the immense contribution he has made to boxing, I've never been totally sold on Lewis's chess-like approach to his craft. As a fighter he could be irritatingly inconsistent, and as a person condescendingly diffident.

The nation never loved him as it did Frank Bruno, though his transatlantic twang was decidedly more acceptable here than Greg Rusedski's, largely because he was a winner. But a true Brit? Interestingly he placed Britain, where he was born, third behind "my adopted country Canada" and "my native country Jamaica" in a thank-you list which embraced everyone from his mum to his masseur, but pointedly omitted his former manager Frank Maloney, who fought his corner for so long and propelled him to greatness. Neither was there a friendly word for the media or his British fans.

"Lennox tends to keep himself aloof, which gives the impression of arrogance," says Maloney. "He has so many yes-men around him. Straight talkers don't go down too well.

"I used to cringe when he insisted on talking about himself in the third person. It really annoyed me when he said, 'Well, Lennox Lewis believes...' I used to think, 'Blimey mate, you are Lennox Lewis'." Come to think of it, Harrison speaks the same way of himself. A further parallel with Lewis?

Unquestionably Lewis is on the A-list of heavyweight greats, thought some way down in my estimation, behind Ali, Louis, Marciano, Frazier, Holmes, Liston and Foreman. A fight with Mike Tyson when both were at their peak would have been infinitely more intriguing than the lopsided affair in Memphis when Lewis dismantled a rusting Iron Mike.

And none of those listed above him would have been knocked out in the first place by the likes of Oliver McCall or Hasim Rahman, or struggled to beat Klitschko.

Lewis says he is quitting "out of respect for boxing", and one hopes the respect for which he has yearned in return will finally be fulfilled should the lord of the ring deservedly become a knight of the realm. All rise for Sir Lennox.