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Lennox Lewis and Showtime Wrangle Over the Definition of “Undisputed”


By: Eric Lunger

Former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis has taken to Twitter in recent days, unleashing a barrage of criticism at the Showtime commentators for claiming that Lewis was not the “undisputed” champion of the world in 1999, since Vitali Klitschko held the WBO belt at that time. Lewis, 53, has become somewhat of an elder statesman in the boxing world, weighing in on the sport with his accustomed thoughtfulness and gravitas. His recent remarks on Twitter, while critical of Showtime, show the marks of someone who believes in rational and balanced dialogue. This is rare in our hyperlinked age, where hysteria is often mistaken for passion.

So, when someone of Lewis’ stature speaks out, and speaks out in a considered and thoughtful way, he deserves to be taken seriously. Lewis took exception to Showtime’s build up of the Wilder vs. Parker fight as a step on the path to the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Mike Tyson in 1988. In a nutshell, Lewis argues that the WBO belt was, in the 1990’s, an irrelevant belt, one that fighters either vacated at will or were not interested in pursuing if better options were available. “The politics of my era, and the amount of Mickey Mouse belts made it difficult to impossible to own every fringe belt there was at the time,” Lewis wrote on Twitter, “the WBO belt was not a major or coveted belt in my days.”

Showtime did respond, trying to walk the line between standing by their original assertion and giving Lennox the respect he deserves as a great champion and hall-of-famer. Arguing that in Tyson’s time there were only three “recognized” world title belts, Showtime via their Tumbler page further said, “In 1999, when Lennox Lewis defeated Evander Holyfield for the WBC, IBF, and WBA world titles, Vitali Klitschko held the WBO heavyweight belt. At that time, the WBO was widely recognized as a legitimate world sanctioning body.”

In a further effort to smooth the ruffled feathers, Showtime concluded: “having said that, we recognize that the term ‘undisputed’ is somewhat subjective… In no way do we intend to devalue or denigrate Lewis’ accomplishments, which stand as the greatest of his era.”

So, is this dispute about the definition of “undisputed” just quibbling over words? Words do matter, definitions matter. If Showtime wants to promote their fighter, Deontay Wilder, who has a real shot at unifying the heavyweight title, we can understand going to the well of hyperbole. But Lennox has the stronger argument here. Becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world is a feat unique in world sport — it’s a title that should be used accurately and with the spirit that it represents the pinnacle of boxing greatness. Adhering to the technical requirements of the alphabet soup of sanctioning bodies breeds cynicism and boredom from the broader boxing public.

Wilder? Joshua? Parker? Fury? Given the excitement over the possibility of unification in the heavyweight division, let’s celebrate Lennox Lewis as an undisputed champion, and let’s hope for another one in the near future.

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