In a sport many view for its violence, Lennox Lewis said Sunday he wanted to be remembered for making it a "sweet science, a magical dance" as he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
"Our sport is usually looked at as a brutal, savage sport," Lennox told hundreds of fight fans gathered for the hall's 20th annual induction ceremony.
"I see it as a sweet science, a magical dance. For me, I just wanted to live up to that, and keep the dignity and the humanistic aspect and the positiveness of it ... so that people will remember that's what I did for boxing," Lewis said.
A towering presence at 6 feet 5, 250 pounds, Lewis displayed a nimbleness never before seen in a fighter his size. The 43-year-old Lewis retired in 2003 with a record of 41-2-1, including 32 KOs, and entered the hall in his first year of eligibility.
Also among the 14 inductees Sunday were American bantamweight champion Orlando Canizales and South African junior lightweight champion Brian Mitchell.
Posthumous honorees included middleweight champion William "Gorilla" Jones, welterweight champion "Mysterious" Billy Smith and middleweight champion Billy Soose in the Old-Timer Category. Nineteenth-century American heavyweight champion Tom Hyer was recognized in the Pioneer Category.
Lewis lived in England until age 12 when his family moved to Canada. He began fighting as an amateur at age 15.
Lewis said it was because of his mother that he became interested in boxing. She would host fight parties when he was growing up.
"I didn't really understand them at first. People would come over the house for the big fight. She would be really excited about it. I remember sitting in front of the television watching all the great fights," Lewis said.
In 1988, Lewis won an Olympic gold medal, defeating American Riddick Bowe in the finals.
He turned pro in 1989. After winning the European, British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles, Lewis won the vacant World Boxing Council title in 1992, stopping Donovan "Razor" Ruddock with a second-round TKO.
He reclaimed the crown in 1997 from Oliver McCall, avenging an earlier title loss. In 2001, Lewis seized the WBC crown for the third time by knocking out Hasim Rahman in the fourth round, avenging his only other professional loss and joining Rocky Marciano and Gene Tunney as the only heavyweights to retire with no unavenged defeats.
Two of Lewis' most memorable bouts were with Evander Holyfield. The pair fought to a controversial draw in March 1999 in what was then the highest-grossing fight at Madison Square Garden. Lewis took an unanimous decision over Holyfield eight months later to win the WBA/IBF belts and unify the heavyweight championship.
"One wouldn't think a 14-year-old boy who did shadow boxing in front of the mirror imitating the Muhammad Ali shuffle would actually be on this stage. I am really humble ... this is a great honor," said Lewis, who in retirement has appeared in movies, participated in the World Series of Poker and finished fourth in the first season of NBC's Celebrity Apprentice and served as a commentator for HBO's Boxing After Dark telecasts.
Canizales, 43, retired in 1999 with a record of 50-5-1 with 37 knockouts. He was moved to tears as he accepted his enshrinement with his parents, both in their 70s, watching from the crowd.
"Boxing has taught me a lot in life _ that dedication, discipline and determination will pay off in the long run and not to be easily swayed by obstacles and bumps in the road," Canizales said.
Canizales, of Laredo, Texas, dominated the bantamweight division for six years, successfully defending the IBF championship a division-record 16 times after first winning the crown in 1988.
Mitchell was the first South African boxer to be enshrined in Canastota.
He won the WBA junior lightweight title in September 1986 with a 10th-round TKO of Alfredo Layne and defended his crown 12 consecutive times before he was stripped of it in 1991. He won the IBF championship later in 1991 with a 12-round win over Tony "The Tiger" Lopez.
Mitchell finished his career 45-1-3 with 21 KOs.
Mitchell told the audience his biggest disappointment was that he was never able to defend his title in his homeland because of the international sanctions against South Africa over its apartheid policies at the time.
"It doesn't matter what the title is, or who you beat. It's not until you get this recognition from your peers that you know you have made it in boxing," Mitchell said.
Also inducted Sunday as non-participants were manager Billy Gibson, publicist/matchmaker Bob Goodman, New Jersey boxing commissioner Abe Greene and Japanese promoter Akihiko Honda. Journalists Paul Gallico and Hugh McIlvanney and broadcaster Larry Merchant were enshrined as observers.