May 10, 2002

The Ultimate Lennox Lewis Interview

by Robert Ecksel

New York, NY -- If Mad Dog Mike's bark is worse than his bite is the subject of many an argument. Creating dust storms, smoke and mirrors in a world of harcopy defines Mike's monopoly of the media. But it still appears as if the old conjurer's trick - one day headlines/ the next day bread lines - remains a role in Comrade Tyson's repertoire.

Where is Lennox Lewis while all this is going on? Locked away far from the maddening crowd? Without TV, radio or newspapers? Without the internet? Without distraction? Without the Man from Brownsville? One would think Lennox Lewis needs Mike Tyson like he needs a hole in the head. We assume the heavyweight champion is waiting for the other shoe to drop. (Everyone else is!) But Lennox, as usual, remains silent. He's almost invisible, an enigmatic Rastaman, a shadow champion, a reluctant warrior, and he’s the world's most elusive interview.

In the spirit of equal time, we booked a flight though Tip-Top Travel and got our tickets for a song. We flew nonstop from New York to Miami Beach, Fla., before hopping a prop to Kingston, Jamaica. Our agent got us a killer deal that included two nights in a hotel called The Pegasus. A Goliath towering over urban decay, Golgotha at home in the ruins, the high-rise was conceived in the well-worn Conrad Hilton/Donald Trump tradition. Blaring-trumpet grotesque, an overblown folly, a simulacrum of paradise behind barbwire. The creepy dump was such a downer that even banana daquiris didn’t help. After questioning the concierge, the maitre d’, the valet, the bellhop, and several hookers turning tricks in the parking lot, we concluded the champion wasn't there, and wasn't likely to ever be there.

We hired a car and driver and sped off in search of Lennox Lewis.

Verdant vegetation greeted us at every turn. We stopped in Ochos Rios and had a real swell lunch. The ackee and saltfish. The jerk chicken. The bully beef. The breadfruit. How delicious! How satisfying! How inexpensive! We made a pit stop in Montego Bay to fill ‘er up, buy beer and replenish our stash. We raced along Jamaica's shining north coast, past white sand beaches, past Errol Flynn's mansion, past rusting hulks of old shipwrecks. We were finally approaching the champion's stomping grounds high above Negril!

Lennox Lewis’ real estate is as pretty as a postcard. But the locked gates suggested that the champion wasn't home. Didn't we have a date? Didn't we have an appointment? Where was the card that man gave us? A servant in livery suddenly appeared to set the record straight. "Mr. Lennox has decamped for the Poconos," he informed us. "And the exit, gentleman, is the way you came in."

Damn! We missed the champ Lennox Lewis! We had no choice but to turn around and go back to the USA.

We got lucky in the airport lounge and met a smuggler working as a snitch for Reggae Airlines. The dude gifted us a lift across the border to a training camp in Pennsylvania. We e-mailed Team Lewis the details of our arrival, and we expected a car, a driver, a limo, or a flunky to greet us at the runway. But the place was deader than a doornail.

Our bags fell from our hands to the tarmac. A sky full of stars began colliding with our mission. From New York to Jamaica to The Poconos in under twenty-four hours. We were tired. We were wiped. We were famished. But the prospect of obtaining an exclusive interview was a spur in the side of our ambivalence. We schlepped down a pitch-black road late at night with no map in the middle of nowhere. After several hours of wandering the wilderness, we saw what looked like lights in the distance. The closer we got, we the more excited we became. There were lights. It was civilization. It was a gas station. It was "Charlie's Shell." And it was, at that very moment, the answer to all our prayers.

Charlie himself offered us a beer, which we drank though it tasted like water. "You'll never find the champ by walking around after dark in the mountains of Pennsylvania. The Poconos is a big place," said Charlie, as he crushed a beer can in his fist. "Lennox Lewis is a private man. He's a man with many secrets." There was a pause. We asked, "Do you know him? Have you seen him? Have you met him?" "Well, no, not exactly," answered Charlie, "but for a price I can lead you to his training camp!"

Charlie nickled-and-dimed us for minutes on end until we finally relented. The country bumpkin pocketed the cash and pointed at his derelict pick-up. We climbed into the open back, which smelled of wet hay, old dogs and urine. Intrepid reporters learn over the years that a great scoop requires great sacrifice. In that venerable tradition, in that odiferous atmosphere, with that statistic behind the wheel chugging beers and burning rubber, we began rapidly ascending the Pocono Mountains, we were re-entering the sublime heart of darkness.

After several harrowing minutes, Charlie brought his beaten Chevy to a halt. "This is it, guys. You're here."

We looked around and noticed that we were surrounded by nothing but forest. "Here? This is it? It looks like we're in the Amazon jungle."

"You see that path there between those trees?" Charlie pointed at some foliage. "Follow that path there. You see it? Don't you? Two-hundred feet as the crow flies and you'll come face to face with Lennox Lewis."

We looked at ourselves. We looked at each other. We looked at Charlie as he sped away with our money. We heeded Charlie's advice and tried burrowing through the birches. There was underbrush and mud and muck and insects and it was an adventure to someday tell the grandkids. But ultimately it was stripped-down, barebones, in your face, cutting-edge investigative journalism, and it had a purpose, it was important, it was a paycheck.

We spotted what looked like a compound protecting a dignitary from invaders. Spotlights, sentries and German shepherds had locked-down the Team Lewis training camp. We ninjas had to resort to another plan of action. After rejecting an invasion by land, air and sea, we thought that tunneling might be the answer. But at what cost? We felt that pyrotechnics, creating a distraction and storming the fortress, was dramatic but a little too risky. We reasoned that Lennox Lewis, a diligent and careful pugilist here in the Poconos to train for Mike Tyson, was bound to wake up early and do roadwork. It was now 3:00 AM. We only had to stiff out a few more hours. Then we'd catch Lennox unawares and hear in his own words what he's been up to.

The temperature began to drop. And it began raining cats and dogs. Our equipment - the digicam and lights and tape recorders - our cocktail shaker, swizzle sticks and chillum - all got soaking wet. It's a good thing our camouflage was wash-and-wear, because we were about to meet the heavyweight champion.

The sun broke the blues of drench and ache and birds sang, it was a new day, but where was Lennox Lewis? It was almost six o'clock and the champion was nowhere to be seen. We had just about had it and were ready to split when my eagle-eyed accomplice saw what we came for. It was a telephoto view of the champion Lennox Lewis, and he was jogging, he was headed right toward us.

We hid behind a wall of trees. We held our breath, counted the seconds, and didn't make a sound. After all, we’re pros at this game. We love stalking celebrities. This is stuff we live and die for.

The element of surprise shocked Lennox Lewis and he hardly knew what hit him: "Champ! Champ! We've got a few questions! Champ! What about Memphis? Champ! What about Mike Tyson? Champ! What about the bite? Champ! What about the fight?"

"No comment," was Lennox Lewis' protean comment, and he ran in the other direction. We got what we came for, and felt vindicated, victorious and defeated all at once.

Back in Gotham, our ink-stained editor suggested that next time, before jet setting around the globe, we had first better “stop, look and listen.” Boss bullied us into letting our “ fingers do the walking” in the future. Chief challenged us to "spend more time home alone with our laptops sitting by the TV.” Because Mike Tyson, while he’s just the challenger and not the champion, has “plenty to say” and, besides, in case we hadn’t noticed, “Iron Mike is the man of the moment."

Wiser words were never spoken.

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