The story behind the Anthony Joshua vs Lennox Lewis feud which once exploded into vicious public argument

Anthony Joshua and Lennox Lewis stand as two of the best heavyweights the UK has ever produced.

Lewis retired in 2004 as a three-time world champion and remains to this day boxing’s last undisputed heavyweight king.

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Joshua is a two-time heavyweight world championCredit: Mark Robinson/Matchroom
Lewis is a three-time heavyweight world champion

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Lewis is a three-time heavyweight world championCredit: Getty

AJ is a two-time unified world champion, but currently on the comeback trail following successive defeats to Oleksandr Usyk in 2021 and 2022 – his next bout is set to be against Robert Helenius, live on talkSPORT on Saturday night.

Joshua and Lewis’ relationship started out very positively when Joshua won Olympic super-heavyweight gold at London 2012, emulating Lewis’ achievement at the Seoul 1988 games.

The legend was ringside to watch AJ win his Olympic final and congratulated him afterwards as they took pictures together.

In the aftermath of this victory while he prepared to turn pro, Joshua took a year out from competing.

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He spoke to a number of different people within the boxing world who wanted to work with him, surveying his many options.

During this time, he seemed to be getting closer to Lewis.

The pair appeared together on Sky Sports boxing show Ringside, as well as a Gloves Are Off programme which included Tyson Fury.

Joshua revealed years later: “I went to Jamaica to see Lewis when I first wanted to turn professional.

“He had plans for what he wanted to with myself and I don’t think they worked out with what I wanted to do so I kind of didn’t go down that route.”

This is where things first started to go slightly sour.

Lewis gave his version of events on the Undefeated Podcast as he recalled: “He turned pro and he was saying I was his favourite boxer. I said, ‘Come out to Jamaica and we’ll talk.’

“We talked about my career and he loved listening to the stories and all the different things that I went through.

“I said, ‘I’d love to help you,’ I don’t want to be his promoter, I’m not a promoter, but there’s things I can teach him.

“He phoned me, he said, ‘I really want you to help me.’ I said, ‘Okay, good.’

“Then I didn’t hear from him again. I heard that he picked some other people to help him, he was doing his professional career and that was it.”

The next time they crossed paths publicly was in 2017 when Lewis attended Joshua’s triumph over Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Stadium.

AJ and Wladimir Klitschko put on an epic fight at Wembley Stadium in 2018

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AJ and Wladimir Klitschko put on an epic fight at Wembley Stadium in 2018Credit: Getty

On this night there was another moment that didn’t sit well with the former undisputed world champion.

Lewis explained: “Me and Evander Holyfield were there actually for German TV when he boxed Klitschko.

“We were outside the dressing room [after the fight]. We wanted to big him up as first champion after the Olympics. Now he’s beat the big man, we’re there to congratulate him.

“Security brushed us out of the way and brushed him in there. He was like, ‘Len–’ and gone. They pushed him in.

“I said, ‘Okay, cool. They don’t want me around. They don’t want me near to him.’ The promoter [Eddie Hearn] definitely the promoter, no doubt about that.

“You allow your promoter to do that to the last undisputed, to me and Holyfield, and we’re there to big him up.

“You’ve showed me your position, I’m not gonna be running after a person if I know their position.”

Lewis (middle) is the last man to be an undisputed heavyweight champion

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Lewis (middle) is the last man to be an undisputed heavyweight championCredit: Mikey Williams/Top Rank

The following year, Lewis – along with all boxing fans – hoped to see a new undisputed heavyweight champion world crowned.

Talks for the four-belt unification between AJ and Deontay Wilder collapsed though, leading to the American ultimately facing Fury instead.

Lewis reacted by publicly ripping into Joshua as he told BoxingScene: “He wants to go around making money.

“I think that’s going to be a downfall for him. He has to stay with it, he can’t be in the background.

“If he wants to be champion, he has to act like a champion.”

AJ did not retaliate to these comments, but the situation spilled over following his defeat to Andy Ruiz the following year.

AJ suffered a shock defeat to Ruiz Jr to lose his titles

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AJ suffered a shock defeat to Ruiz Jr to lose his titlesCredit: Getty Images – Getty

Lewis spoke out again, this time suggesting that AJ should change trainer and split from his long-time coach Rob McCracken.

“Too many things went wrong in that fight to say he was properly prepared for Ruiz or the situation he found himself in,” Lewis opined when asked about Joshua potentially changing trainer.

“AJ found himself asking questions with no answers. They couldn’t make the adjustments… I say you can’t go to university with your third-grade teacher.

“They won’t have the answers you need at that level. You need a professor by then.”

When Joshua finally replied, he did so in explosive fashion and caused shockwaves around the boxing world.

In a Sky Sports interview a couple of months later, AJ roared: “Lennox is a clown. I don’t respect Lennox. Me and Lennox are not the same.

“My legacy is to sit back and enjoy the younger generation coming up, and not to be involved.

“Just to appreciate what it takes to get there. Lennox isn’t like that. Me and Lennox are cut from a different cloth.”

Lewis and Joshua have not seen eye-to-eye over the years

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Lewis and Joshua have not seen eye-to-eye over the yearsCredit: Getty

Lewis fired back: “Wow! He’s right! We ARE cut from a different cloth.

“Undisputed wasn’t something I ‘worried’ about. It was something I went after until it was accomplished!

“Disappointed in AJ’s words but I understand that this ‘jealousy’ narrative was only fabricated AFTER I criticised them for Wilder negotiations. All of a sudden I’m a hater.

“Ask who benefits from such a simple-minded narrative? Not AJ. Not me.”

Lewis’ words did not win Joshua over. Later that day he doubled down.

AJ posted: “Always say it how it is. A clown is a clown. He can wipe his make-up off, but his heart remains the same.”

Lewis responded: “I don’t blame AJ as much as I blame the people around him that stoke the fires.

“I have remained at an arms distance from AJ to respect that he wants to make his own way.

“I’m sure he also gets sick of the constant comparisons to me over his entire career.

“He is the first AJ, not the next Lennox Lewis. Like I said, I won’t fall into that trap and be pitted against him.

“He has a watershed moment in his career coming up [Ruiz Jr rematch] and all this only serves as a distraction by the media. Notice how they only led with his comments about me?

“AJ has my number if he ever wants to clarify what is being said in the media or show me where I’m wrong about something.

“My doors remain open to him, but just know that disrespect is not answer to his frustrations.”

A month later, AJ reflected on the situation and said: “Lewis has never reached out…

“I just feel like, when it comes to me, it’s kind of different, ‘Anthony’s dodging, Anthony Joshua’s not this, he needs to do that.’

“Why are you always attacking me, rather than reaching out like Klitschko and giving a young man advice when I need it?

“I’m not two-faced. You poke me, you poke me, sooner or later you’re gonna hear what I have to say about you.”

Joshua takes to the ring on Saturday to face Robert Helenius

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Joshua takes to the ring on Saturday to face Robert HeleniusCredit: Mark Robinson/Matchroom

Lewis insisted he had made attempts to contact Joshua directly as he hit back: “If [Muhammad] Ali, [George] Foreman, or [Larry] Holmes gave you their personal cell number, would you lose it?

“Okay, sometimes things happen, but would you lose it twice?

“I’m not calling him a liar, but he is most definitely wrong.”

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Joshua never responded to these remarks and the feud subsequently died down as he instead focused on regaining his belts from Ruiz in their rematch.

It has not reignited since.

Joshua vs Helenius on talkSPORT

It’s a Nordic Nightmare for AJ

Dillian Whyte pulled out and Robert Helenius stepped in to keep the card alive and face Anthony Joshua in the main event at the O2.

It’s live on talkSPORT – the home of boxing – on 12 August

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