Lewis moved to Canada in 1977 at the age of 12 and excelled in the sports of football and basketball in high school, but eventually decided that his favorite sport was boxing. Future events proved him right, as he became a dominant amateur boxer and won the world amateur junior title in 1982.
Two years later, Lewis represented Canada as a heavyweight in the Olympic Games held in Los Angeles. He advanced to the quarterfinals, where he lost a controversial decision to Americann Tyrell Biggs and settled for a fifth-place finish.
Surprisingly, Lewis chose not to turn professional after the Olympics, and instead fought four more years as an amateur, hoping for a second chance to win a gold medal. After winning several more amateur titles over those years, he traveled to Seoul, South Korea for the 1988 Olympics and achieved his goal. In the gold medal match, Lewis defeated future world champion Riddick Bowe by a second-round technical knockout.
Having achieved one goal, Lewis now declared himself a professional boxer and moved back to England, having always considered himself a British national. The early part of his pro career was filled with knockouts of journeymen, and he quickly shot up the world rankings.
He captured the European heavyweight title late in 1990, added the British heavyweight title in March 1991 and the Commonwealth title in April 1992. By this time, Lewis was a consensus top-five heavyweight in the world.
On October 31, 1992, Lewis knocked out Canada's Donovan Ruddock for the No. 1 contender's position in the WBC world rankings. But ultimately, the victory won Lewis even more than that. After Bowe, who had become world heavyweight champion by upsetting Evander Holyfield, refused to fight Lewis, his WBC title was declared vacant. On January 14, 1993, the WBC declared Lewis its champion. He thus became the first world heavyweight titleholder from Britain in the 20th century.
Lewis successfully defended the belt three times before he was upset by Oliver McCall on September 24, 1994. He quickly moved back to the No. 1 contender's slot in the WBC rankings, but agreed to give up the spot in exchange for a multi-million dollar payoff by promoter Don King, who wanted his fighter, Mike Tyson to receive a title shot.
Tyson later returned the favor and relinquished the WBC title, leaving it vacant for Lewis and McCall to square off on February 7, 1997 in Las Vegas. In one of the most bizarre fights ever seen, McCall refused to fight in the fourth and fifth rounds, eventually forcing the referee to stop the fight and award Lewis the victory.
He believed he had achieved that feat on March 13, 1999, when he faced WBA and IBF titlist Holyfield in New York City. Despite the fact most boxing experts believed Lewis won easily, the fight was declared a draw. But exactly eight months later in Las Vegas, the two men fought again and Lewis won a close, but unanimous decision.
Later in 1999, Lewis became the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
Lewis later dropped the WBA and IBF titles in disputes, but continued to be widely recognized as the world's true heavyweight champion. He successfully defended his title three times before he was knocked out by 14-to-1 underdog Hasim Rahman on April 22, 2001. But he regained the title on November 17 by returning the favor and knocking out Rahman.
In May of 2003, Lewis sued King for the amount of $385 million dollars, claiming that King used threats to have Tyson pull out of a rematch scheduled Lewis for a month later. Lewis then scheduled a fight with Kirk Johnson for the championship belt of the less-recognized IBO, but dropped it when Johnson suffered an injury in training. Instead, Lewis fought Vitali Klitschko, the WBC's No. 1 contender and former WBO titlist. Lewis had planned to fight him in December, but since Klitschko had been on the undercard of the Johnson fight anyway, they agreed to square off on June 21. Lewis looked rusty after a year's layoff, but managed to win the fight on a sixth-round TKO after opening up a cut over Klitschko's left eye.
Lewis' record is 41 wins, 2 losses and 1 draw, with 32 wins by knockout.