King of the ring, Johnny Lewis, to talk at Men of League kick-off day

LEGEND: Johnny Lewis will be guest spaker at the upcoming Men of League luncheon at Soldiers Point Bowling Club. Picture: Sylvia Liber

LEGEND: Johnny Lewis will be guest spaker at the upcoming Men of League luncheon at Soldiers Point Bowling Club. Picture: Sylvia Liber

The term "king" is often bandied around too loosely in sport these days - except, of course, if you are referring to Johnny Lewis.

Regarded as boxing royalty, Mr Lewis is regarded as Australia's greatest trainer and is this country's only ever inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

And in a coup for the Port's sports-loving community, the 75-year-old from Sydney will be guest at the next Men of League kick-off day to take place on Friday, February 7, at Soldiers Point Bowling Club at 12 noon.

Lewis will join new Knights coach Adam O'Brien at the luncheon. Tickets are $25 and are available on 4982 7173.

Lewis' list of achievements as a boxing training on the world stage needs no introduction.

He has trained six world and Olympic champions - most notably three of Australia's greatest fighters in Jeff Fenech, Kostya Tszyu and Jeff Harding - and he has had a close affiliation with a range of sporting codes particularly Sydney NRL clubs Roosters, Bulldogs and the Sea Eagles.

He also toured with the Kangaroos as a trainer. A Newtown devotee who ran his boxing gym in inner-city Sydney for decades, most followers of the great man may not realise that Lewis, in fact, spent the first two years of his life north of the border.

"My mum was from Erskineville and my dad from Redfern but I was born in Queensland. My dad was in the Army and had been posted to a small town just north of the border named Wallangarra," Lewis said.

"Funnily enough, years later I was doing some training work with [former Queenslanderl] Billy Moore and one day I asked him where he was from. Billy's response was along the lines of 'it's a small town near the NSW border you've probably never heard of it'. That town was Wallangarra."

Having played league and AFL in his junior years in the 1950s on the magnificent Erskineville Oval, Lewis came to admire the toughness of some of the league greats of that era, including Tommy Raudonikis, whom he rated as the toughest of them all.

"Not only tough but uncompromising and a great competitor."

Lewis was introduced to boxing at age 13, attending gym sessions at the notorious Newtown Police Boys Club, and it was there that he got to know coaching great such as Jack Gibson, Dick O'Connor and Leo Barry.

"O'Connor had became a great mentor to me. One day Dick announced he would be going away for five weeks and asked me to take over the reins. Well we never saw Dick again, I was aged 17 at the time."

History will testify it was the best decision O'Connor ever made.

Lewis had left school at age 14 to become a sign writer, but soon gave that career away to focus on the ring.

"There were a lot of colourful characters about the place in those days and I learned a little from each of them. I befriended another prolific trainer from Melbourne named Leo Berry, who was much in the same mould as Gibson.

"I looked up to these people and admired the way they simplified things. They made it easy for anyone to grasp their instructions and I adapted these methods when I began as a pro trainer."

Of Fenech, Lewis says: "He would have been a champion fighter in any era. He was so strong and could box, but as a fighter he was supreme, no one could come close." And Tszyu: "He was one of the best weight for age fighters of all time. Kostya was a good thinking boxer, very good with both hands, he could knock out an opponent with either hand."

These days, Lewis likes to stay in contact with the fight game helping out at the Sydney University gym (following the closure of the Newtown PCYC), where he says the girls are coming through in droves. "I still get a buzz doing the pads or helping out on the bags."

Over the years Lewis has experienced both the highs and lows of a sporting trainer, but remains as enigmatic as ever. His good friend of 40 years, Nelson Bay's Allan Bell, says of Lewis: "He never has a bad word to say about anyone".

Tickets for the February 7 luncheon are $25