LONDON -- Lennox Lewis is going out on top, and he insists he won't be back.
He retired yesterday after a professional career of more than 14 years, the first active heavyweight champion to quit in nearly 50 years.
The 38-year-old boxer said that after months of deliberation he decided to leave the ring rather than defend his World Boxing Council title against Vitali Klitschko.
"It's a special day in my life," Lewis said at a news conference. "I'd like to announce that June 21, 2003, was my last fight as a professional boxer.
"It has been a great honor to be the standard-bearer of boxing for the last decade," he added. "Let the next era begin."
Lewis has a 41-1-2 record and is the first reigning world heavyweight champion to quit since Rocky Marciano in 1956. The only other to do so was Gene Tunney in 1928.
"I've completed all my goals and now it's time for me to say goodbye," Lewis said. "I definitely wanted to say goodbye at the top, and now I am at the top."
Lewis paid tribute to his idol, Muhammad Ali, who retired with the World Boxing Association title in 1978 but came back to lose to Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick.
"I will definitely be the third boxer to retire as heavyweight champion, I promise you that," Lewis said.
Lewis reportedly has plans to pursue his interest in hip-hop and rap by promoting bands and producing records and concerts. He said he has accepted a position at a sports management agency.
Lewis, Britain's first world heavyweight champion in more than a century, fought just twice in the last 26 months. He knocked out former undisputed champion Mike Tyson in eight rounds in Memphis in June 2002.
"Mike Tyson was my ultimate fight," Lewis said. "That was the fight that kept me around for a long time. I didn't want to go out without facing him. I didn't want people to say that Mike Tyson was the best around."
Lewis defeated Klitschko in Los Angeles last June. Lewis was behind on points when the fight was stopped in the sixth round because Klitschko was cut. The WBC mandated a rematch and ordered Lewis to agree to the fight by March 1 or risk being stripped of the title.
Lewis hadn't even told HBO what he planned to do. The television network paid him millions to fight and had been waiting for months for him to commit to a second Klitschko fight.
"I was thinking about it for a long time. Should I go back in and have one more fight?" he said. "But I realized this is the drug of the sport. There is always one more fight and somebody to fight. I didn't want to get caught up in it, and I thought that this is the time when I should gracefully bow out.
"I respect the sport of boxing. Boxing has done so much for me and one of the reasons I am retiring is out of respect for the sport. It's time for the younger generation." Klitschko is expected to meet No. 2 contender Corrie Sanders for the WBC title. Despite Lewis's insistence that his retirement was final, British bookmaker William Hill offered odds of 7-2 that he will fight again within two years.