LAS VEGAS -- Almost as soon as Vitali Klitschko returned to the ring in October, after four years in retirement, to stop Samuel Peter and reclaim a heavyweight title, the whispers began: Would Lennox Lewis also come out of retirement for a rematch with Klitschko?
The rumors escalated a few weeks later when David Haye knocked out Monte Barrett on Nov. 15 in London with Klitschko at ringside in full view of the British press corps that had chronicled Lewis' career.
Klitschko and manager Bernd Boente helped stir up the rhetoric by saying they had heard Lewis (41-2-1) was training for a potential comeback. Then Klitschko called for his old rival to return to the ring to fight him in 2009, six years after Lewis, trailing on the scorecards, opened a massive cut over Klitschko's left eye and stopped him in the sixth round of a thrilling slugfest to retain the heavyweight championship.
That June 2003 fight at the Staples Center in Los Angeles was Lewis' last fight. In February 2004, the heavyweight world champion called a news conference in London and announced his retirement, walking away from a $22 million offer for a rematch with Klitschko.
"I realized it was time for me to leave," Lewis said at the time. "I've completed all my goals. The mission I set out on in the beginning -- to become heavyweight champion of the world, undisputed, lineal champion -- you could say that mission is complete. I don't have anything else to prove.
"As I was growing in the sport of boxing, everyone said [Muhammad Ali] was the greatest, but he should have retired sooner than he did. I always thought of that, and I wanted to retire at the right time."
Several years removed from that storybook announcement, however, speculation about a comeback has run rampant, thanks to Klitschko and, perhaps, because the much-maligned heavyweight division could use a savior.
Lewis, 43, seems to be having fun with the speculation, enjoying the questions and the chase. In one brief interview with British media, he suggested he would return for a $100 million purse.
When Lewis sat down with ESPN.com for his only extended interview on the topic Saturday night at the MGM Grand, ringside during the Ricky Hatton-Paulie Malignaggi undercard, he continued to joke about a comeback.
"I may think about it after Vitali fights his brother, [unified titlist] Wladimir," he said.
But Lewis, who was at the MGM Grand in his role as an HBO analyst, also took a more serious tone on the subject of fighting again.
"At the moment, I don't see it," Lewis said. "I've worked hard and accomplished what I've accomplished in the heavyweight scene. I was undisputed [champion], beat everyone out there. It's not my fault [Vitali] retired and now he's come back after four years and realized the only person to fight is his brother.
"When you look back in history and see other fighters coming back, it's never really been good for them. I don't really have anything to prove. I want to be one of these guys that leaves the sport with dignity, not feeling like I have to come back."
Lewis said that, despite all the discussion about a possible return, "Nobody has really made me an offer. They're only talking about it. I am happy doing what I'm doing. I'm trying to show athletes out there you don't really have to go only for the money.
"I've done it with dignity; I did it my own way. I've worked hard. I set goals and I've accomplished them, and now I've set new goals for myself."
Perhaps because he was British and somewhat aloof with the media, Lewis was largely unappreciated by American fans and press throughout his 14-year professional career, in which he won the heavyweight title three times -- including becoming the undisputed champion -- and avenged both of his losses, to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman.
In retirement, Lewis' legacy grows with each passing day because of how woeful the heavyweight division has become. Although Lewis said he'd like to see a strong division, he is gratified that his accomplishments are finally being appreciated.
"People recognize me and say, 'You were the last great heavyweight,'" he said with a smile. "It's great."
The rumors about him training for a comeback have a kernel of truth to them. Yes, he's been training; however, not for a comeback, he said. Lewis said he visits a gym near his home in South Florida to work out in order to stay in shape.
"I actually feel a lot better about myself when I train," he said. "Because I've been training most of my life, I know what to do to stay in shape. I love to cross train and play other sports."
He spends the bulk of his time with his wife, Violet, and their 2-year-old daughter, Ling, and 4-year-old son, Landen.
Lewis did take a meeting with HBO executives the week of the Joe Calzaghe-Roy Jones fight in early November in New York just to listen to their pitch about a rematch with Klitschko, a fight HBO would love to do on pay-per-view.
Those in Lewis' inner circle, however, do not want him to fight. They include attorney Josh Dubin, his mother (also named Violet) and his wife.
About his mother, Lewis said, "I don't think she would be happy about it. My mom wouldn't want me to fight again. She feels I've accomplished what I've accomplished."
And his wife?
"She totally feels the same way."
He said his longtime trainer, Emanuel Steward, has a different view.
"Emanuel feels like I can go back and get my crown," Lewis said.
Lewis admitted he thinks about fighting again, but thinking about it and doing it are different. For one thing, he's not enamored with going to training camp for 10 weeks to hunker down and prepare for a fight.
"To me, that would be a job," he said of going to camp. "And the pay isn't really high right now."
But that doesn't prevent him from fantasizing about fighting.
"I'm a normal person. I have dreams, daydreams or whatever," Lewis said. "I've dreamed about me and [Mike] Tyson coming back, bringing back the old guys. I've dreamed about boxing Riddick Bowe. If they want to do an oldies show, let's bring back Riddick Bowe for the fight that never happened."
Lewis beat Bowe in the 1988 Olympic final to win the gold medal but was ducked by Bowe in the pros. Bowe even tossed a championship belt in a trash can in a publicity stunt to avoid a mandatory defense against Lewis.
Bowe, of course, is scheduled to fight for the first time in three and a half years on Dec. 13 in Germany on the undercard of Wladimir Klitschko's title defense against Rahman. Lewis will be ringside for HBO and plans on watching Bowe's fight.
"He waits until I am in retirement to call out my name," said Lewis, who still has animosity toward Bowe. "I will come out of retirement to beat up that guy. I'll beat him up for free."
Lewis also has heard about another one of his rivals, 46-year-old former champ Evander Holyfield, getting ready to challenge titleholder Nikolai Valuev for a belt on Dec. 20 in Germany. Lewis had a look of disbelief on his face when asked about Holyfield, with whom he drew in 1999 in one of boxing's most controversial decisions before finally unifying the titles with a decision against him later that year.
"I don't like to see that," Lewis said of Holyfield continuing to fight. "If anything [bad] happens, it makes the sport look bad. Everybody has their time when they need to retire. He should know his time. If he feels he can go on, he's fooling himself. I think for me, it was time to pack it in. For Holyfield, I think it's time to pack it in as well."
Unlike the financially strapped Holyfield, Lewis said he's taken care of his millions, so he doesn't need to fight.
"I'm not really silly with the cash," he said. "I don't worship money, so I am not silly with it. I'm looking out for my family. This whole market is flat, but it doesn't really affect me. I didn't make no bad investments. My reason for fighting wasn't money. It was never money. It was always glory."
Still, that doesn't change Vitali Klitschko's relentless pursuit of a rematch.
"Vitali dreams about me," Lewis said. "Vitali has me on his mind, man. I don't know what's wrong with the guy. I haunt him. He wasn't in my history. I am not part of his era. What [the Klitschkos are] trying to do right now is dig up old names so they can make their names great. It doesn't make no sense. Even if he's serious, I feel sorry for him."
While Holyfield fights on, Lewis almost certainly will be elected to the International Hall of Fame when results of the balloting are announced Dec. 9. Only three fighters have ever fought after being elected to the Hall of Fame: Sugar Ray Leonard, when he was stopped by Hector Camacho, and Azumah Nelson and Jeff Fenech, who renewed their rivalry earlier this year.
For Lewis, election to the Canastota, N.Y., shrine will be the icing on top of his career, he said.
"I'm glad I'm around to appreciate it," he said. "It's great to be in the presence of great champions before me who worked so hard to achieve their goals. I'm just overjoyed and happy."
So will Lewis become another Hall of Famer to return to the ring?
"My answer is no," Lewis said, laughing loudly and winking his eye.
What's with the wink?
"There was something in my eye," he said, laughing again.
That's Lewis, dodging the question as deftly as he dodged so many punches.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.