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MIKE DOWNEY

Lewis Out to Remove 'Misfits'

September 29, 1997|MIKE DOWNEY

BIG BEAR LAKE — On a day so beautiful, it feels as if you have died and gone to heaven, Lennox Lewis is thinking about Princess Diana, who has died and gone to heaven.

"What can I say? She was the princess of hearts," he says, in a celestial surrounding of mountain greenery, blue skies and log cabins.

An Englishman who makes a living punching people in the face, Lewis, 32, is in training for Saturday's pay-per-view fight with Andrew Golota, the towering Pole who makes a living punching people below the waist.

Lewis met the princess, more than once. He is the World Boxing Council heavyweight champion. He has been to Buckingham Palace. He knows the Queen, of whom he says, "She is one of my greatest fans."

The thing about Lennox Lewis is, he looks and sounds like a gentleman. That is, a gentle man. He has a soft, lilting voice. He likes a nice cup of tea. He loves his mother, who lives in London and has a soft, lovely name, Violet. And yet his entire professional world is one fraught with harsh, vicious violence.

Lewis thinks about this, as he weighs his bout with Low Blow Golota, a man disqualified twice for punching Riddick Bowe where it hurts.

"My mission," Lewis says, with what appears to be the utmost sincerity, "is to rid the boxing profession of all its misfits."

Up here in this California mountain resort, 100 miles northeast of the hubbub of Los Angeles, amid a freshwater lake eight miles long and the San Bernardino National Forest, a fighter feels far removed from many of life's cruelties. Lewis spars in a carpeted gym, a converted garage with sunlight beaming through the carport door. The air is fresh, not stale. No one smokes. You could do aerobics in here.

Big Bear has become the new Catskills of the fight game. Lewis trains at the Kronk gym here, a rustic branch of the Detroit camp where champs are born. The boxers are known to the community. They can sign a tab at the Sizzler across the road, or feel at ease in the quaint Big Bear Inn, sitting by the lobby's fireplace.

A genteel setting for a gentlemanly brute.

High on the wall of Big Bear Kronk is mounted the "Lennox Lewis Monster Bar," for pull-ups by the very, very tall. Lewis is 6 feet, 5 inches, perhaps even an inch more. He makes Mike Tyson look like a jockey. Steve Perez, who runs this busy gym, says of Lennox's monster bar, "We had to raise it for him. His feet would touch the floor."

In the ring, Emanuel Steward, who trains Lewis--as he did Tommy Hearns and so many others from Kronk's stable--counsels the heavyweight champ from the apron. If everything goes well, Lewis will be in a position soon to consolidate the title against the people's champion, Evander Holyfield, in a winner-takes-all fight.

Steward takes it for granted that Lewis will have little trouble with Low Blow Golota.

"I can't see it going more than two, three rounds," the trainer says.

The catch, keeping Low Blow from doing what got him DQ'd twice against Bowe, doesn't seem to concern Steward much. In his opinion, Bowe gave an acting performance not seen in a boxing ring since Robert De Niro. A couple of punches by Golota landed low, Steward speculates, and Bowe saw an opportunity to get out with his marbles and other vital organs intact.

Lewis doesn't expect Golota to try that stuff with him.

He says, "The fellow would have to be insane."

Each of these fighters' last two scraps has ended in disqualification. This is how Lewis came up with his "misfit" mission. He never did know what demons got into Oliver McCall during their WBC title fight Feb. 7, when, for no apparent reason, McCall began to blubber like a kindergartner with a lost puppy and wouldn't fight back.

Lewis was presented a fifth-round TKO and oddball McCall's championship belt. In his next fight, Henry Akinwande kept holding onto Lennox as though he wanted to tango. The referee, Mills Lane, made several attempts to warn Akinwande that the crowd came expecting to see a fight, not a dance. Akinwande clung to Lewis anyway, and got DQ'd.

That brings the British battler to his next nut-of-the-month club member, Golota.

He is not the least bit afraid of the pugnacious 29-year-old from Poland, whose record of 28-2-0 would be perfect, were it not for the low Bowe blows. Saying that his opponent would "be the stupidest boxer in the world" to fight that way again, Lewis nonetheless is preparing himself for that very possibility.

"Whatever vitamins he's taking have given him a chemical imbalance that causes him to lose his mind in the ring," Lewis says, with a droll sense of humor his Brit accent only serves to enhance.

Golota's trainer has drawn a pair of trunks on a heavy bag, as a warning where to hit and where not to hit.

Lewis' manager, Frank Maloney, says with a chuckle, "He'll probably get disqualified by the bag."

In the ring, dreadlocks flipping and flopping, Lewis spars with tall heavyweights such as 23-year-old Josh Dempsey, an up-and-comer from Redondo Beach who is reportedly distant kin to Jack, the long-ago champion. Dempsey sees up close how strong Lewis is. After a couple of rounds, he steps out breathing hard, nose bloodied.

"The guy is great," Dempsey says.

Lewis (31-1-0) is the first British heavyweight champion since long before the original Dempsey. A hundred years have passed since Bob Fitzsimmons stopped Gentleman Jim Corbett for the title, March 17, 1887.

When he defends his crown on the Atlantic City boardwalk this week, Gentleman Lennox will see if there is still a place in boxing for men who fight fair and square.

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