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Lewis Defies Logic by Getting Better With Age

Boxing: Heavyweight champion wants to show how far he has come when he takes on Tua with two titles on line.


LAS VEGAS — Champions get old. Champions lose their sting. They lose their reflexes, their confidence.

And ultimately, champions lose their titles.

They simply can't do at 35 what they could do at 25.

Hard and fast rule?

Only until you've seen Lennox Lewis.

He has become the exception to the rule, the champion whose fists fly in the face of logic.

Lewis is doing things at 35 he never could have done at 25. He is getting better.

He has shown that to be the case over the last 20 months and will show it again tonight when he defends his World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation heavyweight titles against David Tua at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

Having dominated Evander Holyfield twice last year--no matter what judge Eugenia Williams thinks--seems to have liberated Lewis from the doubts he used to harbor. He has been fighting with more confidence, with better balance, with more polished combinations and with a better sense of the ring.

"I asked someone in training camp, 'Is it my imagination or is Lennox getting younger?' " said his trainer, Emanuel Steward. "I think he's more excited and I think you can see that in his confidence level.

"When I started with him, I told him that I thought he had a chance to be one of greatest, to be compared to a Muhammad Ali. He looked at me in disbelief.

"But since the Holyfield fights, his confidence has really come on. He was expecting Holyfield to do so much more than he did. I think Holyfield was the key for him. He is more relaxed with the media now. He has grown into the stature he was supposed to have had all the time. I believe he never really felt comfortable with himself."

Does Lewis buy that?

"There is always improvement," he said. "I feel very confident, very focused and very good about the point in my life that I am at now."

Lewis' comfort level could be seen at a Wednesday news conference for the fighters.

When Tua got up and did an impression of ring announcer Michael Buffer declaring Tua the "n-e-e-w heavyweight champion of the world," Lewis responded, "You won't beat me, but I would definitely hire you to be the announcer at my next fight."

When Tua's trainer, Kevin Berry, read aloud several pages detailing how and why his fighter would win, Lewis asked if he could look at the those pages, then proceeded to tear them up, saying, "I don't read fiction."

When Steve Fitch, Mike Tyson's rabble rouser who goes by the nickname "Crocodile," starting ranting and raving from the back of the room that Tyson was waiting for the champion, Lewis said, "Crocodiles belong in the swamp."

It's a far different, more relaxed public face than the one shown by Lewis when he was serious and quiet, to the point of appearing hostile.

It was perhaps the result of years of travail, the knockout by Oliver McCall in 1994, Lewis' only defeat; the years when Tyson avoided him, the charges that Lewis lacked heart, and the huge disappointment when Lewis' first match against Holyfield in March 1999 was judged a draw. That decision left onlookers questioning the judgment, eyesight and integrity of those marking the scorecards.

But Lewis won the rematch on a decision last November, destroyed Michael Grant in two rounds in April of this year and did the same to Francois Botha in July.

Lewis (35-1-1, 27 knockouts) is favored tonight, but, if he indeed prevails, it won't be easy. Tua (37-1, 32 knockouts) is no Michael Grant. No Francois Botha.

Tua is a tough, unyielding Samoan, with steel girders for legs and battering rams for arms. He doesn't back up, doesn't tire, doesn't get discouraged, doesn't get knocked down, doesn't even get cut. He has yet to require a cut man in his 38 fights, but he has kept a lot of cut men busy in opponents' corners.

Tua's only loss was by decision to Ike Ibeabuchi in a 12-round fight in June 1997.

Few would be surprised if Tua were able to pull off the upset. His devastating left hook is never more than the blink of an eye away from ending a fight.

As much as Lewis has improved, he will not be able to put Tua down and, as long as Tua is on his feet, he has a puncher's chance to end the match.

But to do so, he has a long, uphill road to travel. Tua stands 5-10, not counting the three inches of Don King-style hair that sprouts upward. Lewis at 6-5, has a seven-inch height advantage. Lewis also has a 15-inch reach advantage.

To get through and do some damage, Tua will have to weather Lewis' excellent left jab and the defensive style that enabled Lewis to hold off Holyfield.

For his part, Lewis will have to make sure he doesn't lean in too much against the dangerous Tua. Lewis must find a way to utilize his best punch, the right uppercut, without exposing himself to Tua's most deadly punch, the left hook.

"He's concentrating on speed and balance," Steward said of his fighter. "Big guys have trouble with their balance because of their size, but not Lennox."

Veteran trainer Teddy Atlas thinks, balance or no balance, Lewis will fail to hold Tua off.

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