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BOXING

Lewis Has Trouble Finding Fair Fight

March 15, 2003|STEVE SPRINGER

He envisions triumphantly marching into retirement as the conquering hero.

But for Lennox Lewis, more accomplished than ever at age 37 and still hungry for gold and glory, there are suddenly no more worlds to conquer.

The three-act finale to his career was to consist of fights against the Klitschko brothers -- Wladimir and Vitali -- and a rematch against Mike Tyson.

What Lewis finds, however, is one opponent who says he's not ready to face Lewis, a second opponent who doesn't appear to be good enough to face Lewis and a third opponent generally conceded to be even worse than the second opponent.

Tyson

Badly beaten by Lewis and ultimately stopped in the eighth round last June, Tyson showed last month that he still has his trademark punching power by finishing Clifford Etienne in 49 seconds of the first round.

But Tyson no longer has even a modicum of confidence in his own ability. Although he is contractually obligated to a rematch with Lewis on June 21, Tyson said he needs "two or three" more fights before he'll be ready for that.

The reality is that Tyson will never be ready for Lewis. Even a decade ago, when Tyson still had demonstrable skill, still moved his head and displayed some mobility, still depended on more than a menacing leer and outrageous trash talk, and Lewis was still learning his craft, it was questionable whether Tyson could have beaten Lewis. Tall fighters with long reaches and the mental fortitude to reject his bullying tactics bother Tyson. At 6 feet 5, Lewis has 5 1/2 inches on Tyson. With a reach of 84 inches, Lewis has a six-inch advantage over Tyson.

Considering Tyson is now nothing more than a colorful statue in the ring -- lots of tattoos, a well-sculpted likeness to a famous figure, but seemingly incapable of movement -- and Lewis has gotten better and more confident with age, a second fight between them figures to be even uglier than the first.

No matter. There is still plenty of money to be made and the Lewis forces are determined to hold Tyson to his legal obligations, threatening to sue if he refuses to answer the bell.

"The rage has gone out of Mike," said Emanuel Steward, Lewis' trainer. "It's no longer there. Mike has continually made it clear he doesn't want to fight Lennox. I think he really means it. He says he needs two or three more fights first. I don't know what that means since he only fights once a year."

Klitschkos

There is a scene in the movie "Ocean's Eleven" where Lewis and Wladimir square off in a world title fight. But just as the action begins, the lights go out as part of a robbery scheme.

That fleeting cinematic glimpse of a Lewis-Klitschko match may be as close as the two ever come. More skilled than his older brother, Vitali, Wladimir proved he still wasn't as good as advertised when he was knocked out 27 seconds into the second round of last weekend's match against relative unknown Corrie Sanders.

To Wladimir's rigid style and conservative approach, add an even bigger liability: a glass chin.

Scratch one Klitschko.

"Lennox definitely wants to fight on June 21," Steward said.

If so, Lewis' best option at this point might be Vitali, if the World Boxing Council certifies him as the mandatory challenger. But Vitali's marketability has been severely damaged by his brother's downfall. After all, when one brother's credibility has been shattered by a journeyman opponent, who would pay to see a less-talented sibling?

Other possibilities for Lewis are International Boxing Federation champion Chris Byrd or the winner of tonight's Kirk Johnson-Lou Savarese match.

Not much to choose from.

"We are just totally confused," said Steward.

And Then There's Roy

Not mentioned in the same breath as Lewis is World Boxing Assn. heavyweight champion Roy Jones Jr. Much was made of the fact Jones gained 24 pounds, still came in 27 pounds lighter than John Ruiz, yet beat the defending champion two weeks ago. But even at a blown-up 199 pounds, Jones would give away 50 pounds to Lewis.

Since he doesn't want to turn his back on the blown-up paychecks he can receive as a heavyweight, or the blown-up image he is now enjoying, Jones, it appears, will stay at heavyweight.

The most lucrative fight for him would be against Tyson, but that appears highly unlikely since Don King now has promotional rights to Jones, and Tyson, in a legal battle with King, has sworn never to fight on a King card.

That leaves either Byrd or Evander Holyfield for Jones. Jones-Byrd would be a better fight, but Jones-Holyfield would be richer (because of the Holyfield name), and easier (because Holyfield has been a shot fighter for some time).

So, look for Jones to fight Holyfield.

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