Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Once again, heavyweight division leaves bad taste

Complacency, greed stymie sport's progress

By Jim Litke
The Associated Press

There were two heavyweight fights over the weekend.

One was sanctioned.

Naturally, Mike Tyson fought in the other one - for free. It took place at a Brooklyn hotel, around 5:30 a.m.

"I guess it's clear he wasn't doing road work," Teddy Atlas, Tyson's former trainer, told the New York Daily News. "He's not a guy who's looking and thinking of having a professional career."

Unfortunately for the fight game, he's not the only one.

Lennox Lewis outlasted Vitali Klitschko in the weekend's cable TV bout - but just barely. He was overweight and out of breath and the outcome was very much in doubt until Lewis was awarded a sixth-round TKO over Klitschko.

That came because the ring doctor finally decided he'd rather risk the wrath of millions than have to look even once more at the cut over Klitschko's left eye - which by then was the size of a divot.

"I want rematch," Klitschko, who speaks four languages, said afterward. "You know why? Because I know I will be winner in this fight."

Lewis, less than impressive in the ring earlier Saturday night, was full of bravado outside it.

"If he wants a rematch, there's no problem with that," he said. "I'm happy to give him a rematch, because I'll bust up the other side of his face, too."


The sad thing is that Lewis will try his best to make sure it never happens, and even that assumes he'll continue to fight. Lewis is already sizing up a possible payday against with Roy Jones Jr. later this year, strictly because it could mean huge money for both fighters.

The feint - pretending to do one thing and doing another - may be a survival tool in boxing, but it's also why the sport resides in a state of perpetual confusion. It hardly bodes well for a sport when Lewis, arguably its best performer, is fat, happy and a mercenary to boot, and Tyson, unquestionably its biggest drawing card, is back on a court docket and performing in hotel lobbies for free.

Just a year ago, you could argue Lewis had reached the pinnacle and restored some order to the chaos of the heavyweight division.

He starched Tyson in eight rounds in front of a pay-per-view audience, talked about establishing his legacy and then announced three times in the six weeks following that he likely would retire.

"I've already done everything that I really wanted to do in the sport of boxing," he said.

It was an easy line to swallow. Lewis and Tyson, both 37, grew up as the best prospects in a generation brimming with promising fighters. They clashed during a few sparring sessions in 1984, and then not again until last June.

It may have been too late for a reliable measurement, but Lewis claimed the win made him the top dog of his era and insisted he had all the money he needed and not enough time to wait for a genuine contender to emerge.

Finally, Lewis asked and then answered his own question about what it would take to get him to fight either Klitschko, Chris Byrd or any other member of the unremarkable heavyweight class filling out the rankings.

"If they want me to fight those guys," Lewis said at the time, "they're going to have to pay me money just to get me back into training."

Apparently, it wasn't enough in this case to make him train seriously. Lewis came into the fight with a ready-made excuse - he had only two weeks to adjust to Klitschko after his original opponent, Kirk Johnson, was injured. But that wasn't the cause of all the huffing and puffing. He entered the ring at 256 1/2 pounds, the heaviest of his career, and it showed. Lewis couldn't get away from Klitschko's left hand and couldn't press the advantage each time he had the taller man in serious trouble.

Whether Lewis likes it or not, the glow from beating Tyson has already worn off. The only way he restores his credibility is the same way he did after the only two losses of his career - give Klitschko a rematch, show up in shape, and beat him decisively, not square-dance with a pumped-up middleweight like Jones just because it's the best payday out there.

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