Trainer has Lewis on his toes Steward serves notice for fight with Golota

October 02, 1997|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

ATLANTIC CITY -- Emanuel Steward has never been the type of trainer to massage a fighter's ego by telling him what he wants to hear.

In fact, Steward has been brutally honest in his relationship with World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, daring the Brit to be great in his title match with Polish strongboy Andrew Golota at Convention Hall on Saturday night.

"I'm very realistic when it comes to dealing with fighters," Steward said. He guided Thomas Hearns to the welterweight crown and is now tutoring Oscar De La Hoya. "I told Lennox that for him to gain worldwide respect, he has to beat creditable opponents like Golota, and frankly, he hasn't done that yet."

In fact, Steward had to impose his will on Lewis' manager, Frank Maloney, to make the match with Golota. Maloney had tried to get Home Box Office to accept Brian Nielsen of Denmark, Frans Botha of South Africa or Croatia's Zeliko Mavrovic as worthy challengers, but HBO ruled them unacceptable.

"He [Maloney] wanted a safe fight, but I needed only 30 seconds to convince Lennox that a world champion has to fight the best," pTC Steward said. "He won his last two title bouts by disqualification -- the first against a guy [Oliver McCall] who was crying and the last one against a guy [Henry Akinwande] who wanted to kiss him rather than fight.

"The only impressive victory he's really had was when he knocked out Tommy Morrison a couple of years ago, and Morrison had always been an inconsistent fighter."

Despite

Lewis' 31-1 record, Steward believes he has not exhibited his potential in the ring.

"He's been sheltered from reality," Steward said. "Whatever he did in the past, there'd be guys telling him, 'Yes, yes, you're right.' It took me a long time to win his confidence and convince him that he's not as respected as he thinks he is."

Lewis, who bears the aloof quality of a reserved English gentleman when it comes to dealing with the media, had made a habit of answering questions in a few terse words, if at all.

Perhaps this reticence led to a reluctance for fans on this side of the Atlantic to buy tickets to his fights. His rematch with McCall in Las Vegas drew less than 5,000 fans and half that number watched his one-sided fight with Akinwande in Stateline, Nev.

Steward said: "I told Lennox the media can make or break you. You don't get a positive response because you don't cooperate.

"When we were having workouts last year at Big Bear Lake in California, I put up a sign on the gym door, 'Training camp of world champion Lennox Lewis.' A few people drifted in, but one of the hired hands told them it was a closed session. Lennox had always enjoyed his privacy.

"I pulled him aside and asked, 'What secrets can you be hiding? Muhammad Ali used to invite his opponent to watch him train. I told him, as champion you belong to the public. Get used to it.' "

In a broad sense, Lewis is a man without a country. Even in England, fight fans have been slow to warm to the champion.

Lewis was born in the working class section of West Ham, but his family moved to Canada when he was 12. As a member of Team Canada in the 1988 Olympics, he won a gold medal in the super-heavyweight class by knocking out Riddick Bowe in the finals.

Ironically, he first claimed the WBC crown in 1993 after Bowe trashed his championship belt in defiance of an order by WBC president Jose Sulaiman to fight Lewis.

"But the British fans have not accepted Lennox the way they did Frank Bruno," Steward said. "Lennox is almost too polite. Bruno was like a teddy bear, mingling with the people."

Lewis said: "Bruno is different than me. People in England treat him like a mascot, but they hold me in high regard. I don't have a bad-boy image," he said, alluding to Mike Tyson. "The American public seems to like controversy, but that's not my way."

Lewis, however, has heeded Steward's message concerning his boxing persona and realizes the importance of beating Golota.

"I admit I had reservations about fighting Golota because of the cloud of controversy hanging over his head from his two $H disqualifications against Riddick Bowe," Lewis said.

"But I don't want any Mickey Mouse fights. I need to fight the best, and this fight with Golota is the one the public wants to see."

Lewis, 32, who is guaranteed $6 million, claims he is not concerned about Golota's reputation as a dirty fighter.

"I'm not preparing to guard against low punches," he said. "That's the job of the referee [Joe Cortez]. The whole world will be watching Golota. He can't be that stupid. But I'm going to knock him out before he has an opportunity to foul."

It is Lewis' grand plan to unify the heavyweight crown by whipping Golota and then challenging the winner of the Holyfield-Moorer title bout, Nov. 4.

"My goal is to become the best heavyweight on the planet -- the undisputed champion," he said. "I'm on a mission now. As long as I do my job, history and the public's respect will come."

The heavies

Who: Lennox Lewis (31-1, 25 KOs), London, vs. Andrew Golota (( (28-2, 25 KOs), Warsaw, Poland.

What: For Lewis' World Boxing Council heavyweight title

When: 9 p.m. Saturday

Where: Convention Hall, Atlantic City. TV: Pay per view. Estimated cost $39.95. Main event will start approximately 11: 30 p.m.

Purses: Lewis, $6 million; Golota, $2.5 million Co-feature: Arturo Gatti (28-1, 23 KOs), Jersey City, N.J., vs. Gabriel Ruelas (44-3, 23 KOs), Jalisco, Mexico, for Gatti's International Boxing Federation junior lightweight title

Pub Date: 10/02/97

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