Lewis talks heavy, but fights light Foe for WBC title is Briggs, who defeated Foreman, 48

March 28, 1998|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Up close, World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis comes across as a polite, somewhat aloof Englishman, totally lacking the intimidating facade of Mike Tyson or the late Sonny Liston.

He has made a reputation by beating up the second tier of heavyweights -- Tyrell Biggs, Tommy Morrison and Razor Ruddock. He won his last three title bouts when Oliver McCall, Henry Akinwande and Andrew Golota offered little or no resistance.

He has talked boldly of taking on all comers, but, for various reasons, matches with former champions Riddick Bowe and Tyson and present International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Association king Evander Holyfield have failed to materialize.

And so Lewis (32-1, 26 KOs) finds himself in the Convention Center ring tonight against Shannon Briggs, who earned a championship shot on the strength of a highly controversial decision over 48-year-old George Foreman last November.

"Everybody in America asks me, 'Why is everybody running from you?' " he said. "I signed my part of the agreement to fight Holyfield. Then [promoter] Don King went back to Holyfield, and he was the one who wouldn't make the deal, for whatever reason I don't know."

The obvious answer is spelled M-O-N-E-Y. Lewis settled for a $10 million guarantee, but Holyfield demanded a minimum purse of $20 million. Home Box Office, aware that cable rival Showtime lost a reported $10 million backing Holyfield vs. Michael Moorer and that HBO lost $2 million for staging Lewis' 95-second dust-up of Golota, decided it was not worth the gamble.

Now Holyfield will settle for a whole lot less in a June mandatory fight against the enigmatic Akinwande.

"I always looked at Evander as a true warrior, but now I have to question that," Lewis said. "Is he a warrior or a man of just money?

"Does he like living off the coattails of Tyson and the fact that he got bit on the ear? That is no way to become famous. I'm saying, 'Fight me, and stop fooling the public.' "

Despite trainer Emanuel Steward's claim that he is already the "best heavyweight in the world," Lewis and his management team of financial backer Panos Eliades and front man Frank Maloney realize he will not be recognized as such by the American public until he fights Holyfield or Tyson.

But Lewis says it is the flawed makeup of his American rivals that should be the subject of ridicule.

"America is supposed to be the mecca of professional boxing," he said. "But if its heavyweights are not crying, holding or biting, where are they?

"I wanted to make a statement in the Golota fight. That only made Holyfield hide. But I'm not chasing him. He's the one devaluing the heavyweight division and losing the respect of his peers.

"Sure, it's disappointing that Bowe, Tyson [currently under suspension by the Nevada commission] and Holyfield wouldn't fight me. I want to prove I'm the best heavyweight on the planet, but I haven't been given the opportunity. So I'll just have to continue beating up anybody who stands in my way."

Fight facts

Who: Lennox Lewis (32-1, 26 KOs) vs. Shannon Briggs (30-1, 24 KOs)

What: For Lewis' World Boxing Council heavyweight title

Where: Atlantic City (N.J.) Convention Center

When: Tonight

3' TV: HBO, telecast begins at 10 p.m.

Pub Date: 3/28/98

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