Lewis is out to fight his way into history

WBC champ seeks spot among all-time greats

November 12, 1999|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS -- Heading into their heavyweight title bout tomorrow night, Lennox Lewis has been harping about Evander Holyfield's age, saying the 37-year-old is too old for boxing.

But Lewis is just three years younger and, unlike Holyfield, has yet to establish a place of prominence in boxing history.

Even Lewis' trainer, Emanuel Steward, said his fighter may be running out of time to demonstrate he deserves a place among the sport's all-time champions.

"Lennox Lewis has a lot to prove," said Steward, who also trained Holyfield for a period. "He still hasn't had that big, solid victory or that solid, continuous performance that is indicative of a really great champion."

Lewis (34-1-1, 27 knockouts) will take his best shot at the fame he craves at the 18,000-seat Thomas & Mack Center, where he puts his World Boxing Council belt on the line against Holyfield (36-3-1, 25 KOs), who will be risking his World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation crowns.

Both fighters will earn $15 million for the rematch. In their first bout, which ended in a controversial draw on March 13 at Madison Square Garden, Holyfield earned $20 million, while Lewis received $10 million.

The winner will be the heavyweight division's first unified champion since Riddick Bowe in 1992.

Critics of Lewis argue it all came too easily for him, and that he did not face enough obstacles.

The WBC title that Bowe trashed rather than face Lewis, the No. 1 contender at the time, was subsequently awarded to Lewis. He then earned $9 million for his lackluster first-title defense, a 12-round decision over Tony Tucker.

Lewis knocked out Frank Bruno and Phil Jackson, but he was knocked out in two rounds in his third defense by Oliver McCall.

"Holyfield has looked ordinary in certain fights, and, in my opinion, hasn't really controlled the division like the way [Muhammad] Ali and [Larry] Holmes controlled the division," Steward said. "But Holyfield's probably done enough to go into the Boxing Hall of Fame when he retires, whereas Lennox has to win this fight big to even get into the game [consideration]."

Although he is the No. 1 heavyweight by most observers, if Lewis were to quit now, boxing history would likely remember him as having only potential to be great.

Lewis struggled against one journeyman, Frank Bruno, in October 1993 and was knocked out in two rounds by another, Oliver McCall, nearly a year later.

In 1996, Lewis showed heart against Ray Mercer, fighting off the ropes to win a 12-round decision. But Holyfield already had beaten Mercer a year earlier, and he remains the only man to floor the former Olympic gold medalist.

In his return engagement with McCall in February 1997, Lewis was awarded a victory but not because of a punch: The fight ended at five rounds with McCall sobbing in his corner, apparently having suffered a breakdown.

Five months after that against Henry Akinwande, Lewis had trouble freeing himself from the fighter's grasp, let alone landing a punch. He had to settle for a fifth-round disqualification.

Lewis ended 1997 with a first-round knockout of Andrew Golota, but he had to get off the canvas to finish off an overrated Shannon Briggs in March 1998.

"It's just been bad situations that have occurred while I've been in boxing," Lewis said.

Steward said Lewis won the first fight with Holyfield.

"Lennox won the first round very big. The middle rounds, the fifth, sixth and seventh, were big rounds for Lennox. And the 12th round was very big," Steward said. "He was very consistent, continually."

The ease with which Lewis -- 6 feet 5 and who has weighed as much as 260 in recent weeks -- controlled Holyfield, 6-2 1/2, Steward said, has damaged Holyfield's confidence.

"Not only is Lennox more confident, but at press conferences, things like that, when we're all together, Holyfield seems intimidated," Steward said. "I think it's because of the way he controlled Evander Holyfield and did what he wanted to him. I don't care what Holyfield might say about it, but he's never been toyed with like Lennox toyed with him."

Steward said Lewis "only used 70 percent of his talents against Holyfield the first time," but "Lennox is going to step up a lot more."

"I was very upset with Lennox for the way he fought in the 11th round, and I sent him out in the 12th and he was better," Steward said. "Next time, you'll see a Lennox Lewis who is more concerned with knocking Evander out, whereas before, I was more concerned about that. This time, Lennox himself wants to get the knockout. I don't know if Evander can fight much better."

Lewis admitted being wary of Holyfield's well-known recuperative powers, in addition to his reputation as perhaps the division's best counterpuncher.

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