Will II be I for the ages?

Boxing hopes second Lewis-Holyfield bout quiets the controversy

Two fighters talking tough

Winner will unify heavyweight division

November 13, 1999|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS -- Evander Holyfield called himself "the undisputed heavyweight champion" at the final news conference before tonight's heavyweight title fight against Lennox Lewis, then told his opponent, "It's OK to be second-best."

Lewis, meanwhile, said he isn't concerned about Holyfield -- he later raised both fists and said: "I brought my own judges" for the fight.

Tough talk by two proud fighters, but will they back it up?

Holyfield (36-3-1, 25 knockouts) puts his International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Association crowns on the line against World Boxing Council champion Lewis (34-1-1, 27 KOs) at what is expected to be a sold-out 18,000-seat Thomas & Mack Center.

Lewis will earn $15 million for the bout, and Holyfield will receive $13.5 million.

The final major heavyweight title fight of this century, which will unify the division, is being sponsored by Caesars Palace and the Mandalay Bay Hotel-Casinos, which put up $10 million for the rights.

And it carries the proverbial weight of the boxing world on the fighters' broad shoulders.

Their controversial 12-round draw on March 13 at Madison Square Garden was sold on TVKO to about 1.2 million households, making it the seventh-highest pay-per-view fight ever.

But the bout, which many thought Lewis won, sparked investigations into how the ringside judges scored the fight, leading to last Thursday's indictment of several IBF officials, including president Robert W. Lee, 65, on 32 counts of soliciting and accepting bribes to fix ratings.

The decision also prevented the heavyweight crown from being unified for the first time since Riddick Bowe in 1992.

Judges for the first fight were chosen by the WBC, WBA and IBF, but not this time. Marc Ratner, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, has selected three veteran American judges -- Chuck Giampa, Bill Graham and Jerry Roth. American Mitch Halpern will be the referee.

The three judges have combined experience in more than 220 championship fights, and Halpern has been the referee for more than 60 title bouts.

"I don't need to worry about judges, especially in the fifth round of the first fight with me winning that round, and a judge saying that they couldn't see," said Lewis, 34, referring to a round Holyfield, 37, won on the card of IBF-appointed judge Eugenia Williams despite landing only five punches.

Williams said her view was blocked by Lewis' back, but video reviews appear to dispute that claim.

"I've got better standing with the judges this time," Lewis said. "I believe they are going to be better."

The fight may need to be better as well, for boxing's been on the ropes lately, and can hardly withstand another shot to the chin.

A man fought a woman in the ring recently. Outside the ring on Tuesday, WBA welterweight champ James Page allegedly punched a woman and was arrested for public drunkenness and suspicion of battery.

Fighters have admitted taking dives, including one who claims to have done it against the respected George Foreman.

In September, the much-anticipated welterweight "Fight of the Millennium" ended with Felix Trinidad winning a controversial decision over Oscar De La Hoya.

That was followed, last month, by a dull title defense from usually dazzling featherweight Naseem Hamed.

"We need this to be a good, solid fight because of all this bad publicity," said Lewis' trainer, Emanuel Steward.

"I'll go in, put my best foot forward, try to throw more punches," said Holyfield. "I hope Lennox takes it upon himself to try to win the fight and not count on the judges. It's important for me to do my best every time out. I'd rather die than to not give my all, regardless of how I feel.

"But it takes two people to fight. We've seen fighters choose to do what they want to -- not get hit, not get knocked out. Lennox is the one who chose to move around and hold and grab."

But Steward, who trained Holyfield for his 12-round win over Bowe in 1993, said fans will see "a more confident Lennox Lewis" when the fighters square off tonight.

Lewis said the only thing he fears about Holyfield is a head-butt.

"When he came in with his head, that's the only time he mounted an attack," Lewis said. "So if that's all he's got, then he's got nothing for Lennox Lewis. He has no game plan, no answer for me."

Holyfield's trainer, Don Turner, said his fighter had "a bad day" against Lewis, but he warned against thinking Holyfield is "washed up."

"When the scribes get a hold of a fight, they have their opinion just like the judges. And when it doesn't work out the way they expected, they crucify the guy they were in with," Turner said. "That's what happened with Holyfield-Lewis. The day before the fight, Holyfield was all-world. The day after, he was a bum."

Turner pointed to Holyfield's back-to-back wins over Bobby Czyz, against whom he was unimpressive, and Mike Tyson, whom he knocked out in the 11th round.

"He had a bad day against Czyz, but he dominated Tyson," Turner said.

Turner recalled Holyfield's 15-round decision over veteran Dwight Qawi, and a subsequent fourth-round knockout of Qawi in their return match. There were losses to Michael Moorer and Bowe, both later avenged.

"Should he have beaten these guys the first time? Yes. But it's all about motivation, and Evander's always been the best in boxing the second time around," Turner said. "It's like a pitcher striking out a batter. The next time the batter faces him, he hits a home run. And I've never seen Evander so intense for a fight. He's going to be vicious [tonight.]"

Fight facts

Who: Evander Holyfield, Fayetteville, Ga., vs. Lennox Lewis, Britain, 12 rounds, for the unified world heavyweight title.

Records: Holyfield (36-3-1); Lewis (34-1-1).

When: Tonight

Where: Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas

TV: Pay-per-view

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