IBF title still uncertain due to dispute over fee

Organization keeps belt despite Lewis' victory

November 15, 1999|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS -- Lennox Lewis' unanimous decision over Evander Holyfield on Saturday night was supposed to give the world its first undisputed heavyweight boxing champion in seven years.

Instead, it raised more questions.

The fighters and their camps had hoped to avoid the controversy surrounding their 12-round draw of eight months ago at New York's Madison Square Garden, a fight most observers thought was won by Lewis.

But despite Lewis' victory Saturday in front of 6,000 singing British fans at the sold-out, 18,000-seat Thomas & Mack Arena, the International Boxing Federation refused to hand its belt to Lewis because of a dispute over what the IBF said was an unpaid $300,000 sanctioning fee by Lewis' promoters.

Pat English, attorney for promoter Main Events, said the sanctioning fee had been agreed upon during a five-hour meeting with IBF supervisor Walter Stone before the bout.

English said a check for the amount of the fee had been placed in escrow in accordance with the agreement, but before the fight began and with both fighters in the ring, Stone walked off with the IBF belt.

Neither Stone nor any other IBF representatives attended the post-fight news conference. But, according to English, Stone said he was told not to accept the agreement after a phone call "from a higher authority."

Don King, promoter of Saturday night's card, said he wasn't the higher authority.

"I don't know who the higher authority is. I don't want to get into this controversy," King said.

"All they [Lewis' camp] had to do was pay their sanctioning fee, and they didn't do it. You took the law into your own hands. Next thing you know, they'll be trying to blame me for this."

Asked whether he thought the disagreement would prevent the IBF from recognizing Lewis as champion, thus causing the heavyweight crown to remain fragmented, Lewis' promoter, Panos Eliades, said, "The world recognizes Lennox Lewis as champion, so I don't care what they do."

The IBF president is Bob Lee, who earlier this month was indicted by a federal grand jury in New Jersey on charges of soliciting and accepting bribes to fix rankings.

"Until these people [IBF officials] are put out of business it's going to carry on like this," Eliades said. "We actually could put them out of business if they do wrong by Lennox Lewis, because if they don't do right by him, they may find no one respects them as an organization.

"How we'll deal with them -- or whether we deal with them at all -- I'll decide next week."

With the IBF, in effect, rendering its title vacant, it remains in doubt whether Lewis indeed became the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Riddick Bowe in 1992.

It also remains in doubt whether he denied the United States a world heavyweight champion for the first time since 1959, when Ingemar Johansson of Sweden won the crown from Floyd Patterson.

Lewis (35-1-1, 27 knockouts) impressed an all-American panel of judges Saturday.

Judge Jerry Roth scored the fight 115-113, Chuck Giampa scored it 116-112 and Bill Graham had it 117-111, as Lewis seemed to add the IBF and World Boxing Association titles previously owned by Holyfield (36-4-1, 25 KOs) to his World Boxing Council championship.

"With all that was on the line coming in, I had to unify the belts," said Lewis, who was cut above his right eye and bruised below his left eye by apparent head butts from Holyfield.

"I went through some trials and tribulations with him," Lewis said. "I'm just going to chill out and enjoy the moment."

In the fight, Lewis, perhaps feeling the sting of criticism, seemed to abandon his safety-first approach in order to show more heart.

Rather than use his height and reach to control Holyfield as he did in their March 13 bout, Lewis, 6 feet 5, 242 pounds, went toe-to-toe with a man shorter by 2 1/2 inches, lighter by 25 pounds and regarded as perhaps the division's best counterpuncher.

Still, Lewis outlanded Holyfield yet again, albeit by a closer margin. Lewis connected on more total punches (195-137), more jabs (76-52) and more power punches (119-85).

Holyfield got inside Lewis' defenses on occasion, but he was often troubled by Lewis' jab and frequent uppercuts.

"At times, I was playing with him in there, because when I was jabbing him, he was coming in with his head," Lewis said.

"I realized that he wasn't doing nothing with me in there in the beginning."

However, because of Lewis' strategy, Holyfield was able to hurt him more than in their first fight. During the strength-sapping sixth, seventh and eighth rounds, he shook and wobbled Lewis with left hooks.

However, Lewis never trailed on any of the cards, although Roth had it tied after eight rounds. He won three of the final four rounds on the cards of Roth and Giampa and all four on Graham's card.

"Of course, I was surprised in the decision," Holyfield said. "I just fight and let the judges decide.

"I'm disappointed, but life is life. I hit him with some good shots, and I thought it would catch up to him. I hurt him a couple of times. I gave it my all."

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