Garden punches expected to sting

Redemption seen Lewis, Grant focus

April 29, 2000|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- The defending champion in tonight's heavyweight title bout at Madison Square Garden sips tea, plays chess and has been called "a nice, quiet kid" by his trainer.

The challenger plays a mean piano, sings in his church choir and promises to deliver "the truth" tonight.

World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation king Lennox Lewis, who stands 6 feet 5 and weighs 247 pounds, and Michael Grant, at 6-7, 250, are two of the cleaner images in a sport marred by much ugliness lately.

"This the right fight for boxing," said HBO senior vice president Lou DiBella. "This is the right fight, no matter what anyone says." Lewis will earn $10 million to Grant's $4 million.

The fight, scheduled to begin at about 11: 15 p.m. on TVKO pay per view from Madison Square Garden, is billed "TWO BIG" because the combined size (13 feet, 500 pounds) of the fighters is believed to be the greatest in heavyweight title-bout history.

The last two fighters who weighed nearly this much for a championship fight, Primo Carnera and Paulino Uzcudin in 1933, totaled about 489 pounds and fought 15 dreadful rounds.

The hope is that this won't be another in a row of recent stinkers -- that these two, really big guys will go about it like two professional fighters rather than like two professional basketball players trying to fight.

"Both guys are coming off performances where they were very sensitive to the criticism they received, so it will be a fight of power punches," said Emmanuel Steward, Lewis' trainer.

"You're going to have both guys looking to redeem themselves in the public eye. I think you will see a more explosive fight."

Grant's trainer, Don Turner , is 0-2-1 versus Lewis, having lost with 6-7 Henry Akinwande in 1997 and with Evander Holyfield, who fought Lewis to a controversial draw here in 1999 before losing a 12-round decision in November in Las Vegas.

Akinwande bear-hugged Lewis so much that referee Mills Lane disqualified him after five rounds of a dull affair. But Turner, who sparred with Akinwande for the Lewis fight, said Grant will not repeat Akinwande's misdeeds.

"Michael fights tall very well; does everything good for a big man," Turner said. "He's younger than Lewis, faster, just as strong and punches just as hard."

Grant said he watched tapes of Lewis' best fights, looking not for his weaknesses, but Lewis' strengths.

"I'm watching for things that occur, so you know what it is and how to get out of it," Grant said. "He's a strong athlete, but I'm going to go out and push forward, throw punches, let my hands go. I throw more punches in combinations and at certain angles."

In training, Turner made Grant start a practice round over, or added a round, every time Grant's hands dropped too low, a dangerous thing to do against Lewis because of his powerful right hand.

"We've worked on slipping the right hand, getting under the right hand, stepping to the side, and on angles and combinations," Grant said. "We've worked on the direction of punches and intensity. We didn't change too much so we don't overload the computer."

Lewis, however, thinks he can force Grant to short-circuit, as Grant nearly did in his last fight with Andrew Golota, who blew two first-round knockdowns of Grant before losing via 10th-round KO.

"Don Turner might be teaching him a lot of different things, having been in the ring with me three times," Lewis said. "Grant tries to box like a small man with movement. But anything he learns, he's going to forget as soon as he gets hit."

Grant insists he's learned from his fight with Golota, who backed him into the ropes before unleashing a big right hand into his face for the first, most devastating knockdown.

Grant said he'll not back up, but move forward, and dictate the action.

"I can set a pace that Lewis is not accustomed to," Grant said. "You can impose your will consistently, not in spurts. You can make a guy try to gamble, set him up to get hurt."

Grant "has to crowd this guy and make him fight the way he wants to fight," Turner said.

"I work the body well, throw more punches from the inside, and not just to the midsection," Grant said. "I hook them around, step to the side, bring them up top and back down to the kitchen."

Turner tried to get Holyfield to rough up and outwork Lewis at close range, but neglected to allow for Lewis' newly developed uppercut.

Grant, Turner insists, will have the answer.

"Michael can do a lot of damage if Lewis fights [inside]," Turner said. "But I don't think Lewis will choose to fight us that way. His best bet is to stay outside."

Lewis' jab could steer Grant into the right hand, as he did in victories over big men such as Golota (a first-round KO), Razor Rudduck (second round), Shannon Briggs (fifth round) and Frank Bruno (seventh).

"Lennox has been much more effective against big men rather than punching down on guys," Steward said. "Grant's not a bob-and-weave guy, so he has the perfect makings for Lewis to step up to the plate."

But Madison Square Garden and New York judges have not been a good combination for Lewis.

It was a New York federal judge who ruled on April 12 that Lewis breached his contract and must be stripped of the World Boxing Association crown for signing to fight Grant and failing to fight WBA No. 1 contender John Ruiz, a condition of the agreement Lewis signed to make the second Holyfield fight.

The WBA ranks Ruiz and Holyfield 1-2, respectively, and Grant No. 5.

Fight facts

What: Lennox Lewis vs. Michael Grant

What: 12 rounds, for Lewis' World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation titles

What: Today

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York

Records: Lewis, 35-1-, 27 knockouts; Grnat, 31-0, 22 knockouts.

Time/TV: Pay-per-view (TVKO) telecast beginning at 9 p.m. The main event is expected to start about 11:30 p.m.

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