Boxing's legs are wobbly

Heavyweight division has uncertain future

Boxing

April 30, 2000|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The heavyweight division has customarily been boxing's royalty for obvious reasons, and traditionally provided the marquee fights and the sport's most dominant personalities. But it is a division in flux, with an uncertain future.

The world's best-known heavyweight, Mike Tyson, is still searching for a site for his fight with Lou Savarese, which should not be as hard as it seems to have been. It appears the fight will be in Italy or Scotland on June 24. It is fitting somehow, given the many questions surrounding Tyson's desire and commitment to boxing these days, that settling on a date and place for the fight has been so vexing.

Tyson still has the gate appeal, though, if little else. The Savarese fight was originally scheduled for May 20 and then for June 3 in Milan. Promoters of the fight in Milan said they had received twice as many ticket requests as they could fill for the 21,000-seat arena.

It is this appeal that has others lining up to fight Tyson.

Lennox Lewis, who fought Michael Grant for the heavyweight championship last night at New York's Madison Square Garden, wants to fight Tyson, but Tyson's camp has not eagerly pursued that match.

"I'd like to fight Mike Tyson, but he's a movie star now," Lewis said recently. "He hasn't been taking it too seriously. What can I do?"

Another heavyweight who was looking to Tyson for a big payday was Shannon Briggs. But Briggs lost a tuneup fight with Sedreck Fields on Thursday night in New York and probably ruined his shot at Tyson. Briggs, who looked sluggish, lost an eight-round majority decision to Fields, whose professional record is 10-9. Briggs (32-3-1) took the fight just to stay busy, waiting for the potential Tyson date.

David Tua, the International Boxing Federation's No. 1 contender, is upset he was not fighting Lewis last night instead of Grant. But other than among boxing's most fervent followers, Tua is not well known and his protests alone will not get him the title shot he seeks.

Also muddling the picture is John Ruiz, who is ranked as the No. 1 heavyweight contender by the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Association.

And then there is Wladimir Klitschko of Ukraine. The heavyweight gold medalist from the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta is trying to raise his profile. He was to make his U.S. debut on the undercard of last night's event at the Garden.

Gatti wants De La Hoya

Arturo Gatti appears eager to move up in weight from junior welterweight to welterweight and was scheduled to fight at 148 pounds last night against Eric Jakubowski of Chicago. But Gatti, who said his customary nonfighting weight is nearly 170 pounds, does not want to fight at much more than the 147-pound welterweight range.

"If I go up to 160 pounds, then I'm fighting guys coming down from 180 pounds," Gatti said. "That's the way it works. It's not hard for me to make the 147-pound weight. But I don't want to fight guys who are naturally a lot bigger than me."

He would like to fight Oscar De La Hoya.

"It'd be a good fight because people know I would come after him," Gatti said. "I know people are talking about that fight, but I can't concern myself with it. If it comes along, I'll take it."

De La Hoya has a June 17 fight with Shane Mosley.

The Pupil and the Teacher

Featherweight Junior Jones credits his trainer Teddy Atlas with instilling in him a new passion for boxing.

"Teddy put more spark in the game for me," said Jones, who was to challenge the IBF featherweight champion Paul Ingle on the Lewis-Grant undercard last night. "I had started to think of boxing as my hobby. But it's my job and you have to treat it like that every day.

"With Teddy, every day in the gym he keeps you focused. And he teaches you how to be a professional boxer, not just somebody who fights."

Jones in many ways is still trying to rebound from his surprising 1998 loss to Erik Morales.

"Morales just caught me at the right time," Jones said. "I took the fight too lightly. That's my fault."

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