Column one: Our new (disputed) undisputed world champion

AFTER A century of false dawns, Britain finally crowned its own undisputed heavyweight champion of the world when Lennox Lewis beat Evander Holyfield on points in Las Vegas on Saturday night, adding Holyfield's World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation titles to his own World Boxing Council belt.

Where a dozen of his predecessors had failed, giving rise to the legend of the British horizontal heavyweight, Lewis succeeded in adding his name to the list of immortals that includes Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali.

It was back in 1897 that Bob Fitzsimmons became the first British-born undisputed champion when he took the title from Jim Corbett in another Nevada town, Carson City. Fitzsimmons had been brought up in New Zealand, just as Lewis, born 34 years ago in London to Jamaican parents, was raised in Canada before deciding he would fight under British colours.

And yet, this being boxing, there was a last-minute hitch that prevented Lewis from leaving the ring with all three of the ornamented belts which symbolise the various championships. Not surprisingly, it was caused by a political struggle thinly disguised as a disagreement over money. The last-minute refusal of the IBF to endorse the contest for their title, in a dispute over payment of a sanctioning fee, clouded Lewis's triumph and led to noisy rows after the bout. But it could not disguise the fact of his victory.

More than 6,000 fans travelled from Britain to witness his triumph, a sequel to the controversial drawn fight in New York last March. Although outnumbered two to one by Holyfield's supporters, their rendering of the national anthem filled the University of Nevada's arena. Almost half of them had been up since dawn, when they had congregated in a casino showroom to watch the Scotland v England football match beamed live from Glasgow on two giant screens, but a day spent celebrating that early victory for England had no adverse effect on their behaviour when the evening came.

This time, eight months after he and Holyfield's disputed draw, when a woman judge was blamed for depriving Lewis of the unified title, he did enough to satisfy the three officials, all of them American and each of them giving him the verdict by a wide margin.

After the fight, Lewis's manager, Panos Eliades, claimed to have agreed to pay the $300,000 (pounds 180,000) sanctioning fee into an escrow account pending the resolution of the IBF's current difficulties, which include criminal indictments handed down to its president and three other top officials a fortnight ago. The IBF's representative had announced the withdrawal of the body's agreement to the fight only a minute before Lewis and Holyfield started to trade punches, and then disappeared, belt in hand.

Lewis may experience even more trouble getting it back from him than he had taking it away from Holyfield.

Lewis on top of world Sport, page 1

Comments