An air of tension cuts through the pall of humidity engulfing the New Jersey coastal gaming Gomorrah of Atlantic City where, at around midnight tonight local time, Lennox Lewis and Andrzej Golota will lock horns over the World Boxing Council heavyweight title, a prize in name only.
This is one of those increasingly rare fights that is so compelling, so competitive and potentially explosive that it needs no sanction. For both contestants, this fight is about pride, about erasing the mistakes of the past and earning the right to a future. Tonight's fight has the makings of a classic heavyweight encounter.
The consensus is that when these two big punchers step into the ring, anything could happen.
The contestants are of dissimilar character, yet evenly matched. Both stand close to 6ft 5in, at Thursday's weigh-in they both scaled 17st 6lb. They have 25 knock-outs each, the placid Lewis from 32 fights (one defeat), the aggressive Golota from 30 fights (two defeats, both by disqualification), and are medalists from the 1988 Seoul Olympics (Lewis, gold at super heavy; Golota, bronze at heavyweight).
This will be Lewis's seventh world title fight, whereas his former sparring partner's previous biggest encounters were the brace of disqualification defeats against the former champion, Riddick Bowe, last year, where Golota led on the scorecards before repeated low blows caused his premature exit.
For Lewis, 32, a dramatic, resounding win must be the aim. Lewis is still remembered as the complacent fighter stopped in two rounds by Oliver McCall in September 1994 rather than the dreadnought who forced McCall to quit in their rematch. Lewis's first defence of his second reign found Henry Akinwande easily discouraged and, like McCall, his challenge terminated in round five.
Certainly, Lewis is under- rated and under-valued in the USA. But is Golota over-rated? Has the continuing clamour for a white heavyweight champion blinded the Pole's new found army of admirers?
Doubts about Golota, 29, centre primarily on his ability to stay legal under pressure. But did his otherwise impressive performances against Bowe flatter to deceive? Bowe was overweight and under-prepared for their first fight, and came in weakened for the second. But in neither fight could Golota finish him off. Indeed, Bowe felled Golota in the second fight.
However, Golota maybe a more complete all-rounder than Lewis. Certainly he is the more natural fighter. Lewis is a born athlete who selected boxing as his sport, but Golota is a hardened streetfighter "gone legit". Golota is hardly unskilled. He has fast hands and an excellent command of techniques that trouble Lewis: jabbing and body-punching. But Lewis's attributes could be the key to this fight: his own jab and his crushing right hand.
Each fighter will seek to take control quickly and each will take and push the other back, which could result in an ugly, mauling fight. But, under these circumstances, the stronger fighter should prevail and that man, I believe, is Lewis, once again around the fifth, by which time Golota should be demoralised enough either to be taken or, once again, to foul his way out of the fight. But the Pole will be dangerous for as long as he is in there and Lewis will know he has been in a battle. TALE OF THE TAPE Lewis v Golota Weight 244lb 244lb Height 6ft 5in (1.92 meters) 6ft 4in (1.90) Age 32 29 Reach 84 in (213cm) 81 (206) Chest (normal) 44 (112) 47 (119) Chest (expanded) 46 (117) 51 (130) Biceps 17 (43) 18 (46) Forearm 15(38) 12 (30) Waist 34 (86) 38 (97) Neck 18.5 (47) 19 (48) Fist 12 (30) 12 (30)Reuse content