Boxing: A turn for the worse - Kevin Lueshing - 'I'm in this for money, not belts'

Millstones of '97: From the batting idol who remains an enigma to the fighter cornered by calamity
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The Independent Online
For two seconds on 11 January, Kevin Lueshing was on top of the world. The rest of his year was a bummer. The two seconds was the time the International Boxing Federation welterweight champion, Felix Trinidad, spent on the floor of the Nashville ring in which Lueshing, the British champion, was challenging for his title. Trinidad was unbeaten in 30 fights and widely accepted as one of the world's best pound-for-pound boxers, but had shown vulnerability to a left hook and Lueshing gambled on an early assault.

Midway through the second round he connected with the hook and Trinidad went sprawling. "I saw him go down and I thought, 'Blimey, I can win this'," Lueshing recalled last week in New York, where he now lives. It was not to be: Trinidad survived that second-round scare to knock Lueshing down in the next round, and score an automatic stoppage.

The build-up to the fight had been enlivened by a heated row between his promoter, Frank Warren, and Roger Levitt, the disgraced financier, who sponsors Lueshing's career, which culminated in Warren's gleeful acceptance of Levitt's invitation to hit him on the chin. It all made great copy for the boxing writers, but did little for the fighter's peace of mind as he prepared for the toughest contest of his 20-fight career.

There was worse to come. Back in England, he was ordered to defend his British title at Wembley on 19 July against Geoff McCreesh, a hard opponent but not thought to be in the champion's league. A few weeks before the fight the challenger's mother was killed in a car crash which also left his father in intensive care. McCreesh went through with the fight and, riding a wave of emotional support, stopped Lueshing in the 10th round.

"Geoff fought well but I had nothing that night," Lueshing said. "I'd been taking a vitamin drink which was supposed to give me an energy boost. Instead, it put weight on me and I had to train even harder to get it off. I was drained by the time I got into the ring, and even if I'd won I'd never have fought at welterweight again. I'm between 160 and 165lb now, and when I come back in January it'll be as a light-middle."

He moved to New York in September because, he said, "If I'd stayed in England I'd have had to start at the bottom again. I'm in this business for money, not belts, and in America I'm known for flooring Trinidad rather than losing to McCreesh, so my earning potential is greater here."

For all Levitt's faults in other areas, his dealings with Lueshing seem to have been above reproach. He found him a lucrative sponsorship deal, provided him with a house and car, and pays him a weekly wage while the fighter tries to get his career back on track. Levitt's arrest in the autumn to face an attempt to extradite him to Britain left Lueshing with the grim prospect of being stranded in America without financial backing, while his wife, Jackie, was in the advanced stages of pregnancy.

The extradition failed and Lueshing's comeback is on course. He was offered a fight with the former World Boxing Organisation light-middleweight champion Bronco McKart in January, but is seeking a softer option. "I'm 30 in April, and I can't afford to make any more mistakes," he said.

But the year has not been a total write-off for the Lueshings, who moved in together the very first day they met seven years ago: their first son, Louis, was born earlier this month.