Boxing: Akinwande's day in the dirt

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The Independent Online
The fight that was supposed to restore much-needed credit to boxing succeeded only dragging the troubled sport further into the mire.

All that was required of Saturday night's World Boxing Council heavyweight title defence by Lennox Lewis against Henry Akinwande, the former undefeated World Boxing Organisation champion, was that it passed by without controversy. But two weeks after the savagery perpetrated by Mike Tyson in Las Vegas, a second world heavyweight title fight ended in disqualification when Akinwande, after a point-deduction and repeated warnings for holding and mauling, was thrown out by referee Mills Lane in the closing moments of the fifth round.

The only thing pretty about this fight was the setting - Lake Tahoe, a scenic, waterside ski resort in the mountains on the Nevada-California border.

Intimidated by the power and strength of the champion, Akinwande, 31, clung on for dear life wherever possible, ruining the contest as a spectacle. The south-London born challenger, raised in Nigeria but now fighting out of the United States, showed little ambition. Aside from landing a clubbing right-hander in the third that made Lewis, also 31, touch down briefly with the right glove (technically a knock down although no count was given) Akinwande contributed nothing.

For the fourth time in 12 months a major heavyweight fight ended with a disqualification. Poland's Andrew Golota was thrown out for low blows in his two fights with Riddick Bowe last year; then most infamously came Tyson against Evander Holyfield, now boxing has incurred another stain that seems unlikely to come out in the wash.

One can only feel sympathy for Lewis. For the second fight in succession, and through no fault of his own, he gains no credit from a world title win. In February, when he regained this crown, the fight was stopped when Oliver McCall refused to defend himself - apparently having suffered a nervous breakdown.

Lewis's victory that night became secondary, much as this latest win, the 31st of his 32 fight career, is destined to be.

"As soon as I hit him with the first jab I could see it in his face," Lewis said. "Akinwande didn't want no part of that. I wish he would have put up a bit more of a fight so that I could show off my talents, but every chance he got he grabbed hold of me. I didn't want to win like that."

Referee Lane, a Nevada circuit judge, could perhaps have been accused of over-tolerance when he handled Holyfield's World Boxing Association defence against Tyson, who should have been disqualified after the first of his two illegal bites. But Lane stamped his authority on this fight as early as the second round.

After warning Akinwande, Lane ordered the ringside judges to deduct a point from the challenger's score. Akinwande received a further warning early in the third, and in the fifth he was led to his corner, where in the presence of his (and Holyfield's) trainer Don Turner, Akinwande was told: "Next time you're gone." An exasperated Turner pleaded: "All you've got to do is fight him, man." But on the resumption, Akinwande immediately instigated another clinch and he was disqualified.

The Nevada State Athletic Commission, the body who sat in judgement of Tyson last Wednesday, announced that they will withhold Akinwande's $1.2m (pounds 750,000) purse pending an investigation. But unfortunately Akinwande has strong grounds for appeal.

The 18ft ring used on Saturday was unusually small, at the insistence of the Lewis camp, whose aim was to deny the mobile challenger room to move. This had considerable bearing on the outcome of the fight. With Lewis standing 6ft 5in and Akinwande 6ft 7in, and with further work-space required for the referee, conditions in the ring were prohibitively cramped.

In 1994, the Nevada commission ruled that all rings under its jurisdiction had to be a minimum of 20ft. Akinwande's performance - his first loss in 34 fights - may have been deplorable but he will argue that it was made so by the commission disregarding its own rules.

1997: A bad year for heavyweight boxing

Oliver McCall vs Lennox Lewis (7 Feb)

Lewis regains his WBC crown in bizarre fashion as McCall, a boxer with a history of drug abuse, suffers an apparent nervous breakdown, refusing to defend himself in the fourth round. Referee Mills Lane halts the Caesar's Palace bout in the fifth.

Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield (28 June)

Tyson disqualified by referee Mills Lane after twice biting Holyfield's ears. Their WBA title fight is stopped in the third round. Tyson has since been suspended, fined $3m and had his boxing licence revoked.

Henry Akinwande vs Lennox Lewis (12 July)

Akinwande's challenge for the WBC crown ends when he is disqualified for persistent holding.