Boxing: Cynicism grips land of the free

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AS a great deal has been made of the fact that Lennox Lewis is the first British-born boxer this century to hold at least a share of the heavyweight championship, it may interest you to discover that he is not exciting much interest in the home of the brave and the land of the free.

For this information I am indebted to Ed Schuyler, of the Associated Press, a notable cynic who shares with many compatriots of his generation the view that a common demoninator among our heavyweights is a tendency to faint at the first sight of blood.

Thus, as Hugh McIlvanney, of the Observer, once more or less put it, they joke that when one of our big men is in the ring against one of theirs, British boxing writers give the impression of being scared to drop a pencil at ringside because, by ducking to retrieve it, we are liable to miss the fight.

Possibly, you may be aware that Lewis, who received the World Boxing Council version of the title by decree, is currently training in Hilton Head, South Carolina, for a first defence against Tony Tucker on 8 May in Las Vegas.

Occasionally, there are words from there but on the basis that they would not be interrogating the real champion, no American boxing correspondent of my acquaintance feels inclined to make the trip. 'I'll wait until the official press conference,' one said.

As this will not take place until three days before the contest, it ought not to come as a surprise that the promoter, Don King, is getting more than slightly agitated. Having risked dollars 11m ( pounds 8m) to further a big interest in Tucker, and possibly regain a foothold in the heavyweight division, he is now depending on the support of a title defence by the brilliant WBC junior-welterweight, Julio Cesar Chavez, to improve business at pay-per-view television outlets.

None of this bothers Lewis whose share is around dollars 8m, less 10 per cent to Main Events, the Duva organisation that is now said to hold promotional options on his next five fights.

If they remain undefeated, Lewis and the true champion, Riddick Bowe, will come together for the undisputed title, which could alter the way Americans have come to look at British heavyweights.

A safe bet is that Lewis will get rather more than an honourable mention tonight in London at the Boxing Writers' Club's annual bash, but until he secures his title in the ring some of us will stick with the belief that the late Tommy Farr is the most noble heavyweight to have ventured from these shores.

Appropriately, this week I received an article clipped from the San Diego Union-Tribune, a column written by Tom Cushman, an old friend who recently interviewed Farr's wife, Monty, in La Costa, California, her home since the Welshman died at 73 some seven years ago. Cushman wrote: 'I'm not certain when my fascination with Tommy Farr began. Perhaps the explanation is as simple as a single line in a Ring Record Book. Back in 1937, he went 15 rounds with Joe Louis, and not many fighters of any persuasion could make that claim.'

Cushman added that his insight into Farr had been broadened immeasurably, and went on to tell about a painting that hangs in a prominent spot in the handsome widow's villa. It is a Monty Farr original of Tommy Farr 'putting it on the line' against Louis. She recalled that Farr called him Joe Louey, and that they became friends with great respect for each other.

In conversation Cushman discovered things that Farr, an incurable romantic, loved to tell about. At 15 he worked underground in Tonypandy and fought in the booths, taking all-comers for the equivalent of 50p a day. Desperate for work, he walked the 200 miles to London. There, eventually, and having made a name for himself in boxing, Farr met Canadian- born Muriel 'Monty' Germon, a redheaded dazzler who had become a successful model.

Finding himself short of funds, Farr made a comeback, and in 1953, past his 40th birthday, he was matched with Don Cockell who later became one of Rocky Marciano's many battered challengers. In what was Farr's last prize-fight, he was counted out in the seventh round.