Boxing: Eliades laying challenge to the old guard

The man in charge of Lennox Lewis's affairs is relatively new to the fight game, but he has ambitious plans for the future.
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The Independent Online
PANOS ELIADES is looking rather pleased with himself as he sits at the end of a long, polished table in his Bloomsbury offices. His reasons may, at first glance, seem baffling. The boxer he both manages and promotes, Lennox Lewis, had just come through a hard-fought and scrappy points decision over the Croat heavyweight, Zeljko Mavrovic. It was, by all accounts, not his most impressive victory.

So why the smiles from the 46-year-old man who has made a fortune in the liquidation business, before moving into boxing in the early 1990s? "Because Evander Holyfield finally fancies his chances against Lennox after watching the Mavrovic fight," he explains "And that's the fight we've always wanted."

Ah yes, the complicated and often murky world of boxing politics. According to Eliades, Holyfield's camp is now talking to him, despite Don King's attempts to hold the world champion back in reserve. "Don't forget, King's trying to keep hold of Tyson and he's using the carrot of a third fight against Holyfield as the bait. If Holyfield were to lose to Lennox, though, King not only loses the world champion, but also doesn't have his trump card in Tyson.

"I think Holyfield's finally come round to understanding that he is not the central figure in King's plans, but a pawn. He already holds two of the world title belts, and wants to become one of the few men in history to unite the heavyweight world championship. He can only do this by fighting Lennox, and he knows this. That's why we're closer to the fight than ever before."

This is almost unheard of. Does he mean to say that the two best heavyweights in the world are actually looking to fight each other? Eliades understands the sarcasm. "People have said to me in the game before: `What's fair got to do with boxing?' It's true. Top boxers fighting against each other has little to do with the game any more.

"This only happens in proper sport, like football. You don't get Manchester United playing against Scunthorpe United in the FA Cup final because Scunthorpe are easier to beat, do you? But that's what happens in boxing. The best boxers only want to fight against crappy opponents. And the public continues to be fooled by this."

He sounds a little weary as he says this, as if he has been dealing in the fight game all his life. The truth is that, up until 1991, he knew no more about boxing than you or me. Born in London from Greek Cypriot parents, Eliades made his money during the boom and subsequent recession of the 1980s. In 1991 he was persuaded to take on Lewis by Roger Levitt, the insurance salesman convicted of fraud.

"Levitt pitched Lennox to me superbly," he admits. "I really didn't want to buy Lennox. I was forced into the contract. They said I only needed to invest $250,000 (pounds 152,500), and I'd stand to earn $5m once he'd become a world title prospect. I thought that was good business, but the figures were way off mark.

"On the night Lennox fought Razor Ruddock, on 31 May, 1992, I was looking at a possible loss of pounds 1.8m. Ruddock was the favourite to win, and I sat there thinking: `What have I done?'

I pointed out that, with his fortune, he could afford to lose pounds 1.8m. "Nobody can afford to lose pounds 1.8m," he replied. "If I'd been told I stood to lose that amount of money, there's no way I would have done the deal with Levitt. It turned out to be the best mistake of my life."

He has certainly done well out of it all since. "I don't deny that," Eliades answers. "But the higher the risks you take, the greater the rewards should be."

Finding yourself with Lennox Lewis as your main asset may be one piece of good fortune, but it still does not explain how a north London accountant has ended up mixing it with the likes of Don King, Dan Duva and Bob Arum.

"Don't forget, I've specialised in insolvency for many years now. I've dealt with creditors screaming about fraud, money that's been dissipated and stolen assets, so I've discovered that the liquidation game is not too different from the world of boxing. The Don Kings of the world may be streetwise, but he's not as clever as many of the people who sit opposite me each day in my office."

So what has he discovered in his dealings with such men? "You've got to know how these people think," Eliades explains. "In boxing you're always looking at ways in which the people you deal with can come back to haunt you. The antenna's always up. There's no one, absolutely no one, that I can sit next to and feel completely trustworthy about.

"The boxers are the same. Of course, you get your intelligent ones. I got lucky with Lennox. I thought everyone was as decent and as loyal as Lennox was, at least until I met other boxers. Many are only looking out for themselves. They're liars and cheats who'd sell their mothers for an extra pounds 5."

Eliades, naturally, says he represents the good side of boxing. "Let's face it, the image of promoters and managers is not good, and I'd like to clean it up.

"Boxing's not enjoying one of its better spells right now, is it? For me, the worst aspect about the fight game is the corruption. Then we have the Tyson situation. He's still in the spotlight. He bites a man's ear and now everyone's going to watch the next fight. What's he going to do next in the ring, shoot an opponent? Where will it end?"

Well, one possibility, if Eliades had his way, would be with him and his boxing company, Panix promotions. Despite the criticism of Tyson, he would like to take him on to his books, and is therefore eagerly awaiting the outcome of the former undisputed heavyweight champion's efforts to free himself from his contract with Don King.

"I'd be interested in him, of course," he confirms. "And I'd immediately clean up his image. He could open up a Mike Tyson Academy, for example, where he could encourage young kids off the streets and out of the ghettos, and into the gyms."

Perhaps. But what of his flagship boxer, Lennox Lewis? What if Holyfield- Lewis actually happens and he were to lose? "Well, I honestly don't think he would, but Lennox would retire healthy, wealthy and happy. But I'd like him to achieve more. I think he can beat Holyfield, Tyson, unify all four world heavyweight belts and then retire."

It turns out these are not Eliades' only plans. "I'd like to dominate boxing, and in doing so clean it up," he announces. Will this not simply turn him into the type of despised character he has to deal with most of the time?

"No, because I'll be getting those people out of the game. I want to form a new, worldwide organisation that will, rather like Fifa does with football, embrace the whole sport. If I can get Lennox and Tyson, for example, once Holyfield is beaten, then the TV companies will come to me and the `alphabet' boards around the world who are so full of bullshit will be bankrupted."

Nothing too ambitious, then. He works, so he says, from 9am to 2pm on what he refers to as his "bread and butter", the liquidation business. Then, up until 2am five or six days a week, he concentrates on his boxing business. "One earns me thousands, the other millions, but you must never forget where you came from," he points out.

I asked him, with his schedule and alleged death threats, why he did it. "What's life about?" he replies.

"I may as well make it interesting. I've never taken the threats seriously, in any case. I think all of us in the boxing game are big, competitive kids. It's a game, albeit with high stakes."

True, but surely the highest stakes are in the ring? "Yes, but people like Lennox are built to take the blows. I get hit too, but that happens outside the ring. That's why Lennox and I have been so successful to date. We recognise that we're both good at what we do."

As he prepares his papers and takes a telephone call for the umpteenth time during our conversation, I quickly ask him one, final question. Any other ambitions once he's achieved the small matter of boxing domination?

Panos Eliades smiles. "The presidency of Cyprus would be nice," he said. It was hard to tell whether he was joking or not.