Boxing: Flaws suggest Lewis is far from finished article: The limitations of Britain's WBC heavyweight champion cast doubt on his readiness for a unification contest. Ken Jones reports

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The Independent Online
AFTER 1min 12sec of the seventh round at Cardiff Arms Park in the early hours of Saturday morning Lennox Lewis was the one heading in the right direction.

When four points adrift on one of the official scorecards, and only level on the other two, Lewis stopped Frank Bruno with a violent attack to retain the World Boxing Council heavyweight championship, he probably ended the popular challenger's career, and secured a defence against the World Boxing Organisation title- holder, Tommy Morrison, next March in Las Vegas. But how far will Lewis travel?

None of the excuses he gave (a slow start was blamed on the unsettling effect of being called to the ring 20 minutes early) for being unable to wrest quickly the initiative from Bruno and make his natural power tell until the contest was beyond half-way, convinced Morrison's trainer, Tommy Virgets. 'I came here suspecting that Tommy might not be ready for Lewis,' he said, 'but from what I saw it could be the other way around. Perhaps Lewis isn't ready for Tommy. He looked so amateurish, lunging in against a slow puncher who constantly out-jabbed him, that if it doesn't motivate Tommy to stay away from booze and women for six months nothing will.'

Until Bruno was unhinged by a flat left hook, immediately displaying helplessness that was an echo of his losses to James 'Bonecrusher' Smith, Tim Witherspoon and Mike Tyson, the idea that it is only a matter of time before Lewis becomes the undisputed champion was looking more than threadbare.

Of course, Virgets was taking full advantage of an opportunity to crank up Morrison's confidence. However, before Lewis viciously exploited Bruno's familiar inability to cope with a crisis there was plenty to suggest that he might be out of his depth in a unifying contest against Riddick Bowe scheduled for late next year. In rehearsals, Lewis looked great, but on the night he gave a poor performance. 'He hasn't learned how to throw combinations, and far from improving, appears to be going backwards,' Virgets added.

Even Morrison, a powerful but technically limited heavyweight with hedonistic tendencies, could be a problem for Lewis unless some serious attention is paid to inadequacies that encouraged Bruno to give the best performance of his career. Virgets, a former army instructor who holds a degree in physical education, added: 'Lewis is poorly balanced and stands up so straight, seldom moving his head, that he could be made for us. Tommy likes a war. Obviously Lewis doesn't'

There has been no marked improvement in Lewis since he hired Pepe Correa after splitting with his original trainer, John Davenport. Going back to the morning after Lewis stopped Gary Mason for the British and European titles, Davenport, disturbed by the commercial activity that was beginning to swirl around his charge, said: 'There is still a lot of the amateur left in Lennox, and at 26 there may not be enough time to get all of it out.'

There is a suggestion that Lewis chose a more pliable tutor, Correa, because he wants his own way, even in matters of preparation. This became an even bigger problem when Lewis gained international recognition by knocking out Donovan 'Razor' Ruddock in an eliminator for the WBC title last year.

Fighters, especially heavyweights, can become obsessed with power. As Bowe's peerless trainer, Eddie Futch, says: 'They have to learn that there is more than one way of winning.' Once, watching the former welterweight champion, Marlon Starling, stalking out of a gymnasium, Futch called out to him. 'A lot of good fighters listened,' he said.

Only Lewis's advisers know whether he responds to advice. But a good question relates to the advice he is getting.

The victory over Ruddock persuaded a lot of people that Lewis was almost the finished article and certain to become the undisputed heavyweight champion. They did not take the paucity of Ruddock's performance into account. In a first defence of the title he gained by decree, Lewis disappointed against Tony Tucker in Las Vegas, with alarming hints of a stamina problem in the later rounds. On the grounds of tension, he was given the benefit of the doubt.

Unquestionably, Lewis has got considerable power and as Bruno discovered, he is a vicious finisher, but there is still a lot of work to be done on other aspects of his boxing. Combination punching was noticeably absent from the champion's work in Cardiff (two jabs followed by a right cross was the only clear example of it), and when attempting one wild right he almost threw himself off his feet.

Even allowing for the extent of Bruno's will, his defiant refusal to accept the role of a 3-1 underdog, a lot more was expected of Lewis, who will now become involved in an attempt to unify the championship. Seth Abraham, the president of Time-Warner Sports which owns the cable television company, Home Box Office and its pay-per- view arm, TVKO, said: 'It's time the promoters realised that the public are getting fed up with all this fragmentation. Our first unification series seven years ago cost around dollars 23m ( pounds 15m) and produced Mike Tyson. When there is one dominant champion the sport prospers. When there isn't, the sport suffers.'

It begins in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on 29 October when Morrison defends the WBO title against Michael Bent, who was born in Dulwich and raised in Brooklyn. Assuming that Morrison gets past Bent he will go forward to meet Lewis in March at the new MGM resort complex in Las Vegas.

Bowe defends his International Boxing Federation and WBO titles in a return against Evander Holyfield at Caesars Palace on 6 November.

Plenty of punches will be thrown before all four titles are put up in the Nevada desert late next year. Bowe, surely, will be one of the contestants. The big question is whether we can rely upon Lewis to be the man coming out of the other corner.

(Photograph omitted)