Boxing: Icy Ferguson is ready for fire: Champion Bowe faces 40-1 outsider

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The Independent Online
JESSE FERGUSON is one cool heavyweight. Is it ice-water, however, or resignation that flows through his veins? 'There is no reason to be nervous, because I'm not expected to win anyway,' Ferguson said. Amen, Jesse]

At R F K Stadium tonight, the 36-year-old sparring partner to the stars, who is also a former security guard and construction labourer, will challenge Riddick Bowe. 'By no means am I taking Jesse lightly,' the 25-year-old Bowe said dutifully. 'This is Jesse's last chance.' Then, in perhaps an unguarded moment, he added: 'I think it would be nice to give the public a genuine heavyweight fight.'

To the public on both sides of the Atlantic, that would be Bowe versus Lennox Lewis of Britain, recognised as champion by the World Boxing Council. Bowe is champion in the eyes of the International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Association. The IBF, however, would declare his title vacant should Ferguson win, because he is not ranked among its top 10 contenders.

Seth Abraham, a major puller of boxing purse-strings as vice-president of Time-Warner, thinks it likely Bowe and Lewis could meet next spring. Time-Warner owns HBO, the cable television network, and TVKO, the pay-to-view channel.

Bowe is expected to fight the former champion Evander Holyfield in a rematch in November. If, however, Holyfield should lose or look bad against Alex Stewart on 26 June, Abraham feels Bowe and Lewis could fight in November.

'It's the heavyweight championship of the world, and I don't know how people feel,' Ferguson said. 'I feel I could win.' The odds in Las Vegas were 40-1 against Ferguson, the same odds against James 'Buster' Douglas when he upset Mike Tyson. .

If the odds are against Ferguson, so are the facts. After winning his first 13 fights, he has lost nine of his last 15 and four of his last six. Last summer, his wife, Cynthia, suggested it was time to forget about boxing. 'All I am is a fighter,' he told her. 'I got to keep at it.'

He told Seth Braunstein and Greg Cohen, the two 24-year-olds who took over his management in 1991, to keep getting him matches with name fighters. 'I told people I was going to beat one of these guys, and I did,' Ferguson said. After losing four of his first five bouts under his new managers, including decisions to the former champions Michael Dokes and Tony Tubbs, Ferguson was selected to fight Ray Mercer, for whom he had once served as a sparring partner.

The fight was a preliminary to Bowe's first-round knock-out of Dokes at Madison Square Gardens in February. It was supposed to be a tune-up for Mercer's dollars 2.5m ( pounds 1.6m) challenge to Bowe but Ferguson won on points and got his dollars 500,000 shot in what will be Washington's second heavyweight title bout and first since Joe Louis beat Buddy Baer in May, 1941.

It will also be the first heavyweight title fight judged by three women: Patricia Jarman, of Las Vegas, Jean Williams, of Atlantic City, and Sheila Harmon-Martin, of Washington.