Boxing: Judges' probe as fight row deepens

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THE LEWIS-HOLYFIELD unification title fight moved from the ring to the courtroom and debating chamber yesterday, as the bout turned into a heavyweight legal row.

The fight judges said that Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield fought to a draw last weekend, but the verdict raised an uproar. It emerged yesterday that a criminal investigation is under way, which could end in prosecutions.

The Manhattan District Attorney has convened a grand jury in New York to investigate claims that the judges in the fight received illegal payments, and to examine how they were chosen. Judge Stanley Christo-doulou of South Africa had Lewis ahead; Eugenia Williams of the US gave Holyfield the fight and Larry O'Connell of Britain called it a draw. The DA became involved at the request of the New York City council speaker Peter Vallone, who said he believed that Lewis was "robbed."

The choice of judges was controversial from the start. The World Boxing Council strongly objected to the choice of Williams, and put forward a British judge in place of its original choice, a Belgian.

Several other inquiries are also under way. Roy Goodman, a state senator from New York, was at the fight and, like most of those present, he was shocked. He convened the Committee on Investigations in Albany, the state capital, to hear witnesses yesterday.

Don King was expected to attend, along with Bobby Lee, the president of the International Boxing Federation, and Williams. The other two judges were to testify by phone. Goodman has taken a long-term interest in the health of boxing in New York, and shut the sport down 20 years ago after concerns about safety.

The New York State Athletic Commission has its own inquiry, prompted by the state governor George Pataki, and a probe by the New York Attorney General has been suspended while the grand jury is sitting.