Boxing: King in no mood to play ball: Lewis's opponent makes a mysterious arrival far from London

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The Independent Online
DON KING must love this. Here they are trying to drum up business for Lennox Lewis's defence of the World Boxing Council heavyweight championship against a King hireling, Oliver McCall, and he is over there ignoring them.

Hours after McCall's scheduled arrival in London yesterday, his whereabouts appeared to be a mystery. 'We sent air tickets and booked accommodation, but we've heard nothing,' Lewis's manager, Frank Maloney, said. 'They didn't show up at the hotel.'

Now the scene started to get confusing. What Maloney did not know was that McCall and his people had made their way to a health farm in Bedfordshire, far enough from the metropolis to make observation difficult.

Nobody should dwell on the possibility that this means McCall has something important to conceal from the champion's technical advisers. It is simply that King wants to make life difficult for the promoters. With McCall's purse in hand, it will please him immensely if the contest is a box-office flop. It is a way of getting back at Lewis and Maloney.

What King has in mind is the first defence Lewis made of the WBC title, against Tony Tucker, after gaining it by decree. Maloney maintains that Lewis fulfilled his contractual obligations when called upon to publicise the contest, but King does not agree. They didn't help me so why should I help them, is more or less the way he is thinking.

When in Birmingham for last Saturday's bout between Nigel Benn and Juan Carlos Gimenez for the WBC super- middleweight championship, King indicated that he had no intention of discussing Lewis versus McCall beyond forecasting that the title would change hands.

This week King will be in New York to receive an award as one of the 40 most influential figures in the modern history of sport.

When it was concluded yesterday that King was messing him around in a big way, Maloney's reply was in the affirmative. 'But he won't be able to stay out of this,' Maloney smiled, putting a doll in King's image on the table in front of him. 'When Don gets to hear some of the things we intend saying, he'll be up there spouting.'

What you have to say is that King's involvement could be critical to a successful promotion, but Maloney should not rely on it. 'Don's got a long memory,' one of his associates said last week. 'He still holds Lewis and Maloney partly responsible for the huge loss he showed on the Tucker fight. That's why it is possible that he won't do anything to help.'

Under his contract McCall, whose purse is reckoned to be around dollars 2.5m ( pounds 1.6m), is required to put in promotional appearances but not be enthusiastically co-operative. Until he climbs into the ring at Wembley Arena on 24 September, we may only get fleeting glimpses.

Predictably, Lewis shrugged this off as incidental. 'He's just the guy I'm defending against,' the champion said. 'I know all I need to know about McCall, the way he fights, his strengths and weaknesses. A stepping stone? I guess you could call him that.'

Lewis was asked whether he has put his mind to specific technical improvements since his last defence against Phil Jackson in Atlantic City. 'Some secret things,' he said vaguely.

As for Maloney, he will consider it a favour if McCall gets in touch in time to attend a press conference planned for today. With King's permission, of course.