Boxing: Lewis at mercy of King's bidding

THERE is no guarantee that Lennox Lewis will have home advantage when predictably called upon to face Tony Tucker in a mandatory first defence of the World Boxing Council heavyweight championship.

As the result of a breakdown in negotiations between Tucker's manager, Don King, and the Duva organisation which has a promotional contract with Lewis, the contest will go to purse offers on 9 February at the WBC headquarters in Mexico City.

These are difficulties Lewis hoped to avoid two weeks ago when accepting the WBC belt which Riddick Bowe theatrically cast aside after defeating Evander Holyfield for the undisputed championship in Las Vegas last November. Then he was looking at a voluntary defence, probably against Alex Stewart, before being required to take on the WBC's nominated challenger.

Instead the WBC insisted he meet Tucker, an arrangement seen in some quarters as an attempt to suit King, who works closely with its president, Jose Sulaiman. Last week King hinted to confidants that he would not yield to the Duvas and Home Box Office, the American cable network who have a four-fight contract with Lewis. 'It will go to purse offers,' King confidently said. This week it did.

It is unlikely that there will be more than two bids on the table for a contest on 24 April, but as technically the difference can be as little as one dollar, Lewis and his manager, Frank Maloney, are bound to view the proceedings with some misgivings.

In spite of losing only to Mike Tyson in more than 50 professional bouts, Tucker, at 34, ought not to be a serious problem for the Lewis who knocked out Donovan 'Razor' Ruddock inside two rounds.

However, as Tucker's record shows, he is a durable, vastly experienced heavyweight (he is taking an easy fight in Memphis, Tennessee on Saturday) against whom it might be dangerous to run the risk of relying on the official judges to reach an accurate conclusion, particularly if King succeeds in staging the bout in Las Vegas with its history of bizarre arithmetic.

Understandably then, Maloney would prefer Lewis to face Tucker in Britain, but because of King's delaying tactics he is unable to settle on an arena.

The word is that King does not have the resources to outbid the Duvas and HBO. Equally, as numerous people have learned to their disadvantage, it can be extremely unwise to bet heavily against him.

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