Boxing: Lewis deal trumps Duva

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The Independent Online
LOU DUVA is not a man to cross lightly. The pugnacious head of the New Jersey boxing dynasty, now well into his seventies, is still adding to a string of battle honours which include taking a swing at a referee who had stopped one of his fighters, and collecting a split lip and cut eye from a world champion, Roger Mayweather, when a post-fight exchange of views in Mayweather's corner became somewhat over-heated.

Frank Maloney, whose dollars 31m deal for the Lennox Lewis v Riddick Bowe fight was completed behind the Duvas' back, had better bring Lewis along as his minder when he next encounters the formidable Lou and his lawyer son Dan, who thought they had an exclusive arrangement with the WBC heavyweight champion. 'They're not too happy about it,' he acknowledged with a rueful grin after the deal was announced. 'Dan is on the phone right now to Pannos Eliades (the Greek money man who bankrolls the Lewis operation) and the air is blue in there.'

But even Lou's temper cools in time, and some kind of compensation will be worked out before Lewis and Bowe face each other. The date and venue will not be finalised until after Lewis's September defence against his mandatory challenger, Oliver McCall, but February in Las Vegas seems a good bet.

Friday's announcement was sweet revenge for Maloney and Lewis, who had to endure routine humiliation from Bowe and his loquacious manager Rock Newman in the days when the American had the title and could dictate terms. At the time, there were many who questioned the wisdom of turning down Bowe's offer of a dollars 5m guarantee, but Dan Duva - who was handling the negotiations for Lewis - held out for twice that. Bowe theatrically dumped his WBC championship belt in a London dustbin rather than be pressured into facing Lewis but with no immediate prospect of challenging the 'real' champion Michael Moorer, he is happy now to settle for what's available.

'It was the easiest deal we've ever done,' Maloney said. 'We'd been trying to tie up a Moorer fight, but his people wanted everything. They seemed to think we should pay for the privilege of getting in the ring with Michael Moorer, but who needs that? So we rang Newman, he accepted our offer with no fuss, and we got Jose Sulaiman (the WBC president) out of bed at 3am in Mexico City to approve it.

'It's a great fight, but what makes it significant is that this is the first heavyweight championship for years to be totally independent. We've done everything ourselves - no Duva, no Don King, no Bob Arum.'

And no Sky Sports either, which will not boost the standing of Sky's new head, Kelvin MacKenzie. He wanted to negotiate downwards with Lewis, on the grounds that defences against mundane opponents like Tony Tucker and Phil Jackson were not selling satellite dishes in sufficient quantity. Maloney's reply was reported to consist of two words - and they were not 'How much?' Instead, MacKenzie spent pounds 10m on an eight-fight deal with Chris Eubank, and now misses out on what is the most lucrative fight to involve a British boxer. As Maloney might have put it, with some south London relish: Gotcha, Kelvin.