Boxing: Lewis preparing hard-hitting questions: Jonathan Rendall reports from the campus camp at College Park, Maryland, where a British heavyweight is sharpening up his act in a school of hard knocks

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The Independent Online
THE HAMLET of College Park, Maryland, lies 10 miles to the north of Washington DC. It houses the University of Maryland, whose students, to all appearances, are passing the summer months in the twin pursuits of drinking beer and pumping iron. It also houses the training camp of Lennox Lewis, Britain's World Boxing Council heavyweight champion, whose manager, Frank Maloney, aptly remarks: 'If people round here had brains like their muscles they'd all be Einsteins. But I don't think they are.'

However, it is noticable that even the fraternity houses' bicycling bodybuilders do not become too brave when Lewis's rather large hired helpers pass by R J Bentley's bar and the Santa Fe Cafe on their evening stroll around the main square listening philosophically to their Walkmans.

The only man in the vicinity who Maloney reckons successfully combines brain with brawn is the enigmatic Lewis, who pitched camp here last week to prepare for his all-British title defence against Frank Bruno at Cardiff Arms Park on 1 October. While Maloney and the sparring partners are accommodated at a hotel in town, Lewis shares a house in the hills with his mother, Violet. Outside gym hours he plays chess and eats home-cooked Caribbean food there.

While Lewis was put through his paces at the Sugar Ray Leonard gymnasium, Maloney supplied the commentary. 'See that? See how clever Lennox is?' Indeed Lewis looked sharp as he sparred with Ray Amis, an American heavyweight, and Andrew Golota, a rangy Pole. Although he is only a week into training there was no sign of the excess weight that he was rumoured to be carrying. Amis has already been knocked down by Lewis in sparring having, according to Maloney, 'taken a bit of a liberty'.

His chief sparring partner, a hulking ex-convict named Sherman Griffin, has not yet been put in with Lewis. 'I'm waiting for Lennox to break the others down before I put Sherman in,' Maloney explained.

This arrangement seemed to suit Griffin just fine. 'I'm getting well paid just for being here,' Griffin said. 'When I was at George Foreman's camp they told me, 'Don't hit George too much'. Then when I got in the ring George said to me, 'Don't move around too much'. So I said, 'Man, you got the wrong m*****f***** for the job. I ain't no punching bag for nobody'.'

Lewis, 28, said the Bruno bout was the most important of his career because he wanted 'to show the British public that I am what is, and he is what was'.

He and Bruno have no liking for each other. 'I sense an element of jealousy in Bruno,' Lewis said. 'I can understand it to a point because he saw this young kid come along and achieve in a short time what he had been trying to do his whole life. He talks a good fight. But he said I criticised his family and that's a big lie because I would never do that.'

Lewis said he expected Bruno to employ rough-house tactics when they finally meet in the ring. He said: 'All I know is he's going to try and hit me on the back of the head, and with his elbows, any way he can. But if he wants to ask those questions I will answer them. And I'm not worried about the judges because I will bring my own - my fists.'

The bout is expected to gross in excess of pounds 6m, of which Bruno will receive about pounds 1m. Lewis, who has already earned more than pounds 10m in the ring, said the money had not changed his lifestyle. 'I buy a new pair of shoes once in a while,' he said. 'But you can only drive one car at a time.'

Lewis runs every morning at 5.30 while Maloney, who admits he is 'a tortoise to Lennox's hare', runs separately an hour later. The embattled manager says restlessness and anxiety are a problem even with the fight still weeks away. 'I can't sit still and the worry gets worse with every fight because there's so much more at stake,' Maloney said in the hotel suite where he spends most of his days taking phone calls and faxes while eating from a large supply of fresh plums. However, Maloney is happy with Lewis's frame of mind.

'I'd like to personally thank Frank Bruno because he's brought out the nastiness in Lennox, which we had always been looking for in his boxing. I don't know which button in Lennox that Bruno has pushed but I wish he'd tell me because I would push it the whole time. Let's just hope there's a good referee because Frank is a big, brave man - too brave. I mean it. When I speak I speak from the heart and unlike other promoters I only divert the truth slightly and then only occasionally. Want another plum?'

Outside the sparring partners trudged grimly from the campus greenery for another afternoon with Lewis at the school of hard knocks.

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