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Boxing: Lewis sets sights on Holyfield

"ARE YOU looking at me?" Lennox Lewis requests the attention of the American television public this evening, when he defends his World Boxing Council Heavyweight championship against a No 1 contender whose taste in hairstyles runs no further than Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro's fearsome Mohawk anti-hero in Taxi Driver. Lewis hopes that an emphatic victory over the unbeaten Croatian challenger, Zeljko Mavrovic, will heap odious comparison upon his chief rival, Evander Holyfield, resulting in Lewis becoming widely acclaimed as the world's leading heavyweight.

Last weekend, America's "free" TV multitudes had the opportunity to see Holyfield in his first non-pay-per-view fight in two years. But the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation champion looked distinctly average when outpointing the unfancied Vaughn Bean, and Lewis believes that Holyfield will regret that fight being made available to the widest-possible TV audience.

Back-to-back victories over Mike Tyson earned Holyfield an almost legendary status; Lewis lagged far behind him in the opinion polls. But Holyfield was elected by a blind constituency; pay-per-view TV coverage prevented the bulk of Holyfield's new legion of admirers from seeing the Tyson fights.

"Holyfield had the perfect style against Mike Tyson, but against anyone else he is struggling," Lewis said. "I am glad that the Bean fight was on free TV in the USA, so that everyone got the chance to see it. My mouth was watering a bit - Holyfield looks very beatable.

"I think after his performance the other night, people will be asking Holyfield: 'Why are you ducking Lennox Lewis? Why don't you fight him? And why is there only one heavyweight champion of the world?'"

Why indeed? Lewis's trainer, Emanuel Steward, lays the blame at his former employer's door. "If Evander really wanted this fight, I believe it would be made," said the Detroit veteran. "But I believe Holyfield is afraid of Lennox Lewis."

But what about Mavrovic? You could be forgiven for thinking that Lewis is looking past tonight's challenger, much as he did in September 1994 when another unsung mandatory contender, Oliver McCall, handed Lewis his only defeat in 34 fights (27 wins by KO). Then Lewis looked ahead to a potentially titanic clash with Riddick Bowe, disastrously so - McCall won with a second-round knockout.

Beyond dispute, Lewis has received Mavrovic's undivided attention. "I've prepared for 11 months - I always train seriously," said the Croat. And Mavrovic has appeared remarkably confident and self-possessed on the verge of by far the biggest test of his unbeaten, 27-fight (22 wins by stoppage) career. The former European champion, German-based and London-trained, believes that his speed and mobility will enable him to steal the title with a points decision. "I am so, so fast for him," he said.

Lewis, meanwhile, predicts a knock-out victory that will earn him the widespread recognition he always seems to be striving for but, so far, has never received. "My strategy is simple: to search and destroy," he said. "I can't even remember the last time I went the distance [May 1996, when Lewis struggled against Ray Mercer]. I don't plan on this going 12 rounds, but anything can happen in boxing."

Indeed it can and if Lewis is not at his best, Mavrovic is capable of causing an upset. Lewis must banish from his mind all thoughts of a mega-fight with Holyfield. To paraphrase Mavrovic's style guru, Mr Bickle, Lewis must concentrate on Mavrovic to the exclusion of all others - because there will be no one else there.

Also this evening, in Norwich, another of the world's heavyweight champions will strive to earn recognition when Herbie Hide defends his World Boxing Organisation title against Germany's Willi Fischer. Hide should record his 31st win in 32 fights without much difficulty; Fischer, despite only one loss in 23 fights, can will be fortunate if he reaches half-way in this scheduled 12-rounder.

Hide vs Fischer, 'Saturday Fight Night' 8pm-10pm, Sky Sports One; Lewis vs Mavrovic, 10pm- 6am, Sky Box Office 3.


Lewis Mavrovic

London Zagreb

33 Age 29

17st 5lb Weight 15st 41/4lb

6ft 5in Height 6ft 4in

84in Reach 77in

44in Chest (normal) 42in

46in Chest (expanded) 45in

18in Neck 18in

17in Biceps 15in

15in Forearm 12in

8in Wrist 7in

12in Fist 11in

34in Waist 37in

26in Thigh 24in

18in Calf 15in

34 Fights 27

33-1 Won-Lost 27-0

27 Stoppages 22