In the days leading up to tonight's contest at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas it has become increasingly obvious that the challenger is being fired up by his attendants, most conspicuously Panama Lewis, a sinister figure from Philadelphia who served three years in a penitentiary, and had his licence to act as corner man revoked in all but one state for sending out a fighter with the padding removed from his gloves.
Lewis is notorious for abusing the rules of boxing but it is the apparent effect that his strident urgings have had on Tucker's normally placid nature that astonished a large audience when the contestants came together for their final press conference.
Tucker was so wild-eyed, ranting and raving, that one bystander, Cedric Kushner, could not believe he was watching and listening to the same boxer he had managed for six years. 'He was never like that with me,' Kushner said, 'I hardly got a word out of him, so you can only think that somebody or something, has brought about a dramatic change in Tony's personality. Maybe it is to do with the treatment he had for drugs, like aggressively getting the habit out of his system.'
Certainly, there was more of a flame in Tucker than anyone had previously detected, and it suggests that he will go for the champion rather than rely on the cunning that got him through 12 hard rounds against a then rampant Mike Tyson.
Making some real sense of it is not easy as Riddick Bowe's venerable trainer, Eddie Futch, explained on the telephone this week. Speaking from Washington where Bowe will shortly defend the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation titles against Jesse Ferguson, he said, 'There are too many imponderables for me to have a clear picture of either man in my mind. If it was the Tony Tucker who took Tyson the distance with only one good hand, crafty and cunning, I would favour him to beat Lennox Lewis, but he isn't getting any younger and we don't know how much was lost during those two years out of the ring. Tony didn't impress me the last time I saw him fight, but that was some months ago, and he is bound to be in better condition.'
Futch is equally uncertain about Lewis who is still looked upon with some scepticism in American boxing circles, and will be laughed out of town if he fails to retain the title that came by decree. 'I just can't be sure about Lewis,' said Futch. 'He did a good job on Ruddock, but Ruddock was a mess. Before that I saw him get a decision against Levi Billups in Las Vegas which wasn't revealing because neither of them did very much.'
There are two things about Lewis that trouble even his admirers. He has yet to cure the dangerous habits of keeping his head too high and being open to right-hand counters through failing to cover his chin. Whether Tucker still has the equipment to take advantage of these flaws is another matter.
In assembling an unblemished record of 22 professional victories, 19 inside the distance, Lewis has only twice been beyond six rounds. 'I don't think that is very important,' he said this week. 'You can only fight the guy who's in front of you. And you can be sure of one thing. If Tucker comes to me, I'll knock him out.' Fears that Lewis's title might be at risk to a hometown decision if Tucker gets to the final bell, lessened with the amazing appointment of two British judges, Harry Gibbs and Mickey Vann, but the challenger may still prefer to try and make it a long and scruffy contest.
However, there are still suspicions that the hand injury Lewis sustained in training is more serious than he admits. He has not sparred in public for more than 10 days, and maybe not at all since last weekend. When this was put to him four days ago, he said, 'I sparred yesterday, three or four rounds, I think.' This was contradicted by Lewis's trainer, Pepe Correa, on the platform. 'Lennox completed all the serious sparring before we got here,' he said.
It is hard to imagine that Tucker has a better chance of defeating Lewis than is suggested by odds makers in the vast casino betting halls who still have the champion at 1-6, with Tucker at 4-1 against. 'I think Lennox is a certainty to knock out or stop Tucker by the fourth or fifth round,' his manager, Frank Maloney, said.
Because Lewis throws long, straight blows, especially an excellent right cross, it suits him to be in with tall heavyweights (Tucker, at 6ft 5in, has a slight advantage in height) rather than men built like Billups against whom he was forced to punch downwards.
Panama Lewis has made something of the fact that his namesake is frequently off balance when driven on to the back foot. But providing that the hand injury has not developed into a real handicap, it ought not to take Lewis more than seven rounds to confirm his championship status.
Madison Square Garden in New York, once the home of professional boxing in the US, is to close its boxing division. According to one report, the decision was made by the Garden's parent company, Paramount Communications, because of allegations of boxing's links to organised crime.
----------------------------------------------------------- THE TALE OF THE TAPE ----------------------------------------------------------- LEWIS TUCKER Crayford BORN Grand Rapids London Michigan 27 AGE 33 22-0 (19 KOs) RECORD 48-1 (38 KOs) 16st 6lb WEIGHT 16st 4lb 6ft 4in HEIGHT 6ft 5in 81in REACH 82in ----------------------------------------------------------- Fight is for the WBC heavyweight title
Referee: Joe Cortez (US)
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