Boxing: Newman seeks a buck from a lame duck: Is Riddick Bowe superior to Frazier and Holmes? Ken Jones reports from Las Vegas on a heavyweight claim

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The Independent Online
MAYBE there is no other way of persuading the public that Evander Holyfield has better than a remote chance of defeating Riddick Bowe than by raising doubts about the champion's dedication.

If not on the basis that all the people can be fooled some of the time, how else can you explain why only hired hands were permitted to observe Bowe's last serious sparring session before engaging in a re-match with Holyfield at Caesars Palace on Saturday for the International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Association titles?

On the evidence of recent sightings Bowe, a 1-5 favourite in the casino betting caverns, is neither overweight nor sluggish. As a consequence, pay-per-view television sales are disappointing.

Tinkering with the truth is nothing new in professional boxing, of course. In this case Bowe's brains trust simply let doubt develop from a complicated explanation, involving Eddie Futch, the champion's peerless 82-year-old trainer.

'Eddie had things to work on,' Rock Newman, Bowe's voluble manager, said, 'and there are people in Holyfield's camp who have come under his influence. They know how his mind works.' It was all Futch could do not to burst out laughing.

The scheming is up to Newman, and obviously he is up to it. 'We have always gone out of our way to co-operate with the press, so I'm disgusted with suggestions that Bowe is not as fit as he should be,' Newman said. It is not without masterful leadership and inspired oratory that Newman has risen to the heights in boxing.

As to the notion that Bowe has been working on a strategy different from that he employed when taking three titles from Holyfield in Las Vegas almost a year ago, listen to this: 'If it isn't broke, don't mend it,' the champion said.

One theory is that Bowe eventually will eat his way out of boxing. According to Futch, however, he is still filling out. 'Bowe hasn't stopped growing,' he said. 'As to putting on weight between fights, that isn't a problem for heavyweights.' The problem is in

persuading people that the gluttony will remain manageable.

Now Bowe finds himself confronted by a case of same surroundings, different image. Now he is the champion. 'In my experience, anybody who wins a title improves 25 per cent, automatically, and Bowe even more,' Futch said. 'The

improvement comes with confidence and being able to relax.'

This is apparent in Bowe's demeanour, but his mind is not closed to recent upheavals in the heavyweight division. 'A short while ago I was talking on the telephone to Mike Tyson,' he said. 'Mike warned me about getting careless. To win the fight my way, but not to take unnecessary chances.'

Holyfield, he thinks, must have got the message by now. 'I respect Evander,' Bowe said. 'He put up a great fight against me. But he didn't give me any credit. He only spoke about his own failings. That disappointed me. I hope he's grown used to not being champion, because things aren't about to change.'

To get the job done first time around, Bowe had to weather a storm after almost winning by a knock-out. He expects it to be easier this time. 'Evander is too old to change,' he said. 'He can only fight one way, he's got to make it a war, and I'm far too big and quick for him. I'll be suprised if he lasts the distance.'

How do you motivate a fighter who has dollars 10m (pounds 6.7m) banked and a mansion under construction in New Jersey? For Bowe, there is the World Boxing Council champion, Lennox Lewis, who defeated him for the gold medal in the 1988 Olympics. 'Lewis is never out of his mind,' Futch added.

The excitement that will be generated by Bowe versus Lewis is still some way off and there are people who have begun to wonder if the magic is evaporating (as a result of two disappointing defences by Lewis original estimates of the gross have been drastically revised). In professional boxing these days there is confusion, and, most of all, unshakeable insecurity.

To be sure, Bowe versus Holyfield is not a certain seller. Even though the real heavyweight champion, the man who beat the man, who beat the man who beat the man, is defending two versions of the title, there is no rush on a dollars 40 transmission. It is as if Holyfield's fate is already known. Still, Bowe gives the impression that he has not noticed. In contrast to Holyfield, who never really took to the experience, he enjoys being champion.

Futch, who has trained four other heavyweight champions - Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Larry Holmes and Michael Spinks - thinks Bowe could be the best he has had. 'I can't wait for the day when I feel I can tell him that,' he said. The story is unfolding just as Futch planned it after Newman persuaded him to tutor Bowe. 'He listens, he learns,' Futch said, and that is all he has ever asked of a fighter.

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