Boxing; Physique favours Lewis

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Boxing

KEN JONES

reports from Atlantic City

It is not unusual today when a heavyweight goes to his corner heavier by more than 20lb than Muhammad Ali and George Foreman were for their epic encounter in Zaire 21 years ago. "Considering how large some of these guys are and that the weight of boxing gloves hasn't changed, it's no wonder that we see so many knockouts," Tommy Morrison's trainer, Tom Virgets, said this week when preparing his man to meet Lennox Lewis, who will come in at more than 17st for tonight's contest in Atlantic City.

As both men will be bringing considerable power to the ring and lost versions of the heavyweight championship as a result of being unable to withstand blows to the head, Virgets is not alone in thinking that their collision at the Convention Centre is unlikely to last more than a few rounds. "We haven't paid much attention to the idea of a long fight," Virgets added, "because it's pretty obvious that this one isn't going to the scorecards."

The extent to which Lewis's career is being put at risk is emphasised by his diminutive manager, Frank Maloney. "The loser will have nowhere left to go in boxing," he said. "He might as well walk out of the arena and into the ocean."

What you have to say about Lewis is that unlike other contenders in the division, he has never ducked anybody. In common with all fighters he knows the fear of being embarrassed in the ring as he was when stopped by Oliver McCall in defence of the World Council title, but it does not appear to effect his confidence. "Morrison still has that big left hook, he's an improved fighter and much more mature in and out of the ring, but he's never met anyone with my talent," he said.

This coincides with what Lewis's trainer, Emanuel Steward, who is never slow in coming forward, likes to go around saying. Astonishingly, you may think, Steward puts Lewis ahead of the many world champions, including such notable figures as Julio Cesar Chavez and Thomas Hearns, he has worked with. "I've never seen a more naturally gifted fighter," he declares enthusiastically.

Probably, on the understanding that Steward saw plenty of Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and other famed warriors, when Maloney hears him going on and on about Lewis he looks a trifle embarrassed. It may also be that he is still waiting for Lewis to prove the improvements Steward claims to have effected.

Unless good habits are implanted early in a fighter's career all that he shows in the gymnasium does not necessarily survive journeys to the ring. For example, before Donovan "Razor" Ruddock faced Lewis three years ago in a final eliminator for the WBC title, his trainer, the former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, was sure of technical advancement. "By getting Donovan's feet in the right place we've improved his balance and he no longer lunges in and leaves himself open," Patterson said. When Ruddock felt a blow from Lewis he reverted immediately to type and was knocked silly in the second round.

In sparring for tonight's contest Morrison has concentrated on ways of dealing with the big advantages Lewis has in height and reach. "Because Tommy is so much shorter there is no future in trying to fight Lewis from the outside," Virgets said. "He'd just be soaking up the jab. He's got to stay low and fight from a crouch, come in under Lewis's arms and throw combinations.

"According to the level of Tommy's hips he goes from being an exceptional fighter to less than mediocre. From a crouch he does terrible damage to the body and is in position to deliver big head punches especially with his left. If he forgets to stay low then I'm afraid Lewis will murder him."

One of the tenets old-timers held sacrosanct is that you box a fighter and fight a boxer. In Lewis's case, Steward considers it incidental. "Lennox doesn't have to worry about the other guy's style," he said. "He's got all the power and speed to take fights away from his opponents. There isn't a problem he can't handle. Tommy's dangerous but Lennox will get rid of him quickly, no more than three rounds."

In the two contests Lewis has undertaken since the loss of his title there has not been much evidence of technical progress. Probably, it was the shock of being bowled over by McCall that caused him to be apprehensive against a bloated bruiser, Lionel Butler, but little could be read into a fifth-round stoppage.

Much the same was felt generally when Lewis took four rounds in getting rid of the pugnacious but hugely limited Justin Fortune three months ago. "We were still working on a few things and I was completely satisfied," Steward said. "Lennox fought according to the plan I laid out for him. Now he can let himself go. It's all there."

However, the sight of Lewis being caught by right hands this week when sparring with lighter men preserved the thought that he will always be vulnerable against fast-handed punchers.

As Morrison gets his hooks off quickly he is bound to be a threat in the early rounds, which hold his best chance of upsetting the odds. "Tommy's going in against a very large man," Virgets added, "and I'm not about to start kidding myself. He's got to get on the inside otherwise it's curtains for him."

Lewis has questions to answer but physical advantages should ensure that he is not the one who will become history on the Jersey shore.

Tale of the Tape

Lennox Lewis v Tommy Morrison

East London Born Jay, Oklahoma

30 Age 26

17st 3lb Weight 16st 3lb

6ft 5in Height 6ft 2in

84in Reach 77in

44in/46in Chest 44in/46in

(normal/expanded)

17in Biceps 17in

15in Forearm 17in

34in Waist 34in

26in Thigh 26in

18in Calf 17in

18{in Neck 18in

8in Wrist 8in

12in Fist 11in

28 Fights 48

27/1/0 Won/Lost/Drawn 45/2/1

23 Stoppages 39

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