Boxing: The shape of things to come: Ken Jones reports on the heavyweight future that Mickey Duff is confident he can promote for Britain's Frank Bruno

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THE real question, the question of how the future is shaping up for Frank Bruno was made to order for a man who is still holding his own with the best after more than 40 years in boxing. 'I expect Frank to fight for the heavyweight championship within 12 months,' Mickey Duff said.

In London yesterday Duff could be heard counting the cost, approximately pounds 500,000, of matching Bruno with Pierre Coetzer, of South Africa, at Wembley Arena on 17 October, just two weeks before Lennox Lewis and Donovan 'Razor' Ruddock meet at Earls Court in a World Boxing Council final eliminator for the title.

Attempting to steal some of that thunder, Duff will call upon the World Boxing Association and the International Boxing Federation to accord Bruno versus Coetzer similar status. 'In boxing, things can change overnight,' he added confidently.

As they stand, either Lewis or Ruddock will go forward to fight the winner when Evander Holyfield defends the undisputed championship against Riddick Bowe in Las Vegas on 13 November.

'By then Frank will be in the shake up,' Duff said, 'and who knows, if Holyfield wins, as I expect him to, he might fancy a voluntary defence.'

In a sport nourished by exaggeration, the temptation is to shrug this off as so much bullshine. However, as Duff insists, in boxing there is always room for speculation. He also has a good relationship with Dan and Lou Duva who are largely responsible for promoting Holyfield. Indeed, who knows?

All this leaves Bruno to account for Coetzer, 31, a durable heavyweight who had lost only two of 41 contests until Bowe stopped him in the seventh round last month.

On the face of it Coetzer looks an ideal opponent for Bruno; smaller, shorter reach, nothing much in the way of firepower. 'Yeah, I've seen the video of his fight with Bowe,' Bruno said. 'He comes to fight.'

Bruno said much the same about Jose Ribalta, the second of his comeback opponents. Showing a marked disinterest in the proceedings Ribalta, who went the full 10 rounds with Coetzer last year, keeled over in two rounds.

Taking recession into account, two major heavyweight promotions in such a short space of time looks like a luxury the boxing public may not be able to


'Look at our prices against theirs,' Duff said mischievously, doubtless thinking of a small triumph based on Bruno's immense popularity and the fact that Lewis is not yet seen to be British. 'Our top price is pounds 100. They are asking pounds 250 ringside.'

Still there was the question of whether the public will prefer Lewis versus Ruddock. This was too much for Duff. Hardening the edge on great thoughts he made it clear that he is not in the business of drumming up support for rival promoters. 'Can we stick to what we are here for?' he said.

Yes, but what about Lewis versus Bruno? Duff looked stern. Bruno smiled. 'I'd like to fight Lennox Lewis,' he said, leaning forward in his chair.

Foolishly, somebody asked if it is possible that Holyfield would be reluctant to risk the title against Bruno. 'Holyfield isn't afraid of anybody,' Duff said, returning to the future. 'And the Duvas know how much money the Tyson- Bruno fight generated.'

This was the real story. How much? 'There's recession, and the VAT,' Bruno said. It had all begun with a bomb scare that required us to assemble outside. Now Bruno was going off to settle an extension of his promotional contract with Duff.

For just a moment, the room was quiet, and you knew who stood most significantly at Bruno's side. His accountant.

(Photograph omitted)