Fighters a world apart

Harry Mullan discusses what the future holds for Britain's heavy hitters
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HERE'S a funny thing. On Saturday night, several time zones apart, Britain's top two heavyweights are in action. Lennox Lewis fights an official final eliminator for the WBC title in Sacramento, California, against a hugely dangerous opponent, Lionel Butler, who has won his last 17 in a row, all inside the distance. Frank Bruno will be performing at the Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, against the overweight, 36-year-old Mike Evans, an American veteran who has lost three of his last four. Lewis will have to be at his best to win: Bruno can afford to be at his worst, and still disappoint us if he doesn't dispose of Evans before the halfway mark.

Assuming an English double, which of them will get first crack at the championship? Lewis ought to, by any standards of logic, morality or fairness. He won't, though. There are considerations even more weighty, like financial viability and the fighters' roles as pawns in Don King's intricate manoeuvring to get Mike Tyson back on top. That is why Bruno will challenge WBC champion Oliver McCall on 29 July, while Lewis must spend an idle summer.

The situation is one of Byzantine complexity. Lewis, who lost the title to McCall in November, claimed he'd had a raw deal from the referee that night (he hadn't) and was consoled by the promise of a final eliminator against Butler. That should have meant that the winner would automatically become the No. 1 mandatory challenger, but in the meantime Mike Tyson stepped out of the prison gates and into the arms of Don King. The WBC's president Jose Sulaiman is King's most supportive ally, so Tyson was installed as No. 1 even though he has not boxed in almost four years.

To keep Lewis and his lawyers sweet, the Englishman was given an assurance that, despite Tyson's undeserved promotion, he would not be permitted to jump the queue for a title fight. McCall, similarly, was not ecstatic at the prospect of having to face two such difficult opponents as Lewis and Tyson in quick succession, so he was allowed to make a voluntary defence against an opponent of his choice. Enter Frank Bruno, a man with all the right qualifications. He is still marketable, though the poor quality of his recent victims is steadily eroding his credibility; he is beatable, as three failures in previous title bids prove; and now, thanks to his promoter Frank Warren's mega-deal with Sky Sports, he brings a sackful of money to the negotiating table.

The fact that he hasn't beaten a ranked opponent since October, 1992, is irrelevant, save as a forceful reminder that what we are talking about is business. All Frank has to do is keep winning, and there is precious little chance of the ancient Evans upsetting the plans. He has been approved on the basis that, in his last fight, he ended a three-fight losing run by knocking out the 35-year-old Brazilian, Adilson Rodriquez, in seven rounds. But he weighed a whopping 19st 2lb in that fight, eight pounds heavier than in his previous outing when Jorge Luis Gonzalez flattened him in two rounds in June. The trade paper Boxing News reported that "the thick, blubbery Evans ran and flinched like he was being chased by a lynch mob", and the Nevada Commission refused to release his $20,000 purse until they had viewed a video of the fight and satisfied themselves that he had taken a punch of sufficient force to induce a knockout.

When he tries, Evans can go the distance with decent fighters including former champions Tony Tubbs, Tony Tucker and Michael Moorer and contenders Alex Garcia and Corrie Sanders, but the heaviest he scaled for any of those five was 17st 6lb, which is 24lb lighter than he weighed against Rodriguez in March. The Glasgow show is bankrolled by Sky, whose head of sports, Vic Wakeling, said: "We rely on the judgement of the people who run the game, and we have noted the comments of John Morris [general secretary of the Board of Control] who, along with other Board members, viewed a tape of Mike Evans and described him as 'competitive and aggressive'."

Back in 1991, I raised similar reservations with Mr Morris about another Bruno opponent, John Emmen. He told me then: "I've looked at Emmen's record and talked to members of the European Boxing Union's ratings committee, and all of them say he's a character and a personality and if Frank needs a test at this stage, he's the right one." Those words came back to haunt him when Emmen was knocked out in the first round.

Lewis's task is much more problematic. It is always difficult to come back from a first defeat, and doubly so when the loss was as shattering as that which Oliver McCall inflicted on him five months ago. Lewis promptly fired his trainer Pepe Corea, and engaged Emanuel Steward to work on the defects exposed so dramatically. Steward has been encouraging him to make more effective use of his left jab, a too often neglected part of his armoury which he will need to keep the Tysonesque Butler at bay.

The American lost 10 and drew one of his first 17 fights, but then moved his base to California in 1991 and has never looked back. His 17 straight wins include knockouts of former champions Tony Tubbs (one round) and Bonecrusher Smith (three rounds), and the veteran trainer Eddie Futch regards him so highly that he turned him down as an opponent for his charge, Riddick Bowe. Until McCall landed that single, shattering right, Lewis was widely regarded as the best heavyweight, but now he is in danger of being overtaken by the revitalised Bowe and the re-activated Tyson.

If he beats Butler, he is guaranteed a rematch with McCall.If he doesn't, the game is up. The prizes and the penalties could not be more clearly defined.