A real heavy to rock Lewis

Alan Hubbard says the big fight in New York will be exactly that - big

Perhaps it is just as well they do not have speaking scales when Lennox Lewis and Michael Grant weigh in for next Saturday's big fight at Madison Square Garden, otherwise a couple of astonishment-registering expletives might sully the air. Big is the operative word. They are calling it the heaviest heavyweight championship in history, with the combatants between them topping 36 stones.

At 500lb-plus, this clash of giants (at 6ft 7in Grant is two inches taller than Lewis) makes the previous biggest battle of the bulk, when Primo Carnera (259lb) outpointed the Basque Paolino Uzcudun (229lb) in Rome back in 1933 seem a lightweight matter.

So much for avoirdupois. The question is not so much one of weight, but wait and see. Will Lewis make heavy going of it against an opponent who is not only younger, but sharp and super-smart, with ambitions as big as his bones?

Already deprived of one of his unified titles without throwing a punch, Lewis is in some danger of leaving New York beltless on Saturday night. Grant, classed by many in the business as the hottest young heavyweight around, is disquietingly talented, convincingly confident and unfazed by Lewis' eventual universal coronation at the expense of his close friend Evander Holyfield.

"Yeah, he's a different type of opponent," the 34-year-old Lewis acknowledged after a training run at his training camp in the Poconos Hills of Pennsylvania last week. "I know I'll need different tactics, but you'll see a different Lennox Lewis. He may be bigger, but I'll be quicker."

Grant, 28, is certainly different from the run-of-the-ring heavyweight contender in that he's not a kid from the ghetto. He plays the organ in church, sings in the choir, went to college, where he played football, baseball and basketball, and only took up boxing after a visit to Las Vegas, where he was persuaded to punch the bag in a downtown gym. He fought only a dozen times as an amateur (Lewis has had as many title fights) but, save for a couple of early knockdowns last time out against the Polish wild man Andrew Golota, whom he went on to beat, has remained unscathed in 31 professional contests.

Lewis agrees that Grant's height and reach will pose special problems but reckons on overpowering him in the later rounds. It is a high-risk tactic, because Lewis, as we saw twice against Holyfield, tends to run out of stamina and imagination when the rounds reach double figures. Moreover, he surely will not want to rely on subjective arithmetic in a city where judges, in and out of the ring, have been notoriously uncharitable towards him.

Lewis admitted to me last week that he felt more than a tad apprehensive about returning, as it were, to the scene of the crime. He maintains he was "absolutely" the victim of a fix just over a year ago when awarded only a draw in his first fight with Holyfield, a result which provoked not only outrage but subsequently inconclusive investigations by the US Congress and the FBI; he is similarly narked that a New York judge should have deprived him of of his World Boxing Association title earlier this month.

You would think that, after the opprobrium of last year, and with Don King not part of this particular action, there would be no chance of more dirty work in the Garden this time, but only the unwise would bet against it. Grant is a local boy and the American fight moguls would much prefer to have the irritant Lewis out of the way so they can concentrate on keeping the heavyweight title a domestic matter.

Of the two remaining organisations whose titles are to be contested by Lewis and Grant, the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation, the latter's chief, Robert Lee, faces trial on racketeering charges of taking bribes worth £216,000 to rig world rankings. Goodness, they'll be saying boxing is as crooked as cricket next!

The fight, screened on Sky Box Office as part of a trans-atlantic package featuring the undefeated Robert McCrack-en's bid to wrest the WBC world middleweight title from the American Keith Holmes at Wembley, is another huge pay-day for a man who has already amassed around $75m (£48m). Lewis was in an oddly contemplative mood last week, talking for the first time of retirement, settling down and marrying (though he declined to say whether there was anyone specific in mind). "I'd like some little Lennoxes running around," he mused. "I don't want to stay around to the point where I let myself down. I want to retire at the top, with my health and my faculties intact."

This is not to suggest he is anything less than totally focused on the upcoming job, but if Grant can avoid getting caught by Lewis' intimidating right hand in the early stages he may be in business. Very big business.