Boxing: Destiny leading Lewis towards last hurrah with Jones

One of the most compelling fights in history could round off world heavyweight champion's career if he defeats Klitschko tomorrow
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The Independent Online

For Lennox Lewis there is still the small matter of repelling the ambitions of his 6ft 8in Ukrainian challenger Vitali "Doctor Ironfist" Klitschko here tomorrow night. But the details and strategies of a wider plot are emerging ever more clearly.

"In reality," his trainer, Emanuel Steward, says, "what we are seeing is Lennox Lewis's farewell tour as one of the greatest heavyweights in history."

The point of departure, if the plan works, will be the sharing of a $60m (£36m) pot with Roy Jones, the brilliant holder of the World Boxing Association version of the heavyweight title, in either November or December this year or next March. At the final Lewis-Klitschko pre-fight press conference there were the usual ritual war cries, but Jones, who earlier this year produced a stunning performance in Las Vegas to claim his title from the taller, stronger but utterly bewildered John Ruiz, was a presence so pervasive he might have been sitting down in the fight arena of the Staples Center, the home of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The weight and height difference would be huge but then so would be the intrigue of Lewis-Jones, the two boxing stars of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

If they were to meet, so long after their emergence on to the big stage, heavyweight boxing, otherwise an ever colder dead zone, would have one of the most compelling fights in history. Larry Merchant, the erudite analyst of Lewis's paymasters, Home Box Office television, has already written one line of the fight script. He says: "Billy Conn lost gallantly to Joe Lous and became famous. In a corner of his mind, Roy Jones probably believes he could do even better."

The HBO vice-president, Kerry Davis, is also in the mood for some mouth-watering speculation. "Say Roy Jones found a way to beat Lennox Lewis and just managed to put him down - well, that's the cover of Sports Illustrated and the front and back pages of newspapers all over the country. It would be huge. It would give him Muhammad Ali status in the legacy of the sport and that idea, quite apart from all the money, could excite him."

Michael Katz, the veteran boxing writer, was inclined to another scenario, that of "Lewis popping Jones on the top of his head and drilling him all the way to China," but there is no doubt that momentum for the fight is growing strongly.

One HBO source was happy to second-guess the thinking of Jones when he considers three big-money alternatives. "He could just see Lewis being an easier fight than either Evander Holyfield or Mike Tyson. That may sound strange, but think about it. He knows that he will have 12 hard rounds with a Holyfield willing to fight ruthlessly inside, maybe with his head involved and very unlikely to be knocked down. Against Tyson he knows he will be in danger for four rounds against the big bombs, and then it would be easy and he'd probably knock him out. Lewis? Well, he probably wouldn't want to mix it up inside and that would give Jones the chance to develop the strategy he used against Ruiz. It is just possible to imagine Jones coming to the conclusion that Lewis would be the easiest fight."

Steward is talking long and hard about the possibility of Lewis's Last Hurrah against the firefly Jones.

He says: "When I saw Jones beat Ruiz and become a heavyweight champion of the world I said straight away, 'he's going to fight Lennox Lewis now he has tested himself against a much bigger man. At first he probably thought the idea was crazy, but the more he thought about it, the more it became intoxicating.

"He would think about all the money - and somebody coming along and saying, 'Oh, Roy Jones - he's a heavyweight champion of the world, but really he's a baby champion - the real champion is Lennox Lewis.

"I've been watching Roy Jones since 1988 and I know a few things about him. I know he has an ego and that he will be thinking, 'My speed will be a big asset against Lennox Lewis'. It's funny that they were in the Olympics together all those years ago, Jones being robbed by the judges and Lennox knocking out Riddick Bowe, which was the reason he never got to fight him as a professional. Now 15, 16 years later we are talking about the big fight between Lewis and Jones.

"Is it possible? I think it's very possible. I take Roy very seriously. He's got speed, ring generalship, great experience, and that ego. With Lennox you have a guy you can ask to fight a certain fight and know he will do it."

Steward says that in several long talks with Lewis, the first in the wake of the crushing defeat of Tyson in Memphis last summer, he has reached several agreements. One is that when Lewis finally retires, he will stayed retired. Another is that he has at most two fights left.

"One of the reasons he has gone on so long is that, unlike Ali, he is having fun at this late stage of his career," Steward says. "He is having easy fights while Ali struggled at this point, losing to Leon Spinks and having that fight with Earnie Shavers, after which they decided they wouldn't bring him back to Madison Square Garden. I think Lennox should have one or two more fights at most simply because apart from Jones there isn't anyone out there to challenge him. If he fights Jones, he can quit for good, and he knows that I would not be interested if he came back from retirement and wanted to start it all up again."

As for Klitschko, Lewis says that he will fall inside five rounds. The Ukrainian's response is spirited. "Before he fought Hasim Rahman he told me and my brother Wladimir he would win in two rounds, " Klitschko recalls. "We know what happened. Now he gives me five rounds - thank you very much. I don't fight in press conferences. I fight in ring."

Lewis didn't appear to be listening. Maybe he had somebody else on his mind.

Lewis piles on the pounds

Lennox Lewis weighed in at 18st 4lb - the heaviest he's ever been for a fight - ahead of Saturday's World Boxing Council title clash with Vitali Klitschko in Los Angeles.

The 31-year-old is 8lb heavier than Klitschko despite giving away around two inches in height to the Ukrainian.

Lewis was 7lb heavier than when he faced Mike Tyson in Memphis last June at the weigh-in outside the Staples Centre (PA)