Lennox Lewis's training in the Pocono hills for his re-match with World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation heavyweight champion, Hasim Rahman, was interrupted yesterday by a courier bringing a letter from the lawyers of his former manager Frank Maloney.
Later Maloney said that though he would always have good memories of their best days together, he had lost respect for the former world champion. "A lot of lies are coming out of the camp," said Maloney, who added, "in a letter I received from Lennox yesterday he said he had invited my mother Maureen to the Rahman fight. He said that despite our difficulties he still thought of her fondly. The fact is he hasn't spoken to her for 18 months."
That made it official. A relationship which for so long had sailed beyond all doubts – and mockery – had ended up in the last resting place of so many of even the most successful liaisons in boxing. Tyson-Caton, Dempsey-Kearns, and, nearer home, Bruno-Lawless are just a few of the divorces that came on the road to, or from, the richest prize in sport: the world heavyweight championship. Money is almost invariably the most divisive issue – fighters happy to pay the peanut percentages which come on the lower rungs of the ladder become increasingly reluctant paymasters as the value of the cake expands – but plainly the Lewis-Maloney rupture also had another major factor.
It was that Maloney, a south Londoner steeped in the realities of the fight game, was increasingly out of sync with Lewis's new group of advisors led by businessman Adrian Ogun and now augmented by the football agent Jerome Anderson. The parting of the ways became more or less inevitable in Johannesburg earlier this year when Maloney found himself a lone voice of concern over Lewis's casual approach to his preparations for the unsuccessful defence against Rahman.
Yesterday, from the Californian training camp of his latest protégé, the Russian world light-middleweight title challenger to Oscar de la Hoya, Roman Karmazin, Maloney said: "I've had a lot of good times with Lennox, and for a long time we worked together so well, but I'm afraid it has come down to business.
"My lawyers have sent a letter to Lennox explaining my situation, and naturally I hope it doesn't come to court action. I would hope we go too far back for that. I certainly wouldn't want any anyone to think I've been making unreasonable demands. In the 11 years we've been together I don't believe anyone can question the advice I've given Lennox. I certainly hope that Lennox doesn't go down in history for the wrong reasons, for making critical mistakes at vital times in his career."
The old imperative of taking a pinch of cynicism with every boxing utterance can perhaps be relaxed in the case of the diminutive character who became famous for such big-fight sartorial atrocities as the donning of a suit made from the Union flag, but who, behind the scenes, fought so trenchantly for the rights of his fighter. Significantly, Don King spared him no invective. Among King's kinder dismissals were "Baloney Maloney", the "Mental Midget" and the "Pugilistic Pygmy." But that didn't stop King offering Maloney a job before he returned to a working relationship with Britain's No 1 promoter Frank Warren.
What isn't in question is Maloney's affection for and commitment to the career of the former Olympic champion Lewis, who was lured back to England from Canada, and under the noses of leading American fight men, by the argument that the fighter's profile would be huge in his native country, one that yearned to celebrate its first undisputed world heavyweight champion of the 20th century.
Under Maloney's guidance, and despite desperate years of boxing politics and litigation, the goal was achieved in Las Vegas just a month before the end of the century, when Lewis outpointed Evander Holyfield in the rematch which followed the outrageous scoring of a draw in Madison Square Garden earlier in the year. Maloney had been eloquent in his rage after that decision and some ringsiders reckoned that it was his body language which helped to fill the arena with boos and catcalls after the announcement of the judges' scoring.
At that fight, as in all of Lewis's important contests, Maloney was a pale, drawn figure – a result of the insomnia which regularly gripped him at pivotal stages of his fighter's career.
Maloney's wife, Tracy, at home in London, said yesterday: "This has been going on a long time now but I think Frank will always be a bit sad about the way it has all turned out. I will certainly never forget the state of him at Lennox's big fights. Before he fought Razor Ruddock – in 1992 – Frank wandered around London all night, and it was often the same when he fought in other places."
As Lewis works to win back his world titles against Rahman on 17 November, the worry must be that his preparations are again beset by distractions. In South Africa Maloney was appalled that Lewis lingered in Las Vegas, on the set of a Julia Roberts film in which he had a cameo role, just two weeks before the fight at altitude. When asked if Lewis could deal with Rahman after such a short period of acclimatisation. Maloney said, pointedly: "We will see when the fight happens."
Privately, Maloney echoed the sentiments of much of boxing, and most firmly expressed by New York fight man Don Majeski in the wake of Lewis's shattering fifth-round defeat. Said Majeski: "The problem has been hubris. Everyone knows that when you run track in Mexico City you prepare; it's the same deal when you fight in Johannesburg. Lennox gave himself 11 days to prepare for this fight. Champions do not do things like that. They get their heads – and their bodies – into the challenge."
It was a point that Maloney made to a reluctant audience around Lewis when he publicly attacked the work of the trainer Emanuel Steward after the fight and this week the extent of the denial within the camp, and Lewis himself, was confirmed with the sacking of the manager. Disturbingly, Lewis still insists that the Rahman upset was essentially the result of a "freak punch".
Lewis, who says that he will always be friends with Maloney but that there comes a time when everyone has to move on, insists that in his own mind he is still the world heavyweight champion, and that Rahman will pay for his impertinence soon enough. It is a conclusion also reached by the Las Vegas odds-makers, but it is one scarcely strengthened by this week's disruptions.
At such times a fighter needs a clear, undistracted head and someone close to him who isn't always willing to say yes. Admirers of Lewis, who have seen his career as a rare achievement of excellence in British sport, can only mourn the fact that in Las Vegas next week his chances of the former are endangered and those of the latter probably disappeared the moment the legal courier headed for the Pocono hills.Reuse content