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Boxing: Surfeit of mediocrity fails to tempt Lewis into a comeback

He is plump and seemingly pleased now, as if he is eating to make sure no one thinks he is going to come back and save the miserable heavyweight division.

"You ever see a skinny king?" Lennox Lewis asked playfully. "I told you you would miss me."

A reminder, as though one were needed in the last couple of weeks, that Lewis's championship reign, starting with the 1988 Olympics and ending with one of his most exciting victories 10 months ago in the very building where he was seated, have not attested to the appreciation he will be gaining as the years pass.

In numbing succession, there have been three so-called heavyweight "title" fights this month that have served more to raise Lewis's reputation than discover a true replacement. A fourth "title" bout today, though, promises to be the most exciting and significant.

Lewis, 38, was granting a one-on-one interview with The Independent in an ice hockey team dressing room at the Staples Centre here, where last June he had his last fight and where today his successor will be chosen, at least as the World Boxing Council titlist.

Minutes before, at the final press conference for Vitali Klitschko's fight against Corrie Sanders, the South African left-hander Lewis is promoting, he had told the international media gathering: "This is great, being at the podium and not being able to fight."

Lewis has started a family and promoting obviously is better than lowering himself to the mediocrity of the current heavyweight landscape. The match here will be the fourth heavyweight "title" fight in 15 days and Lewis was seen walking out of one of them, an incredibly tortuous affair won by John Ruiz over Fres Oquendo. Ruiz retained the World Boxing Association belt, but lost Lewis last Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York. "The reason I walked out was that was the best time to go to the bathroom," said Lewis. "The fight wasn't holding water, so I thought it was time for me to get rid of mine." He returned to be unimpressed with Chris Byrd, the International Boxing Federation champion who accused Lewis of ducking him and giving up that belt rather than face the tricky left-hander. Lewis said he was surprised at how well Andrew Golota, who he had blasted out in one round, fought while gaining a draw.

The flurry of "title" fights began when Wladimir Klitschko, who Lewis had told Sanders how to beat 13 months ago, fell from exhaustion after five rounds of mostly pounding the unheralded Lamon Brewster. At one stage, the younger Ukrainian brother was thought to be the biggest danger to Lewis. But Sanders, advised by Lewis to attack with lead left hands, scored four knockdowns with that punch and it was over at 27 seconds of the second round.

"Brewster showed a lot of heart," said Lewis. "I think it had to do with his friend dying [his longtime trainer, Bill Slayton]." He added that Sanders' punches were still being felt when Wladimir Klitschko fought Brewster and that "the reason that happened [the collapse] was because of Corrie's shots."

Vitali Klitschko, who was ahead of Lewis on all three official cards when their bout was halted because of canal-sized cuts around the Ukrainian's left eye, is the 4-1 on favourite to win today's fight and solidify his position as heir apparent. This is tempered by disappointment in not getting a rematch with Lewis, his brother's pathetic performance against Brewster and trouble in his camp - he quietly released Emanuel Steward, Lewis's former trainer, in favour of his longtime German conditioner, Fritz Sdunek.

Sanders, on the other hand, seemed soft at 235lb, 10lb heavier than he was for Wladimir. Maybe he was getting ready to tee off his hoped-for career as a professional golfer. No, said Lewis, Sanders is not more golfer than fighter.

"Am I a chess player or a boxer?" he asked.

Maybe still both. Is he really retired when there doesn't seem to be much competition around? "As of right now," was all he would say.