Boxing: Toney and Ruiz bout another comic act

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Less than two years ago, Lennox Lewis walked away from the heavyweight division with his senses and his bank account intact, but left behind a sport in chaos.

Less than two years ago, Lennox Lewis walked away from the heavyweight division with his senses and his bank account intact, but left behind a sport in chaos.

Since Lewis announced his retirement in January 2004, a series of meaningless encounters between average and often woeful contenders have taken place, but the search remains for a successor to the title of the world's leading heavyweight. Lewis had been in that dominant position for eight or nine years before he left the sport.

Tonight James Toney, a former middleweight champion whose best win was 14 years ago, will probably win the World Boxing Association heavyweight title from a man called John Ruiz at Madison Square Garden in New York. Over the years the venue has been the site for some of the world's finest heavyweight fights, but Toney against Ruiz, which surprisingly has done terrific business at the box office, is not one of them.

Ruiz is perhaps best known for wandering around the ring two years ago like a clueless circus showman chasing Roy Jones in Las Vegas. Jones had gained nearly 40lbs and yet gave Ruiz such a boxing lesson that it looked impossible that the former champion would ever step back into the ring. However, the business of heavyweight boxing is surely the most comical and unpredictable in sport and Ruiz not only continued fighting after his embarrassing defeat, but managed to regain the title that he will defend against Toney.

However, it should be pointed out that Ruiz, who is 33, had to beat the heavyweight has beens, Andrew Golota and Hasim Rahman, to re-establish himself in the mad, mad division.

Golota, 37, is perhaps best known for being knocked out in less than two minutes by Lewis in 1997 and also for his brief appearance against Mike Tyson in 2000 when the Polish émigré pulled out after three rounds claiming that Tyson's punches "hurt a lot''.

Even stranger than Ruiz's amazing resurrection is the fact that Golota will fight Lamon Brewster for the World Boxing Organisation title in Chicago on 21 May.

It will be Golota's fourth attempt at a fourth different world heavyweight title and his miraculous promoter, Don King, has even admitted that if he loses this time there is nowhere for him to go. The other man that Ruiz beat, Rahman, was actually due to fight Vitali Klitschko in tonight's main event, but Klitschko, who was stopped by Lewis in 2003, has injured his back. Rahman has won just five of his last nine, including a win and a loss against Lewis, and will now fight an underachiever from New York called Monte Barrett for the interim World Boxing Council title on 23 July.

The proper WBC title belongs to Klitschko, but there is a suggestion that he will be out until next year so, as a perfectly respectable sideshow, Barrett and Rahman will fight for the painted belt. In June, the chief attraction in the carnival that Lewis left behind returns to the ring when Tyson fights a nice kid called Kevin McBride in the first of what must surely be the last of his comeback trails. Tyson first won a world heavyweight title 19 years ago and has looked way past his prime for the best part of a decade. Also returning to the ring and, it must be hoped, moving closer to something more meaningful than a dispute with journalists, is former Olympic champion Audley Harrison, who meets Billy Zumbrun on 9 June in California.

Just a few weeks ago Zumbrun narrowly lost to Riddick Bowe in the type of freak fight that could give commercial wrestling a good name. Bowe was once the best heavyweight in the world, but his love of food and the high life ruined his career and four years ago he was fortunate not to receive a custodial sentence when he kidnapped his wife and children. His defence lawyers insisted that Bowe had suffered brain damage during his ring career and the judge believed them, but now he is back in the ring.

And finally, there is perhaps one quality fighter on the heavyweight horizon - the Nigerian Samuel Peter, who at 24 is the youngest heavyweight in contention and is uniquely a nice guy with no previous history of tantrums or other acts of madness on either side of the ropes.